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As a fitness instructor, nothing infuriates me more than hearing stories of women getting creeped on in the gym.

NOT OKAY. And you don’t have to take it. This is not a fact of life. This is harassment.

The gym is a place where you should feel safe, supported and empowered. If that’s not how you feel at your gym, it may be time to shop around.

Please consider the following:

1) There is absolutely never an excuse for you to tolerate harassment when you are PAYING for services. In a gym setting, it is the management’s JOB to keep you safe and make you feel welcome.

2) If it feels creepy, it is creepy. Don’t waste your time and energy playing the, “Is it in my head? Maybe he’s trying to be nice…” game. Life is short. You are busy. You know a creeper when you see one and it’s not your mission in life to take care of their feelings.

3) Businesses should have sexual harassment policies in place to protect both their employees and their customers. At my , our instructors watch to make sure that students treat one another with respect. When students approach any of us with concerns about classmates’ behavior, we take immediate action to deal with the situation in a way that makes the person who has been harassed the most comfortable. Usually this has involved having a conversation with the person whose behavior is inappropriate.

Once, a young man tried to bond with one of our male kickboxing instructors by saying, “I’m only here to pick up girls. I tried it before with yoga but that didn’t work out so I thought I’d give this a try.” The instructor firmly stated that the women at our studio were here to work out and that they were not interested in that kind of attention. He explained that “pick up” behavior is distracting, uncomfortable and inappropriate in this setting. The young man stopped attending classes shortly after that, and we were 100% satisfied with the outcome. We would rather lose one customer than have several people feeling uncomfortable.

Steps to take if you experience creeping or other harassment at your gym or class:

1) Report the incident to the instructor/manager. Ask if they have a harassment policy. If not, be clear about what you would like to see happen from this action. “Will someone from the gym please talk to this person and ask him not to stare at other members? Please let me know when that conversation has happened.”

If the behavior continues…

2) Try again. “You know, on (date of last complaint) someone told me they would address this situation. Did that happen? I’m still experiencing harassment and that’s not something I should have to deal with as a paying customer.”

If the behavior continues…

3) Last chance. “I’ve now complained twice about this issue and it has not been resolved. If this is not addressed I will be leaving this gym (and telling everyone I know exactly why I left).”

OR you could take the shortcut and deal directly with the creeper.

“Hey! Stop staring at me.”

 

 

 

How Martial Arts Empowers Women

22 Aug

If you watch martial arts movies, you know that martial arts is extremely male-dominated. This often leaves women wondering if there is a place for them in martial arts classes. Am I strong enough? Will I get hurt? Will there be other women there? Will I be taken seriously? Will I be harassed?

Janice earned her black belt after 50!

Anyone can do martial arts. Male or female, any age, even people with physical or cognitive disabilities can learn to do martial arts. If an instructor tells you differently, that only demonstrates their ignorance.

Any well-qualified instructor who has integrity should make ANY new student feel welcome and supported at their school. If this is not the feeling you get from an instructor, look elsewhere! Remember, the rules for authority figures are the same for anyone else– if it feels disrespectful, it is disrespectful.

Reasons women benefit from martial arts training:

1) Feel stronger and more connected to your body. Martial arts training develops balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, speed and power. You will be amazed at what your body can do! How hard you hit has very little to do with how big you are. When you feel good about what your body can do, you feel good about your body in general.

I trust Jennifer Endres (now 5th degree Master Instructor) to strike with control in close quarters.

2) Get comfortable setting physical boundaries.Working in close quarters with classmates to practice self defense techniques may put you outside of your comfort zone initially, but you will quickly find yourself becoming more confident and less intimidated by other people who are in your space. You also learn to set clear physical boundaries through communicating with your practice partners.

Did I mention how fun it is?! Laughter is a great stress reliever!

3) Let go of stress and anger in a healthy way.There is something about the physical process of throwing strikes, in the air or on bags, that literally shakes stress out of your body. This, combined with the grounding of stance work and learning healthy breathing techniques makes martial arts an excellent stress reliever, especially for those of us who feel we need to keep our stress to ourselves (a common concern for many women).

From my 2nd degree test-- The woman in red is my mom, Master Mary Murphy. The 4th degrees on either side of me are now Master Instructors as well! There's no end to the opportunities for learning...

4) Develop a sense of achievement and success. Regular practice leads not only to significant improvement in technique, but to opportunities for rank advancement. There’s something very satisfying about tying on that shiny new belt, a visible reminder to the whole school of what you’ve accomplished through persistence and practice! Plus, rank trumps everything else in a martial arts school. When we line up to take a drink at the water fountain, it’s not “ladies first”, it’s “white belts first”!

If you are in the Madison, WI area, check out to schedule a free trial class.

Women’s World Cup– You Win Some, You Lose Some

28 Jun

When I was a little girl, I always secretly wanted to play sports but (besides martial arts) I felt like I missed the boat and wasn’t good enough to play with the other kids. I especially wanted to play soccer, because it was the most physically intense sport I ever saw girls playing. As I got older, I realized the other cool things about soccer: it’s a way to connect with people all over the world, all you need is a ball and some open space, and it’s one of the most amazing workouts that exists!

USA's Abby Wombach battles for the ball against North Korea

Last year I started playing pick up games with some girlfriends while we followed the Men’s World Cup (more commonly referred to as “THE World Cup” because, you know, women’s sports don’t count). It was so exciting because bars downtown would open at 6am for games and they would be packed with loud, enthusiastic, international crowds of fans. I wore my Mexico jersey in the street and got stopped by strangers every time who wanted to talk about the games. When it ended, I looked forward to the 2011 Women’s World Cup.

Now, the Women’s USA team is ranked higher than the Men’s USA, so I thought that soccer fans would come out for their games at the very least. I was wrong. The bar that opened for all the Men’s World Cup games was only open for USA Women’s World Cup games, and in today’s game vs. North Korea I was one of 5 people there watching (including the bartender). It kind of pissed me off.

Here’s some other things that piss me off about the world’s response to the Women’s World Cup:

1) It’s difficult to find information about it. Sports Illustrated dedicated a whole issue to the Men’s World Cup, and I could barely find a Women’s World Cup SCHEDULE online before it started, let alone information about the teams and players, history, etc.

2) As with most women’s sports, and there is (MUCH) less money put towards it. On the bright side, the opening games were almost sold out in Germany this year and reports say that turnouts are on the rise as time goes on.

3) I can’t stand to look at the USA Women’s jerseys this year. Why? They managed to make a soccer jersey that looks like it’s being unzipped to show a little cleave:

Soccer jersey? Or sexy nurse? I hate these things!!!

4) By the way, when I was looking for those jerseys I found instead “Football WAGs” (thats: “wives and girlfriends”) in in the 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Yuck!!

Objectifying women is so patriotic.

5) There’s still a lot of homophobia and other issues of discrimination surrounding women’s sports, according a .

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE:

Christine Sinclair of Canada and Kim Kulig of Germany

FIFA is launching a campaign called to encourage girls to play soccer, and it’s easy to be inspired by these players. They are awesome, that’s why. Not only are the women footballers great athletes, they play with integrity. It’s commonly known that male players are much more likely to go down in attempts to get fouls called against the other team, but the women are known for avoiding that kind of game-playing.

Check out the and as well.

Now readers: go forth, play and support women’s sports! USA! USA! ;)

When I started this blog, I thought to myself, “I’d better not get too political here.” So I pressured my brilliant activist sister to start a , instead. But you know, I’ve reached a point where I can’t not speak out against the blatant attacks on women by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin state government.

I’m talking about Governor Walker and his unquestioning, morally bankrupt Republican majority in the House and the Senate, whose latest genius idea (<- I must be angry if I’ve been driven to use sarcasm) is to defund family planning services in Wisconsin.

spell out how the proposed budget will affect family planning and health care services in the state:

All 12 Republicans in the Joint Finance Committee voted to:

  • Eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood health centers in Wisconsin
  • Against tens of thousands of women, men, and teens who rely on Planned Parenthood
  • Against lifesaving cancer screenings, HIV testing, birth control, and annual exams
  • Put the entire BadgerCare Family Planning program at risk. A program that provides 60,000 patients across the state with basic, preventive health care each year

Now, for those who may be thinking,“Well I’m opposed to abortion so I don’t know if the state should fund clinics like Planned Parenthood…” I can totally understand where you are coming from. That being said, only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s funding goes to abortion and exactly NONE of that funding comes from the state.

We’re talking about tens of thousands of uninsured, low-income and working class women and families losing access to BASIC health care such as cancer and STI screenings, breast exams and pap smears, annual check ups and access to birth control.

What will this mean for Wisconsin? A rise in unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and women dying of cervical cancer.

for the :

The medical director of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene says women will likely die of cervical cancer if Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal eliminating $266,400 for cervical cancer screening prevails.

“I see at least 1 – 2 high-grade lesions every day during cytologic evaluations,” Dr. Daniel Kurtycz says in prepared remarks to…the Joint Finance Committee…. “Without follow-up, there is no doubt that some of these lesions will become invasive. Because cervical cancer takes at least two years to run its course, sometime after 2015, we will have women dying of cervical cancer as a predictable consequence of the funding reduction for testing in this budget.”

This cannot stand. Please by contacting your representatives or volunteering. Spread the word. Organize!

My New Favorite Book

30 Mar

I am so impressed with You Are Your Own Gym by . I read it in one sitting and started his workout plan the next day.

Top 3 Reasons Why I Looove This Book!:

1. All the exercises are that can be done with no equipment, or basic household objects like tables, chairs, etc. Bodyweight exercises build which teaches the muscles to work in coordination, not isolation, making them ideal for maximizing overall fitness no matter what your starting level.

2. The exercises and the workouts are so simple (but not easy!!). On day one, for example, I did a 30 minute workout that only used 4 basic exercises. The descriptions of the principles behind the plan are clear and concise, so it is ideal for beginners.

3. This program has endless potential to increase challenges! Lauren lays out basic rules for adding challenges to literally any exercise. My goal for this year: handstand training. Now that it’s on the internet I’ll have to do it. ;)

I recommend this program to anyone, male or female, but if you are not familiar with proper form for bodyweight exercises please consult with a trainer first. If you stick with it, maybe someday you’ll be as strong as this guy:

Too Muscular? Is That a Thing Now?

21 Mar

Is there such a thing as being too muscular for a woman? This never occurred to me until I started teaching kickboxing. Every now and then a student would approach me and ask, “This isn’t going to make me too muscular is it?”

1. No, you’re not going to get “too muscular” from working out 2-3 times per week. You’re going to maintain a healthy body.

2. Since when are we worried about this??!

Muscles = Strength. Physical strength is especially important for women. Yes, it feels great to be able to endure a hard workout, but more importantly it feels great just to be able to do normal stuff. I teach a Women’s Strength Training class at . After training for a few months, one of my students said to me, “I feel so much better. I know it sounds silly but before I took this class I wasn’t able to lift heavy things. I self-identified as ‘weak’ and I would joke about it with friends and family. They would say, ‘Oh, don’t make her carry that, she’s so weak!’ and I would laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I’m so weak!’” After a few months of strength training she became proud of her ability to manage physical tasks in day to day life.

Concerned about looks?

First of all, a strong woman is a sexy woman and anyone who sees physical strength as a turn-off is SO not worth your time. Seriously. Think about it.

Secondly, the purpose of diet and exercise is to nurture vibrant health. And when I say “diet” I mean eating for health every day as part of a healthy lifestyle. I do NOT mean jumping on the bandwagon of some diet fad in order to lose weight because you don’t look like the model on the latest cover of Cosmo.

We all have different body types, and a healthy body is an attractive body.

That being said, let’s say you legitimately need to lose some body fat for health reasons. Muscle burns fat.

Let me go one step farther and speak to those of you who still really want to look like those models in the magazines.

Check out Heidi's abs. I guarantee you she does strength training.

Cardio alone will not give you a body like this. Women who do cardio only tend to have a doughy look, even when they are very thin. Anyway, how muscular do you think you are going to get? Is Jillian Michaels too muscular?

You think a body like this happens by accident??

I can imagine some women would say yes. They want the abs but not the arms. I don’t really get it. What about Jackie Warner? Are those abs too much for you?

Good news! I give you my 100% guarantee that you will never look in the mirror one day and think, “Whoops! I’ve gone and done it! I didn’t mean to build those large, well-defined muscles! What’s a girl to do?”

These women are full-time fitness professionals. I’ve read Jackie Warner’s book. I know what she eats. That woman is DISCIPLINED.

Let me put it simply. Even if there were such a thing as too muscular (and perhaps some body builders have gotten there…), it is pretty much a full-time job to get there.

For the average woman, doing the recommended amount of exercise (alternating strength/cardio 3-6 days per week) and eating healthy foods without taking supplements like creatine, you’re just going to look good and feel strong.

In my book, that’s a good thing.

Don’t Be A Punching Bag: Fight Back!

25 Feb

I am LOVING season 11 of . Ok, maybe as a martial artist I’m a little biased. This season more than ever they are moving to a martial arts based training program. The 2 new trainers are a Golden Gloves boxer (Cara) and a kickboxer/mixed martial artist (Brett). More than that, this season has a wonderful group of very compassionate contestants and totally fierce women! If anyone watched season 10, you would have seen that one woman (Ada- they called her “The Terminator”) had to rep for all the females. I love Ada but man that season was so frustrating to watch. Really obnoxious gender dynamics in the group.

Anyway season 11 is awesome, you must check it out. Prepare to be inspired.

I love this show because it is all about physical empowerment. You watch mostly sedentary people with serious health problems transform into full-fledged athletes. Ever heard of a thing called mind-body connection? By week 7 or 8, you see all of them, one by one, blossom into completely different people. They become confident, assertive, expressive and most importantly they stop questioning whether or not they can accomplish any task set before them. No matter how difficult the task, they approach it with a can do attitude.

A downside of the show is that, because it is a competition, not everyone can continue. On the other hand, because they have to fight to stay there, they are forced to find the fighters inside of them.

Martial arts based training programs, aside from being a fun and engaging way to exercise, really help people to get to that point. Particularly for women, martial arts is such a healthy way to find the fight you need to succeed in life. As women we have a lot to fight against:

  • Unhealthy body image we learn from the media
  • Lack of representation/recognition in history, politics, sports, etc.
  • The idea that we are “the weaker sex”
  • The impulse to put everyone else first
  • The learned habit to constantly apologize for what we think, feel or say
  • The fact that female-dominated professions are undervalued and underpaid
  • Creepers at every turn…

Yet, I often see women in my self defense classes who seem physically pained at the thought of hitting someone! The thought of it. Seriously. And I have to wonder to myself, “Would you be that pained at the thought of taking a hit?” The answer is usually no.

How can this not look fun to you??!

I’ve heard people say that, generally speaking, men take out stress externally and women take it out internally. Of course there are exceptions (I, for example, want to punch people in the face when I am stressed), but in general I have seen that to be true. Women seem to feel that we don’t deserve things. Even basic things, like feeling safe and comfortable and happy and good about our bodies. I’ve said this before but just for good measure: You deserve to feel safe, happy and confident! I’m not saying you should go around punching people in the face, but I am saying you should not take crap from other people. You are strong and intelligent and anyone who makes you feel otherwise is a worthless jerk, so forget them.

Check out this of Jillian Michaels teaching Biggest Loser contestant Marcy not to be a punching bag. Love her or hate her, Jillian is hard core. I’m going to go on the record and say I’m a fan. If you watch the , you’ll see another great scene with the new trainer Cara boxing Kaylee, a contestant who didn’t know she was a fighter until she got in the ring. Great stuff!

You don’t have to do martial arts to be a fighter in your heart, but if you’re having a hard time finding the fight in you it’s a great place to start. If you’re in Madison, WI and you mention this blog post by March 31, 2011 I will give you a FREE 30 minute private lesson to help you get started at my studio: . Call 251-7755.

If you’re not in the area but interested in starting training, here’s some tips on how to find the right place for you:

  1. Martial arts studios should offer a free class or week, or at least a reduced rate drop-in class before you sign on to any sort of contract. I recommend trying classes at more than one place before you make your decision.
  2. Listen to your instincts. Martial arts training involves a lot of trust, so look for instructors that make you feel safe, welcome and supported.
  3. Self defense vs. competition is one of the biggest differences between schools. My school is a self defense based school, focusing on personal development. If you like competition and find it motivating, that might be a good fit for you, but personally I don’t see the value of full contact sport fighting. There are ways to compete, like light-contact sparring, that won’t leave you with a broken nose.
  4. Do you see a variety of people in class? When the student body is diverse in terms of gender, race, ability, body type, etc. that is usually a good sign.
  5. Are there female instructors or high ranks? You can’t always hope for this, because it is a male-dominated profession, but it is a good sign for you when women are in leadership positions in any setting. That being said, I know many wonderful male martial arts instructors who believe strongly in female empowerment and equality.

Ok, now go forth and fight back! Let this song be your soundtrack:

How To Love Push Ups (Even If You Can’t Do One Now)

14 Feb

I can’t tell you how many women walk into my studio feeling seriously demoralized because of a real or perceived lack of upper body strength. Yes, men naturally have more upper body strength than women and yes, it can be really annoying when a man can do more push ups or pull ups than you without training. So what can we do about this?

As once said, “Don’t be a cry baby. Be a try baby.”

Push ups have been called “the perfect exercise” because they truly work the entire body and you can do them anywhere with no equipment. Women, in my experience, sometimes approach this exercise with hesitation. I can’t really blame them. If I hear one more fitness instructor refer to push ups from knees as “girl push ups” I am going to puke. I watch men do sloppy, pointless push ups every day because they would have to go to their knees to do them properly. Meanwhile I see many women who are ready to do push ups from their toes but lack the confidence.

Anyone can learn to do proper push ups, even if they start out with very little upper body strength. As with any physical activity, it is important to learn proper form from a qualified instructor to avoid injury and maximize efficiency. After that, it all comes down to your personal commitment.

Check out this instructional video and get started today. Set a goal you can keep, but know that the more often you practice, the faster you will see results. I recommend working on your push ups at least once per day (it takes 5 minutes or less!) but if that seems daunting start with 3 times per week. Anything less than that will leave you feeling frustrated.

Does this sound familiar to you?

“Oh I could never do that….”   (Note: this is one step away from, “Little old me?”)

I can’t believe how many women stop themselves from doing something because they think they can’t, or they think it’s not for them, or they think they are too weak/too uncoordinated/too out of shape/too skinny/too fat/too shy/too scared… It is in these moments that I just want to scream, “With the WHOLE WORLD telling us we can’t/shouldn’t for any number of reasons no matter what the challenge, be it taking a calculus class or trying martial arts or saying what we really mean– why, why, WHY?! would you tell that to yourSELF?!!”

I’m not angry at women, just to clarify. I’m angry at a system that teaches us to keep ourselves down. And I’m not disregarding the great leaps that women have made. I’m just sad that so many women have yet to realize their own personal power.

Example: Last summer my friends and I started a weekly soccer game at the park. I had never played soccer before and I was not very good at it, but that described about half the group and we were just playing to have fun. Pretty soon, the split became clear. The guys (even the shy ones!) would join with confidence, laughing at their own mistakes and compensating for lack of experience with can-do attitude. The women (even the confident ones!) got quieter and quieter and dropped off one by one until we finally had to cancel the game because the remaining regulars were a bunch of jerks who couldn’t stop saying stuff like, “Wow that girl can really run! I don’t know if I should be impressed with her or ashamed of myself!” and any time someone missed an opportunity “Man UP!” and when they ended up on the team with more women, “Hey, don’t you think we should even out the teams?” I spoke my mind but I had to leave the game because I was afraid I would start maiming people with my cleats if I stayed. (Which would be wrong, so very wrong…)

The point is, the way I saw it, we women defeated ourselves first. When someone spends the whole game looking embarrassed and apologizing, it’s easy for the other team to lose respect for that person. It’s still wrong, but I’m going for end results here and I really believe that if we had held our heads high and acted like we believed in ourselves, other people would have seen our potential too.

SO.

Please. Not for me but for you– the next time something sounds fun/interesting to you and you think you might like it, go ahead and try it! Even if you think it is way out of your league. Even if other people think you won’t succeed. AND keep in mind that ANYONE, of any gender, is likely to suck at something new when they first start out, so nix the negative self-talk. Trust me, I’m a martial arts instructor and I can tell you that the best anyone can do on day one is “Pretty good, for your first day!” In the movies we see a training montage, but in real life that stuff takes time. Usually more time than you think! When trying something new, you’ve GOT to cheer yourself on and celebrate small successes.

***A special note on CLASSES in physical activities:

Any facility with members (a gym, dance studio, martial arts studio, etc.) should have some sort of free trial class or week, or at least the ability to buy a small package to see if the place is the right fit for you.

If you go to a class and the instructor makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s not you. It’s them. I’m speaking as a professional. You are the customer and any QUALIFIED fitness instructor should make you feel welcome, encouraged and supported. As you develop skills, yes, instructors should challenge you, but no, they should never criticize, embarrass or condescend to you. Listen to your intuition. Does the instructor respect you and treat you with care and special consideration as a newcomer to the class/studio? If not, look for another place that treats you like they want your business.

Yes you can!!

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