Plus Size Exercise Diary: Crunch Abs

A woman in my water aerobics class suggested I blog about my exercise classes. I was amused, and while I suspect her of some well-meant tacit body-shaming, the idea itself – apart from the motivations – is good. After all, I run into exercise challenges all the time. Some, like the Sun Salutation in yoga, happen because my belly prevents me from doing that lunge. I also really – really – hate how many beginning yoga classes do nothing but that damned Sun Salutation.

Since I’m trying some new workouts this year in addition to my combination of water aerobics and bellydance (when I can get to the class!) I thought I’d share my process. I am not going in with goals for altering my body. I realize that many people find measurable goals helpful. I do not. I am going in with a look at the experience, and how the experience changes as I repeat different workouts.

For the first such adventure, I gave Crunch Fat Burning Ab Attack a try. Why?

  1. Netflix Instant had it
  2. It was 32 minutes
  3. It was 32 minutes AND I had ballroom dance classes with my husband that night, making a longer workout unappealing

The first part, a low-impact cardio series with squats, went pretty well until the instructor broke it down into something samba like that seemed unnecessary. For the most part, I could do it, and I generally pick up choreography after 2-3 tries. The floor work portion was fine right up until a section where you prop yourself up on your arm to “test” your core. My core not only failed, it closed for business.

Rather than lie on a crumpled heap on the floor, I opted to keep doing run-of-the-mill crunches until the video moved on to something my body could do. Fortunately, I didn’t wait too long.

As far as big person exercising issues go, there were none for me. It does require a lot of squats and knee bending, however, so if you have knee or leg injuries you may find the first part of the video a problem.

The crux of  all exercise programs of this  nature, is that it requires repetition. I’m giving it 30 days (with weekends off unless I really have energy to burn.)  I’ll let you know how it goes, perhaps not daily, but often enough that you get the idea.

In terms of my first experience? Only 3-4 “Oh good Gods the pain!” Mostly I feel like I have better posture while sitting at my desk now.

Fat girl problems: my water aerobics injury

In Fatshionista on livejournal and in a few other places. discussions of the dreaded “chub rub” erupt from time to time. For the unaware, it’s that situation where a)parts of your body rub against themselves causing a rash or other discomfort or b)when parts of your body rub against your clothing, also creating chafing and discomfort.

Since I suffer from chronic urticaria, my chub rub can come with special prizes if I’m not careful. When I first became ill, a long walk down Nicollet Mall could leave me hobbling around in some weird imitation of day-long tire sprints. I generally resolved the issue by avoiding wearing skirts, or putting on bike shorts beneath them – especially since for a long time, anything with a compression element whether it was pantyhose or a shaper would also cause me to break out severely. I don’t believe in suffering for fashion, and certainly not to the degree I was experiencing for merely not getting arrested for public nudity.

While I’ve learned to prepare for these events, a new version of chub rub caught me by surprise in December.

While any weight I’ve lost in the past year is at best minimal, the time I’ve spent at the gym has caused my body shape to change. So my happy, perfect-fitting swimsuit, suddenly fits a little bit differently around my arms.

I first noticed a sudden stinging sensation as I waved my arms in the air after going through several back and forth motions. Yet when I checked myself in the mirror, I could see nothing. I went out for the evening, came home, and then my arm started burning again and lo – there was a rash alright, with a three dimensional element, little bumps and everything. My first thought was that I had the shingles (I later learned shingles do NOT erupt on that part of the body)!

The first doctor I went to thought I’d just caught a fungus amongus, gave me a steroid cream, and sent me on my way. But after a week of the cream and noticing a brand new eruption after ever water aerobics session, I went to a different doctor. After poking and prodding the rash for a moment or two, he concluded: “It’s an injury you’re reopening, not a fungus.”

After giving me a stronger cream, he advised me to find something that gets between me and the injury. I really don’t want to buy a new swimsuit – it’s a chlorine resistant beauty from Swimsuits for All and in fact another woman in my class wears exactly the same model without a problem.

Evidently even skinny swimmers have this problem, as I discovered entire lines of “rash resistant” swimwear meant to accent or sometimes replace traditional swimsuits. Fortunately, I found this rash guard top from Land’s End:

image  I throw it on over top of my swimsuit and it works great – no more arm rubbing, no more need for steroid creams after.

While most of the rash guard pieces I found touted protection from sunburn – definitely a rash of one type – it seems that most were in fact designed to help with friction burn, rather than sunburn. This one certainly does.

It seemed like a good idea to toss in this experience, as plus size exercise issues are limited in where they’re discussed. Certainly Fathletes covers some of it, and any addition to the collection of knowledge about the plus body and exercise will make life easier for us all!

horse on pilates ball meme

Plus Size Exercise Diary: The Dark Side of Pilates

The Pilates isn’t new. It’s just been on hiatus since December. Between the sudden onset of extended periods, moving to a new house and a pair of pinched nerves I felt forced to let the practice lapse since January. Until then I’d logged two years. At the end of that two years, on an especially good day, I could keep my legs in full table top for the full length of the exercise called “The 100.” Most days I didn’t make it all the way to 100, stopping around 80. The need for CPR ended after the first three months of practice.

This came with only doing Pilates once a week, surrounded by other exercises on different days.

Because it’s a YWCA membership and I persist in attending the same class at the same time, Pilates instructors come and go. Some of the full time Pilates teachers give me nightmares. While the usual Downtown YWCA teachers are great, too often when we get a sub from one of the other clubs, if I go it becomes a giant pain as I become the target of someone’s weight prejudice. It’s subtle. They try to be encouraging. But these instructors just can’t parse someone of my size making the effort more than once – let alone with my degree of persistence.

horse on pilates ball meme

Sometimes I snap back. I know a lot of it is forgivable ignorance – the word on the very real possibility of fit fatness isn’t well-known yet. Once, in a fit of pique, I told a well-intentioned instructor, “If there’s a nuclear holocaust, my chances of survival are way better than yours!”

The male instructors back off more after a comeback; the younger women have a fresher take on body diversity so rarely need a talking to. But it’s gotten to the point where if I see a middle aged female instructor, I just walk the hell out. I can almost guarantee she won’t be updating her knowledge about exercise and diet at my word – and that outdated information will get taken out on me.

One such person immediately assumed my size meant I had knee trouble. “Use the block!” she insisted. I didn’t need the block. The block got in my way.  While I’ve lost some flexibility over the years when injury forced inactivity, it has yet to reach my joints.  My pinched nerves are a muscle issue, not a bone cartilage one.I kept rolling the bolster away. She kept putting it back.

I finally said, flat out: “I don’t have knee problems!” I kicked the bolster back to her with a ferocious glare.

“Are you sure?”

Someone once asked me if I was sure that my last name is Rajchel. Another person asked me if I was sure a dog that was most certainly not my dog wasn’t.

These people are assholes. (One was my first grade teacher, my second experience with deep-seated institutional prejudice towards me.)

Amazingly, despite my fondness for the F word I didn’t use it on any of these people, despite the meritorious use of the F word in such situations.

Knees generally affect the ability to walk. If I had knee problems I would know. I say this. She sets her jaw – it had become about forcing me to fit her inner picture, rather than teaching me proper form – but she does give up on the damn thing.

There are fat women at the gym that do have knee problems. I’ve been in other exercise classes with them. Many are easy to spot just by watching them as they walk in the door.

When I see the same teacher subbing for the class the next week I walk past her and go straight to the treadmills. She sees me. I make sure of it.

This new guy gets that I exercise but he still has the idea locked in his head that fat = doesn’t exercise. He also has the next assumption that not exercising = laziness/non-motivation/lack of commitment. I work with him in one or two sessions. Then my outer life happens. I have a poetry reading to go to, or an organizing meetup for the Minneapolis Doctor Who 50th celebration. I still exercise on those dates – but I have to move my schedule around.

He does not know this. When he sees me again, he makes a big deal out of it. “You come back!” he says. He emphasizes how I haven’t been in awhile. He means well. He hasn’t asked me if I have knee problems.

People that rattle off the schedules of their lives to strangers are a huge turnoff. Of course I’m busy. We’re all busy. But to rattle off that I had that meeting or had to pick up that kid from practice to someone I might never call a friend – it’s a turnoff. Narcissistic. I’m sure as hell not telling him, not when we only see each other once a week.

But I can see his assumptions: that because he doesn’t see me in his class, I’m not working out. Nevermind that I am on the treadmill twice a week, in water aerobics 1-2 times a week. Or he assumes that if I’m not exercising, the reason is that I am unmotivated to do so. I’m not going to make an honor appearance when I’m working out not just the kinks from two pinched nerves but an additional hip misalignment that has caused severe cramping in my calves and feet for more than a decade. I want to get back into the deep end of the pool during water aerobics and to do so I must make my body safe for it.

He’s also seen my legs. My legs are muscular – so muscular that they belie the girth of my belly. There are other fat women like me. There are fat women who work just as hard as I do at the gym, sometimes harder, who have the soft, fleshy legs, the cankles, have flat bellies but jiggly hips, small breasts but sagging back fat.

The arrangement of this flesh on bone? Nearly all genetic. My dad was a linebacker. I take after him almost wholly. He had the muscular legs and the gut. Me too.

None of the fat arrangement is an accurate tell.

I keep going back. The Pilates does wonders for my back and has improved not just my core strength but my strength throughout my body. I’m giving the instructor a chance – and I am resisting the urge to tell him to just be quiet and look pretty.

I plan to give a deep stretch yoga class a try on Friday. The rapid fire Hatha and Vinyasa frustrates me and gives me little opportunity to build flexibility so I’m looking forward to giving it a try.