Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Amy's Top Ten Phrases from Online Hotel Reviews

1. My wife and I paid for a suite, but there was nothing sweet about it.

2. If you like the smell of damp shoes, then this is the place for you.

3. I got bitten from something out of the bed and got rashes all over.

4. I couldn't stand this smelly, dank place.

5. There was a huge burn mark on the wall.

6. The water tasted like dirt.

7. The water smelled like fish.

8. After swimming in the pool, all three of my children have scaling skin on their legs, faces, and bodies. Their hair feels like straw. My daughter's new swimsuit is faded so bad we had to throw it away.

9. I cannot put all that was wrong into words.

10. Stay away or be sorry.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bring It

In an interview for, Dan John compares your average fitness fanatic to lawn grass.

"Grass is wonderful," he says. "It bends and sways and never breaks. It can survive a tornado very well."

Athletes, on the other hand, are like oak trees, John claims. They see a tornado and say, "Bring it."

This oak tree spent the past two hours alternating five ice packs around her trunk and limbs in twenty minute intervals. Followed by two ibuprofen. And an internet search to determine if four is legal dosage.

From the bench press to boxing. From Arnold to Ali. From the family-friendly YMCA to a little downtown gym situated between an adult movie theater and something called "Classic Lingerie and Videos."

Greg thinks I'll be bullfighting before the year is up; I like difficult and slightly dangerous stuff. There's a name for this that I can't recall right now, probably more like a diagnosis. For now we'll go with the oak tree analogy.

Except Dan John goes on to say that "sometimes the oak tree survives and sometimes the tornado breaks it in half. They either rise to the occasion or they break."

Hence the ice packs. But I'm in pain and glory; I really enjoy boxing (heavy bag--no sparring).

Not broken yet. Maybe I'm more of a maple.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kick It

When I'm not training for a bench press competition, which I'm not, and won't be again, in case you were wondering, I sign up for BodyCombat, a kickboxing class held at a local snooty-tooty gym. Women there are fit and tan, and pull their streaked blond locks back into sporty caps. The instructors are cool, however, and sufficiently badass to teach moves like these.

Previously at BodyCombat, I've come close to something resembling cardiac arrest. The first year, this would happen in the first ten minutes or so of class. This time around, I'm not looking at the clock and calculating my imminent death until about twenty minutes in.

A mystery: The much older and the less fit around me fared better. I asked my doctor about this, and she said that as I gain muscle, something about oxygen flowing and whatnot will help me in this regard. She was wrong. And my heart is fine. What gives?

Finally, I figured it out: I can't breathe. The day I started prescription nosedrops was the day my bench press improved dramatically. It's helped these cardio activities as well, but tonight, when I added the over-the-counter addictive kind, voila--bodycombat was manageable. No ambulance needed.

Other key factors for my survival include: standing near the fan; wearing natural fibers; donning less clothing. Clarification on that last point: shorts instead of knee-length yoga pants.

Whatever's needed to take a hammer to my opponent's ribcage, an elbow to his eyebrow, and a cross jab to the nose. The opponent is imaginary, of course. But did I mention I've also taken up regular ol' boxing?

I needed a new upper body-based sport. Greg suggested fencing. "But I want to hit stuff," I said.

Tune in later this week for the report on boxing class number 2: when swatting at the air is not enough.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Next Blog

See that "Next Blog" option in the header?

Following my blog is a series of writings on deadlifts, squats and various sporting events. This makes sense. The little spider thingys traveling the web connected my bench pressing with what these people do. Of course.

Next comes a fair amount of yoga. Once I may have mentioned that I wear yoga pants; maybe that's why.

But then come the blogs on, uh, stamping. Crafts. And crocheted hats. Don't these people know I'm the AntiCrafter? The woman who led a sixth grade class in the making of rotting-apple* puppet heads?

(*they weren't supposed to rot or be rotting, it's just that by the time I peeled twenty-five of them, the first seventeen were...oh, never mind...)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Report

In her introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Ann Douglas writes that in 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe was an "overworked housewife" and "minor writer" who "cared surprisingly little for established opinion."

Then her sister-in-law made a suggestion: "If I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that will make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is."

Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, her first novel. It was published in 1852, became the best-seller of the 19th century, and has never gone out of print. "No woman before or since has so successfully written a novel designed to motivate America to act on a major issue of the day."

When President Lincoln met Stowe in 1863, midway through the Civil War, he reportedly called her "the little lady who made this big war."

Did you know that art can change the world?

Thursday, May 6, 2010


...said the two massage therapists, while approaching my crooked lower back.

And one chiropractor, who added, "Don't go anywhere near those exercise machines at the Y." I ran from his office, turning back only to yell, "I am not an animal. I am a human being!"

First massage therapist--3 years ago. She suggested I see the chiropractor.
Second massage therapist--today.

I'm happy to report that (a) I ignored the chiro and kept at the exercise, eventually losing 50 pounds over two years, and (b) although my back remains crooked and whoa-inducing, the strength training has cured much of the back and neck pain that plagued me off and on since my teens.

Not just happy -- grateful. Whoa. Like, totally.

Monday, May 3, 2010

INTERVIEW: Lou Schuler

Lou Schuler is an award-winning journalist and author of books I like, such as The New Rules of Lifting for Women. He calls the stories on my blog "small, well-crafted gems," so I'm trying to keep him around. Lou agreed to be interviewed here on WAIT FOR IT.

Lou, I recently went shopping for wristwraps, and among the choices were "Convict Pro" and "The Strangulator." What's with all the violent imagery in strength training? Did it start with the insulting of Mac and devolve from there?

Amy, I remember, going back five or six years, we were on vacation, and I had taken my kids out to a playground at a park. These other kids at the playground, a little older than my kids, started up a Star Wars game. And these older kids all wanted to be Sith, like Darth Vader and Darth Maul, because the Sith had the coolest superpowers. They didn't see them as the bad guys.

How does that relate to training? Maybe the original selling point of strength training was that skinny, weak guys like me would be able to stand up for themselves. For me it was more about sports, but it was still a means of being able to hold my own in an unfair world. I loved sports, I wanted to be good at sports, but my genetic mash-up had left me with a body that refused to move fast or hit a baseball where no one could catch it.

But that was back in 1970, when I was 13. Nowadays, it's a given that everyone needs to train, for everything. A few years back I filed away a newspaper story about a chess champion who lifted weights to improve his focus. The development of strength and power has become value-neutral. You just want to make sure you're the biggest, baddest mofo in the room, in the ring, or on the field.

I don't follow MMA, but I think its popularity is part of this trajectory. It's not about good vs evil, or Macs triumphing over sand-kicking bullies. It's just tough, well-trained athletes competing in brutal but fair competition. Everyone who climbs into the ring has made the choice to be there.

It's understandable, then, that women who meet up with grunting, sweaty Sith-wannabes wielding free weights will soon back away and step onto a treadmill. You're trying to convince them to do otherwise.

Amy, that's a good point, and I've never thought about it that way. Thanks a lot. I guess I'm going to start drinking early today.

It'll be okay, Lou. Why don't we talk about your mom, instead? You said she "had biceps before biceps were cool on women"--long before the image of Jillian Michaels began appearing on everything but car parts.

My mom could've kicked her ass. Mom used to get out in the yard and play baseball with us, and I don't think there was any job around the house she was afraid to do. She was one of those women who never gained weight, even when she was pregnant. I'll never know how much her weight control came down to physical activity and genetics, and how much was willpower and self-denial. I don't remember her ever saying she was on a diet, but I also have few memories of her actually eating.

I should mention that she also smoked for most of her life, but when she decided it was time to quit, she did. She'd been cutting back for years, and then one year when I went home for Christmas I realized she wasn't going outside to grab a smoke. She acted like it was no big deal. She could quit smoking as easily as she could skip a meal.

I think all that came back to haunt her in her senior years. She just turned 83, and has a lot of physical problems that I suspect are related to poor nutrition and a body weight that was chronically lower than it should've been. If she'd been a lifter, with her genetics, I think she'd be a lot more mobile than she is now.

Then again, I can't really criticize someone who's outlived most of her siblings, and has fewer chronic health problems than the two who're still alive. And she's outlived my dad by 14 years and counting. Of the two lifestyle patterns, his "eat everything" vs her "eat nothing," it looks like she picked the better option. It'd be great if they'd both stayed somewhere in the middle, but that wasn't in the cards for either of them.

So...women should lift weights and watch what they eat. Someone should write a book about that.

I'll tell you a funny story. The other day I'm at the driving range, trying to get some swings in before my annual golf outing with a group of former colleagues. Out of the blue, a guy at the range, who I'd guess was a little older than me, starts telling me about how the core is the key to good golf. You can't just swing with your arms, he told me. You have to engage those core muscles. That's where the power is.

The funny part is, just a few weeks ago Alwyn and I finished working on a book that focuses almost entirely on core training--The New Rules of Lifting for Abs, which is our third book in the NROL series. And going back a few years, I edited Core Performance, by Mark Verstegen and Pete Williams, which I think did more than any other mainstream fitness book to popularize the idea that the core muscles are the key to athletic performance.

As the lady said, someone should write a book about that.

Visit Lou at

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Transformation Challenge

The prize was a photo shoot and a trip to California. I began the application:

"I was always the smart girl, not the pretty one..."

Oh, forget it. How's a size 6 going to win a weight loss contest?

The word "transformation" in the contest's title is what had caught me. The day before, I had used the word frequently while working on an essay about therapeutic techniques in the arts. "Theatre as a means of personal and societal transformation," I had written.

And then some chick in a bikini advertises the same product and promises me a free plane ticket, to boot.

The contest is now officially off my radar. (In case you haven't yet picked up on this: I have a fetish for reaching for brass rings on other people's carousels.) But it got me thinking: now might be the right time for a new goal or two in both areas of transformation.

I quit my job this past week. A few weeks prior to that, I decided to no longer work toward getting better at the bench press. Both were the right decisions. No longer did I want to be a sore, walking set of triceps; and though I cared deeply for the women at the shelter and did well by them, I needed to be safe. The effect was like leaving a lover you knew you couldn't stay with for the long haul.

Today, I'm at peace. I've got some grieving to do over leaving the shelter. As for the bench press, I knew I was okay when I heard about an upcoming competition, took a minute to calculate its feasibility, and said, Nah. No regrets.

But this won't last long. Something interesting has to be on the radar, or I can't rest. So how about a transformation or two over the next, say, 8 weeks?

Goal 1: Figure stuff out. Grieving, as I said, is on the list. Thinking. Reading. Writing. Working on the mind, soul, and...

Goal 2: Bikini body. Go on, admit it: Had I made this number 1, you'd think less of me. But I don't want to be a brain on a stick. My body should improve just as my spirit should soar. Mental and physical health are partners. I remember telling a woman that the reason I was in a theatre class with her at that moment was because I had previously joined the Y. (Literally, I had read about Theatre of the Oppressed while waiting for Theo to be done with a tumbling class. But the reason I brought the book was an increasing awareness I had, through exercise, of the mind-body connection.)

And doggone it, I turn 40 this year. It's about time this smart girl shows the beach what's what.

This is no extreme makeover, folks. I'm only doing what I'd be doing anyway--the bikini's already been bought--and what everyone should do: grow and improve and evolve on a regular basis. I'm just being purposeful about it, and recording the process as I go.

Success will be difficult to measure. Fitness people like to go by the scale and the ruler, and I could, too, though I want to increase my size through muscle, not lose it.

And how to measure the movement of the mind and spirit? I'm hoping this will become clear. Had I not made this an official challenge, I would have meandered in this area, but now I've got to make regular reports.

This is going to be good. Who wants to join me?

for inspiration: one of my favorite groups. also check out the ramped up version of the same song.