Gendered Resistance (in Indoor Cycling)

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Since I got injured I’ve become obsessed with indoor cycling. Right now nothing comes close the sweaty endorphin boost I get from pounding it out on a bike, plus it’s a really good way to keep my fitness up when running is off the cards.

Because I’m a woman on a budget, and I don’t always want to go an workout at work, I decided to start hitting the spin classes at my local gym - Brockwell Lido. For just over forty quid a month I can take as many classes as I want, and if I stick to my goal of three bike sessions a week I’ll definitely be getting my moneys worth considering how much classes as boutique studios like Psycle are (although I do love them so!). So last Monday I toddled off to the Lido to check out my first class(s - obviously I decided to hit a double).

Being totally straight I wasn’t expected classes even close to those I’ve taken part in at Psycle, Boom or Heartcore, after all the Lido is essentially a local leisure centre not a trendy studio, and the offering reminded me a lot of the Spinning classes I used to go to occasionally as a teenager. The instructor shouts out a resistance and an RPM and you do your best to keep up, no fancy choreography and no faffing about with upper body, it is all about the bike. What I wasn’t expecting was the instructor to should out one level of resistance for ‘the ladies’ and another for ‘the men’, calling out those who weren’t on track as he wandered around the studio.

Maybe I’ve been training alone for too long, or maybe I spend too much time in high end studios, but I honestly thought that this approach had died a death. While I’ve heard stories of ‘ladies weights’ I figured that type of thing was a one off, and that I wouldn’t experience sexism around performance in any gym I went to.

Now this isn’t about my capabilities or ego - if anything my current injury means I need less resistance rather than more - but it is about the messages we share with men and women about their capabilities as athletes (and in this context I’m using athlete to refer to anyone who moves, because Chevy Rough raised me right). It’s also as much an issue about men and masculinity as it is about women - reinforcing notions that as a man you should be able to achieve a particular level of athleticism based on your chromosomes, something we are gradually realising is deeply damaging. Similarly, it reinforces notions that women are inherently weaker than men, and therefore need to tone down their exertion, which again promotes damaging stereotypes. Yes, men and women do have physiological differences that can impact performance, but at the level of a sports centre cycling class this isn’t an element I think is particularly relevant.

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Leaving class the instructor’s directions played on my mind, and I decided to ask some of my friends who teach indoor cycling for their thoughts. Was this actually a relatively normal approach that I’d simply missed by riding in fancy studios? Was there a good reason for gendered resistence?

Honestly most people I spoke to (including other staff at the Lido) were really surprised that anyone still took this approach, although (and much to her credit!) Mollie did fess up and tell me that she thinks that she’s probably done similar when training people on Keiser bikes (where there’s a visual display of resistance, so similar to what I was riding during this class). Mollie commented that as an instructor it can be hard to know where everyone is at in terms of strength, and while you could give guidance based on the idea of beginner and advanced riders it is easy to cheat, and some people might identify more with directions based on gender. I can see where Mollie is coming from, but I’d argue that we need to take care around reproducing narratives - it’s like your Mum always says, just because so-and-so does something it doesn’t mean you have to as well. When it comes to gender ideology (and this scenario is a prime example) we need to be alive to challenging rhetoric and language if we want to promote change.

I was curious to know how this all worked from a training perspective, and Carly chatted me through the various approaches to coaching in a class setting. Reflecting on my experience she explained how the instructor I encountered may have slipped into assumptions around gender and performance - when teaching indoor cycling you can work on watts (power) and give an indication on what athletes should be aiming for, and her thesis is that the instructor may have interpreted this as related to the factual biological capacity of each gender. Which does make sense, although as I mentioned earlier in this post I don’t think is necessarily relevant when considering performance in the context of a leisure centre fitness class. But then maybe I’m underestimating my fellow Lido goers and my analysis is actually based on bias?

Carly told me that the approach used in my class wasn’t one she’d use herself as she’d worry about alienating women and making men feel ashamed if they weren’t able to reach the prescribed resistance, as well as bringing negative segregating language into an environment where she’s trying to make people feel good (God I love that woman). She also highlighted that performance is affected by a myriad of different issues, some of which can vary almost by day - take my leg injury for example - and really prescriptive instructions about things like power and resistance aren’t helpful if you take this into account. While the intention might be to encourage people to push themselves, this could really backfire. It’s a tricky balance.

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I can’t begin to imagine the challenges of teaching a group fitness class, but I do think community environments have a responsibility to be conscious of the impact of words and actions and that it’s important we reframe athletic efforts if we want to break down gender barriers in sport. Hell, we need to do this if we want to break down barriers that suggest you can only participate if you’re already fit or athletic.

What are your thoughts on this? Do we have a responsibility to be mindful of the effect of our approach on gender, or am I being a bit extra?

*images: Anna Rachel Photography for The Altitude Centre.

Your Pilates Physio Review

This post is in collaboration with Your Pilates Physio.

Your Pilates Physio Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness blog

Training to run a race like The Speed Project takes a lot more than running. If you want to run strong for the best part of three days you need to be strong. Strength training, yoga and Pilates have all played a part in my training programme, helping me build strength, recover and improve my mobility. Pilates has also been great for managing some of the little weak points that have become apparent as the race has got closer, areas like my lower back which can be weak and buckles during longer runs, throwing my form way off and killing my performance.

When my lower back starts to feel strain it’s a sign (at least for me) that I need to work on my core, so that my muscles know to work harder to help me stay nice and upright. Although weight training and yoga help with this to some extent, the think that I’ve always found works really well for me is Pilates. Those simple (yet killer) exercises really help me to hold myself better, and if I’m doing then my lower back isn’t going to give way quite a quickly. Saying that, although I work for one of the best Pilates companies in London, I don’t actually get to many Pilates classes. Heartcore’s dynamic Pilates classes as often fully booked, or I’m too busy to make it to the studio when I’m not actually working myself, which is why I was thrilled to work with Your Pilates Physio for a review - I could fit Pilates in, at home around my schedule.

Your Pilates Physio Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Your Pilates Physio differs from the Pilates I practice at the studio. First off it is mat based (because most people don’t have a reformer bed at home!), and secondly it offers Clinical Pilates which is focused on helping people overcome physical injuries and pain conditions (whereas a studio like Heartcore is more focused on Pilates for fitness).

Founder, and experienced physio, Lyndsay Hirst, has a passion for treating musculoskeletal problems and she found through her work that Pilates exercises were an amazing way to help address and prevent many of the issues her patients were experiencing. Its something more and more physios seem to be in tune with, I’m pretty sure at least once a shift someone comes into the studio saying their physiotherapist has sent them as Pilates would help X, Y or Z problem. However, Pilates isn’t always very accessible - there aren’t loads of good studios, classes can be expensive and people are time poor, so Lydnsay launched Your Pilates Physio, a platform that allows you to access high quality PIlates instruction wherever they are.

Your Pilates Physio Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I chose to focus my Pilates workouts on my lower back (Lyndsay has a workout for most ailments) and because the website is so easy to use I could find the workouts I needed, for the length of time time I needed and at the level I needed simply and quickly. Each video moves at a really manageable pace, so it’s easy to follow each exercise either on screen or by listening to Lyndsay speak. There’s no banging music or distracting backgrounds, just good, clear instruction, which is exactly what you need when you’re practicing at home, alone.

Practicing Pilates at home a couple of times a week has made a big difference to my lower back. I feel a lot stronger and like I’m holding myself much better, and hopefully that’ll last through the 340 miles between LA and Vegas!

*I was given a month’s free subscription to Your Pilates Physio in exchange for review but all opinions are my own.

Go Commando; Modibodi Activewear Reveiw

This post is in collaboration with Modibodi.

Go Commando; Modibodi Activewear Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

I sweat a lot. Even the easiest workout leaves me dripping and while I’m not ashamed of my sweat, I worked for those wet patches, spending hours on end in damp kit isn’t the most fun. The word squelchy springs to mind. Which is probably a more triggering word than moist. Sorry for that.

Sweaty workout gear isn’t only uncomfortable, a sweaty crotch can lead to all sorts of nastiness. Rashes, ingrown hairs and infected sweat glands (I have a lovely scar from an ingrown hair on my bikini line), as well as issues like staph infection, bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, amongst other delights. When you train as much as I do (5-6 days a week, twice on some days) this just isn’t a nice thing to contemplate, and with some big events just around the corner I really don’t have time for issues around my nether region.

Go Commando; Modibodi Activewear Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Just writing this is a bit triggering. There is nothing worse that feeling uncomfortable and clammy ‘down there’, so I was pretty excited when Modibodi asked me to try out their new leggings during a sweaty workout at The Refinery.

I’ve worn Modibodi’s undies while for awhile, using them on those days when I reckon my period is lurking around the corner, on days when my flow is a bit lighter and when I’ve been doing extra sweaty workouts. I really like that they remove the need for pads or liners and wick moisture away so I can workout without that squelchy feeling. You know that feeling.

I wear leggings every day, and I’ve got so many thoughts on what makes the perfect pair. They’ve got to have a bit of compression for support, be high waisted and ideally hit the ankle (nothing like a bit of ankle) as well as pass the squat test (because some dignity is important).

Modibodi’s leggings are a slightly different fabric to the undies I have. While my undies are a merino blend (which I LOVE, so airy) the leggings are a much lighter lycra with 4-way stretch designed to move with the body during a workout. Slipping on the leggings they felt lovely and silky against my skin and fitted well across the leg, but while the fabric was nice and stretchy it didn’t offer much in the way of compression and my chronically achy legs didn’t have quite as much support as they’d have liked.

Although I’m normally not a fan of a 3/4 legging - they make me feel a little dumpy - I found these leggings really flattering on the leg. They fell at a nice point on the calf and the fabric clung just the right amount, but I was a bit disappointed they didn’t come up higher on the waist, and I found myself hiking them up a few times during my workout. Maybe next time I’ll size down so they’re that little bit tighter and less yanking is required.

The big selling point of these leggings is Modibodi’s leak-proof technology. According to a poll of 1,900 women conducted by Netmums for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) suggests that one in three women (34%) develop urinary incontinence during pregnancy and the same number said the problem continued one year on from having their baby. It’s fair to say leaking is a pressing issue for many, many women, and I do wonder how many of those women aren’t working out because they’re concerned about leaks. While wearing leggings that protect from leaks isn’t the long term answer (women ought to be speaking to their doctors and working with properly qualified professionals to treat the underlying issue) it can offer a little bit of reassurance when you’re not feeling all that confident. No one wants pee rolling down their leg mid-squat.

Go Commando; Modibodi Activewear Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I don’t have pelvic floor issues, so I can’t test out whether the leggings really are leakproof, but I do know that the technology has worked really well for me during my period and the special moisture-wicking fabric in the gusset did exactly what it was supposed to during my sweaty workout. I definitely felt less clammy and sweaty after 40 minutes of circuits than I would normally and it was reassuring knowing that bacteria was being kept at bay. However, there is a cost to all of this. The absorbent liner as relatively bulky and when you first put the leggings on it can feel a little bit like you’re wearing one of those old school pads your school nurse used to hand out in emergencies. Similarly, to accommodate the liner the seams run up the pelvis, which kind of reminds me of a pair of Y-Fronts and isn’t all that flattering.

Overall I think Modibodi are on to a good thing with these leggings, but I think they still need a little work if they’re really going to live up to their potential. A higher waist, thicker compression fabric across the legs and some attention to the seaming to make them a little more flattering would take these leggings from a good idea to an amazing product. However, even in the right now Modibodi offers women a solution to a really common problem that could be holding them back from doing everything they enjoy, and that can only be a good thing!

Modibodi Activewear 3/4 leggings are available in sizes 6-16 and retail at £67.50 and you can find out more here.

*Modibodi invited me to workout with them at The Refinery and gave me a pair of leggings to try out, but all opinions are my own.