Ask Amanda: Size Me Up

I meant to write this entry weeks ago when the whole Lady Gaga body shaming thing came out, but other #AskAmanda inquiries came up, and I had to save my little soapbox for a while.

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ZING!

But now, I’ve been thinking about my dear Lady as well as some other recent body-related posts I’ve seen (female boxer Alicia Napoleon on what being “beautiful” means; H&M’s new body positive advertising) and I just feel like it’s the right time to talk about an issue that underlies so much of the communication, presentation, and function of the fitness industry – especially as it applies to women*.

(*Male readers, by the way, don’t think you’re “excused” from the conversation – if you choose to leave, you’re just part of the problem.)

“The problem,” by the way, is this: the true definition of fitness as an ideal should be a strong, healthy body, mind and spirit – but the working definition of fitness in our culture is a muscled yet somehow miraculously lean body without much attention to the whole “mind and spirit” thing and even less to the whole “life in balance” thing.  Throw in the fact that many female representations of “fitness” are often just regular (underweight) models wearing sports bras, and I think the issue is quite clear.

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Not hating on how she lives her life, but it probably doesn’t involve a lot of exercise – or food.

Think of how fitness companies sell their products – whether it’s gym memberships, vitamins, group classes, fancy equipment, clothing, whatever – it’s usually by showcasing these impossibly “fit” bodies (and again, if we’re talking about women, usually “fit” and “skinny” are frustratingly and inaccurately interchangeable, since visible muscles can actually have the opposite effect on sales) and promising that the product/apparel/supplement will deliver them as quickly as possible.

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She has no muscles; he has a bunch; somehow they both got the same result from 6 minutes with a hand-held vibrator?  Let’s use our brains here, people.

In a word: wrong.  And in another word: misleading.  And allow me one more: destructive.

Even if these companies have the best of intentions, they’re still delivering the age-old message that the only reason to get fit is to have a hot (thin/muscled, again, depending on gender) body, and if a certain method doesn’t guarantee a hot (thin/muscled) body, it’s not worth pursuing.  Screw you, tai chi.  Forget it, low-impact cardio.  Sayonara, stretching.  Our fitness culture screams push, starve, sweat, burn – rarely if ever, balance; and nearly never, fitness at any size.

Furthermore, advertising and communicating this message does double damage in that it negates the actual reality of achieving hot (thin/muscled) bodies, which is that it often takes much more sacrifice and social isolation than the average person is willing to commit, and that a hot body is no more a symbol of true health than a Louis Vuitton bag is a symbol of true wealth – it’s just an easily identifiable status symbol, and just as shallow.

I once had a client tell me that she would not have signed up to train with me if she didn’t “want my body” – how I interpreted that was, if my body shape and size didn’t meet her ideal of what a fit body should look like, she would negate the decade-plus experience I’ve had professionally training clients and hire someone who “looked the part” better than me.

I’ve had it with that type of bullsh*t.

Because I specialise as a weight loss coach, you may think it’s a bit hypocritical for me to harp on the hyperfocus on body size and shape as a problem, since it’s exactly that “problem” that keeps me in business.  But I counter with this: I specialise in helping people get to their healthy weights, with lots of lean muscle, functional mobility, clean nutrition, and personal growth along the way.

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Mmmm, I’ll have an extra large serving of downtime please.

Not a single one of my clients is encouraged to take supplements, go below normal recommended calorie targets, slog away hours of cardio, or even give much credence to the raw number on the scale (I emphasise the importance of body fat percentage and body measurements as the appropriate progress metrics for fat loss).  No one in my gym gets by calling themselves “weak” or “fat,” and I really try to discourage (particularly female) clients from pointing out singular body parts as “problem areas” and rather encourage a full-body fabulous approach to training.

I refuse to accommodate women who tell me they don’t want to get “too muscular” (for the record, it’s never one happened, because gaining muscle is not an easy feat for most of us) from training with weights, and I absolutely have no patience for clients who choose to starve themselves or do hours of cardio to “lose weight” rather than do it the right way.

Before I lose focus (and I know, I’m almost there), I want to leave you guys with the summary point of all this: how you look on the outside is only one (often misleading) indicator of how you’re functioning on the inside, and no one – not even your doctor, not even your trainer – can assess your health and fitness just by looking at your body shape or size.  You control your real health outcomes with attention to clean eating, resistance training, and proper sleep and stress management, and when you do those things well, you’ll see exactly what your healthy body is supposed to look like.

Have you ever had comments about your body, fitness, or size that hit a nerve?  How do you – did you – deal?

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MY Workouts Versus YOUR Workouts

I was recently telling a friend about my work/workout (since they seem like they’re one in the same, most of the time) schedule, and it went something like this:

“I try to Crossfit twice a week, run 1-2 times, and yoga 1-2 times.  Oh, and I teach 8 Spin classes and a boot camp.”

That last part always gets people.

My swolemate kangaroo "gets" me

My swolemate kangaroo “gets” me

In any fitness professional’s life, there is a distinct and tangible difference between the workouts you do “for yourself” and the workouts you do while teaching group exercise – as in, “for others.”

Working out for Under Armour at an awesome sponsored event!

Working out for Under Armour at an awesome sponsored event!

When I am working out for others, I am completely engaged in their experience.  I am constantly checking on their form, wondering how they’re feeling, focusing on the details (music, lighting, timing) that make their workouts feel special, motivating, and effective. When I work out for others, I am often sweat-drenched and usually exhausted afterward, because putting your mental and physical all into something is a truly challenging pursuit.

That said, it’s a whole different ball game when I’m working out for myself.

When I work out for myself, I am free.  I turn my music up and my distractions down, and for a blessed hour(ish), I am silent.  Voiceless.  Focused.  I can enjoy the way my muscles burn, the cadence of my own breath, the familiar comfort of my own strength.  Instead of concentrating on details, I let my world get fuzzy, blurred, relaxed into an abstract “zone” where I am at once fully myself.

I recognize my authentic self when I am working out this way; I lose track of time and feel connected to who I am deep down inside – not a shell personality screaming from a Spin bike, not a military-style force lording over the trembling bootcamp masses, but an authentic human presence working and loving and pushing myself without judgment or pressure.  It is indeed my “happy hour,” my favorite place, the few moments of respite I seek from each day’s routine.

They say that part of finding happiness is losing yourself in what you truly love to do; finding “flow” to the point where you are barely even aware of what you are doing except for the way it makes you feel – blissful, productive, accomplished, fulfilled.  That is what my workouts do for me.  I love teaching for others and will always need that purpose in my fitness life; however, I need to remember that part of my balance as a fitness pro is making time to give myself the pleasure of working out for ME.

Rave run at Macritchie Reservoir

Rave run at Macritchie Reservoir

What makes you feel like you’re “flowing”?  Where do you find bliss each day?

Talkin’ Thai & the Great ROCKtober Challenge

Hey guys, it’s been a while.  Sorry for the delay – my parents were in town over the past month and while wonderful (truly wonderful!), it set me back a bit on the blog end of things.  But I’m back – and I have a lot to report.

First of all, can you believe I’ve been in Singapore for FOUR full months?  I hit the 4-month mark on Tuesday, and to be honest, it really is starting to feel like home.  I’m excited to get to six months as I feel like that’s really some sort of “established” goal time (and will also be our first expat Thanksgiving), but even at four it’s feeling nice and cozy.

That said, toward the end of my parents’ visit to Singapore, we snuck in a getaway to Thailand – Krabi, to be specific, beach paradise and gateway to the islands.

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A look down Aonang beach

Sure is beautiful, huh?  Too bad it looked like this for approximately 45 minutes of our entire 4-day stay.  Turns out that whole “monsoon season” is a real thing.

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Grey skies are gonna clear up…nope

Despite getting rained on every moment of every day (poured at breakfast, poured on the boat tour, poured as we tried to shop, poured all the way to the airport), we had a great time – we managed to sneak in some hammock time between downpours, eat a TON of great food (my personal fave?  Green curry beef, of course) and maybe imbibe a bit, often out of a piece of fruit filled with delicious booze.

Mom & Dada going "Coco Loco" at the beach bar

Mom & Dad going “Coco Loco” at the beach bar

Some might say we were crazy to try and make a Thailand trip happen in the rainy season, and those people might be right.  But don’t worry, we don’t take advice very well – Nick and I are headed back (this time, to the utter insanity of Bangkok) for the upcoming Asia Fitness Convention.

I’ll be there reppin’ Aquaspin which, by the way, is taking off in a major way – I’ll be running our first Instructor Certification program next week, and the week after, we’re taking the biz all the way “down under” to Sydney – can’t wait to certify our first international group while we’re there.  A quick behind-the-scenes from our latest photo shoot:

Not mad at this view

Not mad at this view

And oh yeah, in case you can’t tell from the grey skies in the photo above – the haze is back, and it’s awful.  Apparently this is a not-so-hallowed annual tradition whereby Indonesia burns the hell out of their palm oil groves and we get to breathe soot-covered air for an undisclosed amount of time (currently creeping up to a month; some estimates say it won’t clear until November).  Check out the crap I get to breathe:

Hazy lazy days of September

Hazy lazy days of September

But enough about travel, smoke and business – let’s talk about something a little cmore personal, shall we?

After nearly a month of eating, drinking, and general merriment with my parents in town, both my husband and I realized that we’d really start to let ourselves go when it comes to personal care.  Care for some examples?

  • Neither of us have been to the dentist since we arrived
  • I still haven’t gotten my hair cut
  • We’ve both gained weight (let’s not talk about how much)
  • I cooked ONE meal at home during the entire month of September
  • We typically have at least one alcoholic beverage five nights out of seven
  • I’ve done exactly three yoga classes here over a period of four months

I’m sure there is more but I won’t even allow myself to regale you with the full monty of our health and wellness sins.  Sure, I’m still working out regularly (nine Spin classes a week will kind of do that for you), taking Crossfit classes, and getting my 20K daily steps.  But it’s time for a real shakeup in the ol’ lifestyle – so behold – the Great ROCKtober Challenge.

The Great ROCKtober Challenge is really a misnomer, as it’s not really a “challenge” in the sense of a competition, and it’s not necessarily that rocking.  It’s more about returning to a healthy frame of mind and way of living that will give us both more energy, better eating habits, and a stronger mind-body connection by the end of the month.  The basic tenets?

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I laid out 10 weekly goals for myself right where I can see them – in my dressing room – and these 10 concepts (simple stuff, like eating vegges with dinner, getting yoga in once a week, or engaging in positive self-talk) will guide my habits throughout the month.

Do I hope weight loss is one outcome of the challenge?  Sure, and I’ve taken my measurements and body fat percentage to make sure I stay on track with that part, too.  But this challenge is mostly about getting myself back to the place where I feel my best – eating well, moving with intention, and giving my mind time to rest and recuperate.

What are your goals for the coming month – or rest of the year?  I’d love to know your strategies, too!

Blogger 201: Day 3/5

Nope, that’s not three-fifths of a day – I am combining my B201 assignments from day 3 and 5 into one project today.  I think it’s fair, and I have SO MUCH awesome content I want to share with you guys right now (pregnancy fitness tips, a “day in the life” of a trainer, healthy baking hacks) that I want to make sure I get it all done.

That said, the assignments are as follows:

B201 – Day 3 – Create a Custom Widget

Ok, admittedly this is the hardest one for me so far – I am not great with image editing software nor do I technically need custom widgets right this second, so I dragged my feet a bit on completing this.  That said, once I got into it – it’s fun!  And inspiring!  And will (one day) be the way I do all the menus for my page.  But for now, it’s just this:

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Yep, one little footer widget – all the way at the bottom of my blog, and linked to my “California Living” Pinterest page.  Nothing groundbreaking.  But I made it!  I sourced the image, customized the text and layout, and activated the little thing.  And I am proud.

So, moving on:

B201 – Day 5 – Drive Traffic to Your Archives

I have some amazing archives, dammit – or at least I have a good amount of posts (workout ideas, reviews, tip lists) that will stand the test of time – and should be easily discovered by new visitors to my site, even months after I post.  Today’s assignment is thus:

Integrate features to draw traffic to your older content, including widgets, related posts, and a “Best of” page.

I already do a decent job of linking back to my own posts, but I definitely don’t have any formalized way of suggesting content other than my own in-text links.  That said, I added a “related posts” section to my entries (although I can’t see it posting on the blog yet, hmmm) and I am trying to create my “Best of” page (but again, I can’t see it posting yet).

All in all, today’s assignment is a bit of a fail – but I will not give up!  More updates once I can figure out these newfangled “additives.”

Do you blog?  What widget/feature/extra are you most proud of on your page?

Finding Strength

I just got home from an inspiring afternoon with two amazing powermoms and friends.  The purpose of our meeting?  Going over our Strengths Finder 2.0 results and discussing some action steps we can take to capitalize on our newly identified strengths.  My friend and business partner Marilyn is an amazing leader (in SF2 terms, a Maximizer) and put together a full training for us to deeply consider and analyze our test results and open a dialogue about this type of strengths testing.

SF2 is a quiz – yes, one you can easily take online for the low low price of $14 – that helps you identify thematic areas of strength in your personality, work ethic, and interpersonal life.  The book is based on the “strengths psychology” of the late Dr. Donald O. Clifton, which can be summarized as this: exploit your strengths; ignore your weaknesses.

At first this seems startling, since most of us (and especially us women) are constantly being told to work on our weaknesses and “tone down” our strengths (particularly if our strengths are traditionally considered masculine, such as Competition or Self-Assurance).  

Strengths psychology, on the other hand, asks us to consider what we are best at – what are our dominant talents – and develop plans to use our strengths to better our daily lives, align our strengths with our passions, and make changes to our lives to allow our strengths to shine and our weaknesses to…well, not matter so much.

While I encourage you to purchase the book and take the quiz yourself (and no, this is not a “sponsored” post – I’m not that famous of a blogger yet, haha), I want to share my five thematic strengths in hopes that it will inspire you to start a dialogue with me about yours – and how they figure into your work, personal, and aspirational life.

So who is ThisFitBlonde?  Apparently I am a/an:

Achiever.  Has a great deal of stamina and likes to work hard.  Gets satisfaction from being busy and productive.

Activator.  Can make things happen and turn thoughts into action; often impatient when decisions aren’t being made.

Learner.  Wants to continuously learn new things, enjoying process over outcome.

Relator.  Enjoys close relationships with others.  Likes to work hard with friends to achieve common goals.

Positivity.  Has an enthusiasm that is contagious.  Is upbeat and can get others excited about what they are doing.

When I took the test and received my results, I immediately thought “Yes!  This is so me!”  The hard part, of course, is thinking about your natural aptitudes and how they relate to career goals – which is something I’m still figuring out.  

Being a trainer allows me to be a Relator on a daily basis; I infuse my work with a great deal of Positivity as well.  I live and die by my to-do lists and am constantly taking steps to Achieve my next goal (even if it’s as simple as getting laundry and grocery shopping done in the same day) and being an Activator through my decisiveness and can-do attitude.  And while I fancy myself a lifelong Learner, doing the Strengths Finder 2.0 made me realize how much I am not quenching my thirst for new knowledge, and this is probably one of the main reasons I started this blog – to learn a new skill, synthesize information, and commit myself to writing each day.

Have you ever taken an aptitude/personality test like this before?  What did it reveal to you about yourself?