What to do when the "what if I just... didn't?" question enters your brain

Links #6: An elite marathoner has to keep being a mom?? And #30secondsofpullups.

What to do when the "what if I just... didn't?" question enters your brain

It’s easier to do nothing than something every day, which is what we’re all thinking when it comes time to work out and the thought creeps into our brains, “what if I just… didn’t, today?”

Once I start this kind of bargaining it gets hard to stop. It almost always eventually reaches the point that I’m coaxing myself like a little baby to do each little micro-step that will eventually add up to me doing the workout, as long as I don’t draw too much attention to the final product: write down the day’s training in my notebook, put on leggings, put on a sports bra, put on shoes, carry stuff outside, unwrap the squat rack and weights, do a handful of gentle warmup moves like I’m a senior citizen doing aerobics at a class in a public park, warm up for my first movement, and then do the sets I need to do. If, by this time, I’m earnestly not feeling like it and not just being a brat, I can stop. And some days, it's fine to just give up and not even try.

But one thought that’s helped me a lot in the last year or so is: I can actually only work out so much, and "all that I can do" is not so bad.

By that I mean, what is my capacity for working out in a whole week, actually? It’s like two hours of real honest work, tops (not counting my 1-5 minutes resting between sets, which sometimes become 30 minutes, given that no one is waiting to use my equipment; including reasonable rest time, it’s maybe 5 hours in a week). In any given day I certainly can’t do more than like, a solid 20 minutes to half an hour of doing my reps and sets. Some people can do more; one of Michael Phelps’ or Serena Williams’ genetic gifts is not just “doing what they do at a high level,” but “having the physical capacity to train for several hours a day in order to become as good as they are, without their body totally breaking down.” Not me. I am mortal and top out at two to three hours of exercise a week.


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At 168 hours in a week, that’s 1.7% of my week’s hours. Then the logic starts to become, I might as well get it in now, because I can’t otherwise cram it in later. And if that’s all I have, I might as well actually make an effort during it, because it’s not like I’m going to do more. This week will go by whether I work out during it or not, and next week I can only do the same two to three hours. Today, I can only do like 30 minutes. If I want to push along the little sled of “getting stronger,” or even just “stay where we're at,” that’s truly the totality of the opportunity I have to do that.

Right now, I'm actually finding this super-motivating, because I'm trying to rebuild the strength I lost over the summer by taking it easy, and I only have two lower-body days per week. Yesterday was the last opportunity I will get to train my legs until three days from now. And when I'm recovering (stretching/gentle LISSing but also resting, eating, and sleeping), I want to do a good job because I want that next day to go well, because it will be the only day for the next three days after that.

Maybe, maybe if I trained more, I could increase my capacity for working out. But I don’t want to, so I don’t, and 2-3 hours of lifting a week is plenty. “No days off”/“no excuses” are obviously toxic in many ways, but one of them is that it labors under the false idea that I have infinite capacity for working out, and anytime I’m not working out, I owe myself guilt that I’m not doing more. Wrong! I don’t have "unlimited potential.” I’m a person of significant limits, many of them totally insurmountable. I live *circumscribes around myself with my two arms* in here. Dealing with myself within my own limits is plenty of tasks. It’s enough.


I have pull-ups in my program now, and I haven't done them in a while, so once again I suck at them. I'm thinking about doing a project inspired by Jami Attenberg's #1000wordsofsummer, where instead of trying to write 1000 words every day for a short period of time, I add 30 seconds of pull-up work to all my upper body days for a while. For me, that would be "as many negatives as it takes to accumulate 30 seconds" (so maybe 5 6-second reps, or 3 10-second ones). For someone less experienced, it could be just 30 seconds of a dead hang, until you can start doing negatives. I will do this for a month. #30secondsofpullups.

I need to correct the record from last week's newsletter: due to a copy error, I wrote that you should not refrigerate eggs from a store. Please refrigerate your eggs.

A normie named Emily Mariko is going viral for eating normally, and I think that is great.  I don't want hyper-fancy food recipes or health recipes; I simply want normal recipes. For that purpose, I also want to re-up Eat This Much, my favorite site for seeing what a given day of macros/calories looks like in terms of normal foods. More normal eating in 2022.

Related, here is a nice site for normal foods, but with slightly more protein than usual. That's a normal I can get behind.

I admire Rob Delaney. Now I want to happen upon a mud run.

I love this running woman, Mrs. Space Cadet, on TikTok. You know how I feel about the dreaded cardio, but what can I relate to if not someone being like "I tried sort of and that's what matters"? Go girl give us barely anything!

For posterity, I made the big batch overnight swoalts live. It takes 5 minutes normally, but 20 minutes if you have to explain everything, shush your cat, and show the geographic layers of your tupperware to the camera.


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~Discord Pick(s) of the Week: Spiritually, it's that I learned climbers refer to difficult days as "high gravity days"; I feel we should adopt this in the strength training space for the times the weights will not go. But really the winner is this video of Liz Craven, a world-record squatter, sharing her secrets. The dark horse is this post that will help you understand how strong men and women are relative to each other (it's not true, for instance, that any man is stronger than every woman. I hope you didn’t already think this, but in case you did—). ~

Not to be too melodramatic, but I look at my outside-world clothes now and they feel like they are from a different era. They are, in a lot of ways; there has been none of the Ship-of-Theseus transition that would normally have taken place in my closet over the last two years, where month in and out I buy a new thing that goes in there, and finally decide to donate another thing I don't wear and have held onto for far too long. The process of myself changing that is normally progressively sublimated at least in part into my clothes just hasn't happened since late 2019, and now they might as well be encased in amber. The smaller population of clothes in heavy circulation (the soft things) all live separately in my dresser, because it doesn't matter if t-shirts and sweatpants are a little rumpled.

I haven't rightly known what to do about this; I don't even think about it until it's time to go out into the world, I look into my closet and panic because everything in there feels foreign, and wear one of the like two outfits that feel consistent with me (which are, truthfully, things on the larger/more forgiving end of the spectrum, both because I haven't bothered to cut in a while and because "giant t-shirt to fitted blouse" is a rough transition). Fortunately, Kelsey McKinney wrote a wonderful piece at Defector this week that helps complete these loose clothing-related thoughts I've been having. If you have clothing-related advice for me, I need it.


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We are not consuming Kelloggs' products this week! I, too, love Special K Red Berries, but now is not the time!!!

Another wonderful and insightful piece about Noom, the app that seems to tell everyone to just eat 1200 calories. Again, this bad advice is free everywhere; please don't pay for it.

Related to the normal eating above, and momming diatribe below, "You know those videos in which perfectly manicured moms use multicolored batter to make fun cartoon-character pancakes for their delighted children? You don’t know how to do that. Sandwiches."

I must follow up again on the ongoing Facebook disaster of making its users feel bad about themselves: Whistleblower Frances Haugen stated unequivocally in her 60 Minutes interview that Facebook's own research showed that generating feelings of inadequacy with Instagram made users use the app more. More to the point, specifically in the respect of eating disorders, they've known about it forever.

I think a lot about the ouroboros of "exercise can help depression and anxiety, but depression and anxiety make it more difficult to do the task of exercising." Related, some friends have gotten some mileage out of this new site that purports to help find therapists that actually take your insurance.

In this piece about an elite marathoner surprising the world with her eliteness at the ripe old age of [checks notes] 36, I noticed the following line:

"She signed a professional contract with Nike in February under a strict condition: She would not change a thing about her life. She would remain with her coach, continue as a real estate agent and stay in Virginia, where she has built a home with her husband and her children, Tommy, 6, and Quin, 5."

Now I have to digress: The article doesn't specify why Nike stipulated this (if it did stipulate it)1. But a frequent criticism I see in the fitness/athletic space, overwhelmingly of women  in particular, is along the lines of "She low key fell off once [athletic activity] became all she does, and now I don't like her anymore. She doesn't even have a real job." This all glanced off something in my brain about sports-related marketing that I was told while reporting a story on protein a few years ago at Muscle Milk HQ in the East Bay: The company believed that men responded best to elite athletes in marketing (think Steph Curry), while women respond to relatable everywomen who are squeezing their daily workouts in despite everything. I don't think I've ever seen campaign featuring a guy where the message revolves around "sure, I'm a four-time NBA Finals MVP, but I'm also a dad." This sounds reductive and sexist, but I can only assume they have market research and data to back it up (and I see it in the groundswell of critical comments about women like this).

I honestly can't even believe we are having a “men are like this"/"women are like that" type of conversation in the year of our lord 2021.  But I see far less of this kind of "not a real job" criticism, for instance, of women who are stay-at-home influencer moms. That's probably because most women end up as moms, which unfairly takes up a disproportionate amount of their time and energy, leaving them to squeeze themselves in around the edges. Moms who lean into that are Good. Other role models with different priorities then have to reflect that limited-from-the-outside, mitigated kind of achievement, otherwise they won't be taken seriously. I wonder how much real estating or parenting she can actually get done when she also needs to stay in marathon-winning form, and how much of that will end up being essentially a ruse anyway. I'm reaching for a conclusion but don't have much else to say except that I think it sucks, and even less so because of "Nike buying into this" than because "goddamn, look at how much scaffolding we have in place around this status quo."


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Related to much of the above: You aren't lazy. You need to slow down.

This is how you dirty bulk.

There's not any actual information in here, but I enjoyed glancing through this "Ladies' Guide to Pumping Iron" from a 1979 edition of the Bay Guardian.

I had not heard of hurling before this past week, but now the dormant field hockey player and untapped rugby player in me wants to try it. It's ok, we don't have to try it though, we can just watch the videos.

Like everyone, I've been watching Impeachment and Squid Game, but the show I really want to rec is Y: The Last Man. I was skeptical because the ads make it look sort of pulpy in a low-effort-CW-show way, but it's actually much, much better than that. I'm very much "seeing what they did there" in terms of trying to appeal directly to women with things like almost always toplining this or that political figure as "being an anti-vaxxer," and it feels... kind of refreshing?

OK that’s all for this week! Any typos or copy errors were to make sure you were paying attention.

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  1. After publication, a couple of Twitter users noted other coverage in Runner’s World that seems to suggest retaining most of her life as normal may have been D’Amato’s stipulation, not Nike’s. Quote: “With her contract, she’ll remain in Midlothian—where she runs solo on most days—and continue training with Raczko. Because she enjoys her job, she’ll keep working as a realtor for Stone Properties (her mom’s brokerage) with the understanding that she may pull back on the hours to accommodate her running schedule. But ultimately, every decision will be made to find the right fit for her and her family. ‘There’s going to be absolutely nothing that changes but in a way, everything is changing now because I’m a pro runner,’ she said.” A strange-ish way to characterize the situation! But I submit it’s not entirely clear who is making the rules.