Derby is for the stars

Derby, like many sports, has produced a formidable number of stars. We all have our favourite skaters, our jamming and blocking idols. But sometimes our appreciation of exceptional skaters can skew our fundamental understanding of the game. Roller derby, at its core, is a team sport. Certainly, having rockstar skaters and brilliant strategists filling out a roster radically improves a team’s chances on game day.  But creating a strong team takes more than strong skaters; it takes a commitment to team building.

A solid team works with the strengths of each skater and each skater plays an important role in the team’s development. I think that Philly Roller Derby highlighted this idea succinctly with their hashtag,#any5anytime, suggesting that any five skaters from the team could go out on the track and perform as strongly and coherently as any other grouping of five.

I’ve come up with another way of explaining this. It involves a lot of triangles that suspiciously look like nacho chips.

The successful triangle.When we focus our team structure on accentuating the skills and strengths of a handful of players, it can feel great for those players. They can be the heroes of the game, test their limits, and improve their skills in the process. They are the happy triangles.

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However, creating a hero/lone wolf-focused team leaves other players (or triangles, as it were) struggling to find their place on the team. It can also create extraordinary pressure on the hero triangles who feel responsible for the fate of the entire team.

Derby, when played with a line of lone triangles looks something like this:

stars3

Some skaters will be having a great time and will be accomplishing great things. They will have a larger role on the track while other triangles shrink into the background and feel a bit lost. There is no doubt that skilled skaters can do awesome things on the track. But, again, derby isn’t a solo sport. Not even for jammers. It is a team sport that requires team development. What does team development look like? I’m glad you asked.

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I believe in a star model of team building. Conveniently, there are five skaters on the track at any given time, and five points on a star. It’s kind of a match made in heaven. What I like about thinking of team building as creating a star is this: each point of the star has equal weight. You can rotate the star 15, 45, or 90 degrees, and it looks the same. There is no hierarchy, no one is held in higher esteem than any of their teammates.

And that mysterious blue centre? That’s the magical business that comes from creating a strong team. It’s the manifestation of the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Because a team is so much more than the skills of its skaters. A team is its own entity.

A strong team is one where each player, each point on the star, is provided the opportunities to play an equal role in their team’s success. For players who are used to being the hero, it means stepping outside of her own experience to consider what actions will help strengthen the team as a whole, evaluating how to help all of the triangles have equal weight to form a star.

There’s nothing wrong with being a solo triangle. There are lots of sports that cater to strong solo triangles, like tennis, marathon running, and golf. The beautiful challenge of roller derby is that it is a team sport. It is the bringing together of five separate individuals on the track to act as one. Roller derby is a sport for stars and that is what makes it amazing.

Solo triangle likes tennis.

Solo triangle enjoys tennis.

Target heart rates: Here’s the downlow

Skaters who are starting to experiment with off-skates training have likely encountered some discussion of heart rate monitoring. Posters on gym walls and buttons on exercise machines may help us monitor it, but they don’t always offer an explanation of why we should be watching it or what we are looking for. So here’s a quick guide to the role that heart rate monitoring plays in training.

Your heart and VO2 max
VO2 max — or volume oxygen maximum — is a per-minute measure of the amount of oxygen your body can utilize. So the formula used to determine a VO2 max value looks like this: ml/kg/min with oxygen measured in milliliters and body weight measured in kilograms. VO2 max is considered the best tool for determining an athlete’s level of cardio respiratory fitness.

While performing a proper VO2 test requires oxygen and CO2 monitors, you can run a VO2 beep test to assess your level of cardio respiratory fitness. Once you have your VO2 value, this chart will help you understand your level of fitness.

What does this have to do with your heart? Excellent question. Fitness training teaches your heart to work more efficiently, pumping fewer times per minute. As your heart becomes more efficient it is able to use the oxygen you breathe in more effectively. Hence, by participating in fitness training we can lower our resting heart rate and improve our VO2 max.

Your heart and HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is considered one of the most effective ways to increase VO2 max (Rakobowchuk, Harris, Taylor, Cubbon, & Birch, 2013). According to Rakobowchuk et al. (2013), the target heart rate for HIIT workouts is 80-89%. The table below explains what different ranges of heart rates feel (Rakobowchuk et al., 2013).

Heart Rate Breathing Power Tempo Intensity Exertion
95-100% Hyper Strained Very Fast Very Uncomfortable Maximum
90-94% Laboured Forced Fast Uncomfortable Ragged Edge
80-89% Heavy Pressed Rapid Tolerable Threshold
70-79% Huffing Relaxed Quick Comfortable Steady State
60-69% Conversational Held back Slow Very Comfortable Light
50-59% Normal Gentle Very Slow Soothing Very Light

HIIT training workouts are short — clocking in between 7 and 20 minutes. During these workouts, you will bring your heart rate up to 80-89% of your maximum heart rate for 30-60 seconds (depending on your workout) and then back down to 50-59% for 15-120 seconds (again, depending on your workout).

If you are new to interval training, check out this workout from Roller Derby Athletics.

Finding your maximum heart rate
The Ottawa Run website has a page that not only helps you determine your MHR, but also gives you a breakdown of your heart rate in the various brackets in the table above. To use this tool, you will need to determine your resting heart rate. The best way to do this is to track it over several days. At different points in the day, locate your pulse and count your heartbeats for 15 seconds. Multiply that number by 4 and you will have your resting heart rate. After you have collected these values over several days (3-7 should do it), add up the numbers and divide by the sample number (how many times you monitored your heart rate) to get an accurate average resting heart rate. This number can then be inputted into the program on the Ottawa Run site.

This method is preferable to the standard formula of 220 minus your age as that formula cannot account for the lowered resting heart rates of athletes (Rakobowchuk et al., 2013).

Train beyond HIIT
As the wonderful Booty Quake reminds us, HIIT workouts are an important component of off-skates training, but they can’t be your only focus. Include weight training and steady state workouts to ensure a holistic improvement to your fitness level.

 

Reference
Rakobowchuk, M., Harris, E., Taylor, A., Cubbon, R.M., & Birch, K.M. (2013). Moderate and heavy metabolic stress interval training improve arterial stiffness and heart rate dynamics in humans. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(4), 839-849.

30 second penalties and the importance of mindfulness

“Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice,” Russell Okung

WFTDA publicly announced their rules revisions for 2014 today. Quite possibly the biggest change to the rules is the reduction of penalty time from 60 to 30 seconds. This change has been welcomed by many who see it as a mechanism for reducing the impact of penalties on game play. I have my reservations. Here’s why. As a coach and an NSO who specializes in running penalty boxes, I know that penalties beget future penalties if players don’t have the opportunity to calm down and refocus. We’ve all seen a skater exit the penalty box “hot” only to forearm, back block, or low block her way back in.

30 second penalties pose a new challenge for skaters. Those who are able to utilize mindfulness will be able to return to play focused and controlled. Those who are unable to do so will likely see themselves quickly racking up 7 penalties or riding the bench. As we transition to 30 second penalties, mindfulness becomes ever more important as the recovery time from a penalty has been halved.

I’ve been trying to sell mindfulness to the skaters that I work with for a while now. When I started researching for this article, I was pleased to see that I’m not the only one who prioritizes these practices. A recent ESPN article explored the role of meditation in the Seattle Seahawks’ training. While psychology and mental game have long been discussed in sport, these conversations tend to focus on “shutting out” negative thoughts. Mindfulness training, however, seeks to undo this approach. Here’s your quick guide to mindfulness and its role in penalty recovery and game day resiliency.

Lesson 1: It’s not enough to tell yourself to stop being upset

The traditional approach to cognitive performance in sport focuses on controlling one’s thoughts. We’ve likely all experienced control-based pep talks before a game. They come in phrases like “no bad thoughts!” and “don’t stop smiling on the track!”. They are well-intentioned ideas rooted in ol- school sports psychology. But a review of psychology studies demonstrates that control-based approaches fail to yield results. “Attempting to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions can actually have a paadoxical effect, triggering a meta-cognitive scanning process that actively searches for signs of “negative” or unwanted cognitive activity and brings it to awareness when detected” (Gardner & Moore, 2004, p.709). Simply put, when you try to ignore your anger, frustration, and fear, you end up exerting a lot of cognitive energy. As a result, you are less capable of focusing on the task at hand.

Hayes et al., (1999) suggested that low experiential acceptance (ignoring inner thoughts and feelings) may lead the athlete to employ a number of tools to ignore these types of thoughts including self-talk or thought stopping which some supporters of the mindfulness approach view as maladaptive. Gardner & Moore (2007) suggest that rather than trying to get rid of or change unwanted thoughts, athletic performance can be enhanced through a “mindful present minded acceptance of internal experiences” along with other skills needed for optimal athletic performance such as response to external cues and pursuing the achievement of goals. (McCanny, 2013, para.5)

Gardner and Moore (2012) report that the absence of negative thoughts and anxiety is not a pre-requisite for success. But ignoring or suppressing these feelings can impact performance negatively.

Lesson 2: Sometimes we don’t realize that we are upset

I’m line managing. My skaters come back from a messy jam. One of them just took a high block that didn’t get called while the pivot was sent to the box on a questionable failure to reform. While the bench manager is out disputing the call, I look down at the bench and see one of my blockers: his back is tense, he is grinding his mouthguard, his hands are clenched. I put my hand on his shoulder and say, “hey, you look upset. Let’s work on getting you calmed down.” He quickly and emphatically responds “I’m not upset!” He may genuinely believe that he isn’t upset. But his body is telling me a different story. And this is where mindfulness gets tricky. How can we address our reactions if we don’t recognize them?

Here the mindfulness practice of body monitoring comes in handy. Body monitoring is a quick exercise that involves taking an inventory of your various bits. Your feet in your skates. Your butt on the bench. The tightness in you chest. Your breath. When we take inventory of how our bodies feel, we can get a sense of our anger and anxiety levels.

Lesson 3: I’m pissed off, now what?

This is where we get into the guts of mindfulness, which is “open-hearted, moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness” (Kabat-Zinn, cited in Gardner and Moore, 2012, p. 312).

Moore (2003) reviewed 30 years of studies on the effects of goal-setting, self-talk, visualizations, and getting “pumped up” pre-game. She found that none of these techniques had concretely demonstrated their capacity to improve athletic performance. This lack of success led to the development of the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment model for athletic performance enhancement. In subsequent studies, MAC users have had significantly greater increases in their performances (as rated by coaching staff) than those who did not utilize the MAC protocols. The participants also reported increased ability to focus on their goals and increased sense of control during game play (Gardnder & Moore, 2012).

This integrated approach to performance enhancement targets the development of mindful, nonjudging, present-moment attention (mindfulness), acceptance of internal experiences as natural to the human experience, willingness to remain in contact with those internal experiences, and a focus of attention on performance-related cues, contingencies and situationally appropriate actions/choices in the service of valued athletic goals (commitment). (Gardner & Moore, 2004, p.714)

We’ve done our physical inventory. Next up is the mental inventory. My preferred exercise for this is performing some mindful breathing. During mindful breathing, follow your breath through your nostrils, down the back of your throat, and into your lungs. Don’t try to change the breath (make is slower or deeper). Simply observe. During this time, thoughts will try to interrupt your focus. Don’t criticize your brain for the interruptions. Rather, recognize that these are your brain’s concerns at the moment. Classify the thoughts (worry thought, anger thought, frustration thought, etc.). Refocus on your breathing.

Lesson 3: Nothing’s gonna change my world

In a training that I took on mindfulness, I was taught to recognize the role that my inner critic is trying to fill. When I am in the penalty box, my critic is trying to prevent me from getting another penalty. Unfortunately, it is doing so by saying “hey genius, wtf do you think you are doing out there?” Rather than pretending that I don’t have these negative thoughts, I was told to thank my inner critic along the lines of “hey, angry voice. Thanks for pointing out that I should not have cut in front of that opposing skater. You are right that it was a bad idea. But I’m going to take it from here and problem solve my way out of this conundrum”. Yeah, it might seem ridiculous, but it’s this recognition and refocus that can help you shift back to focus quickly and effectively.

Another important thing that I try to remind my skaters of is that time in the penalty box is temporary. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone goes to the box. Your time in the box does not change your value as a person, as a teammate (hence, nothing’s gonna change my world). But your response to these setbacks defines your character and your capacity for resiliency.

What does this mean in a world of 30 second penalties?

Our time to regroup has been cut in half. I used to tell my skaters that they had 10 seconds at the start of every penalty to feel upset. But we are required to do a faster turn around now. So here’s my guide to a well-executed penalty in this new world order:

  1. Hustle to the box thinking only about getting there quickly and entering with control (hitting NSOs is never okay)
  2. Sit down. Perform 15 seconds of mindful breathing (about 3 breaths). Recognize what thoughts are coming to mind. Catalogue them, tell yourself it is time to put your frustration aside, and focus on what the most productive action will be when you return to the track
  3. When you are told to stand at 10 seconds, make your action plan. How will you re-enter, which teammates will you connect with on the track, what will you do to contribute to the jam? How will you avoid receiving another penalty?
  4. As you return to the track, focus on your body’s movement and the movements around you, rather than your brain. Return to the present moment. If it helps, talk out loud about what is happening and where you are on the track.

 

Make it a team effort

Studies employing EEGs and MRIs have shown that continued and purposeful mindfulness practice can reroute brain functions (Gardner & Moore, 2012). The key to harnessing mindfulness as a tool on the track is practicing it every day and practicing it as a team. It is a lot easier to keep your cool when you are supported in this pursuit by your entire bench.

Mindfulness in and of itself is a lot like getting a penalty: it’s not about ignoring the rough parts. It’s about accepting that bad things happen (angry thoughts, trips to the box). The mindful skater is able to recover from the rough patches. Even in under 30 seconds.

 

Gardner, F.L. & Moore, Z.E. (2004). A mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based approach to athletic performance enhancement: Theoretical considerations. Behavior Therapy 35, 707-723.

Gardner, F. L. & Moore, Z.E. (2012). Mindfulness and acceptance models in sport psychology:  A decade of basic and applied scientific advancements. Canadian Psychological Association, 53(4), 309-318.

McCanny, C. (2013). The application of mindfulness practice to sport. The Sport In Mind.

God hates flags

I’m writing this post fully expecting it to be unpopular — unpopular because it problematizes a beloved past time. Many of you  who are reading this have just come off the high of watching the Canadian women’s hockey team win a gold medal in overtime at the Sochi Olympics. My argument in no way seeks to diminish the achievement of those athletes or any athletes competing at this year’s games.

So what is my argument? It’s that God hates flags.

Allow me to explain. I was raised in an ultra-Catholic household. As a teenager, I struggled with the glaring hypocrisy of an institution whose foundational scriptures taught mercy, love, and forgiveness yet whose actions were so frequently focused on the self-righteous condemnation of others. As I entered my twenties I reconciled with the idea that religion was not for me. The teachings of Jesus — to strive for social justice and lessen the suffering of the marginalized and vulnerable — I would keep as they seemed like a good blueprint for how to live.

As I continued along my journey I participated in workshops and teach-ins that helped me understand privilege. For me, this meant coming to terms with the privilege that I experience as white woman living in urban North America. There are so many things in my daily life that I take for granted: interactions and experiences that are shaped by my privilege. The more I thought about my privilege, the more I realized that because of it I had responsibilities.

An amazing article published by Mia McKenzie earlier this month got me thinking about the active resistance work required by anyone who truly wants to undo the privilege dynamic. This article came to me at an important time as I was considering, and trying to articulate, my frustrations about the Sochi Olympics.

Problem #1: Russia
The recently introduced anti-gay laws in Russia managed to make international headlines leading up to the Sochi games. However, the jailing of environmental activists and journalists, while documented by Amnesty International, went under-reported. Is it just that we have come to expect brutal repression from the Russian government so these events are no longer newsworthy?

There is another issue with Russia hosting the Olympics: its government’s skewed priorities. According to an article in the Telegraph,  the poverty rate in Russia is 13% (for comparison, Canada’s rate in 2011 was 8.8%). The state-enforced monthly minimum wage works out to about $171 CAD while the estimated minimum cost of living per month is estimated to be $231 CAD. The gap between the country’s rich and poor continues to grow with no sign of stopping. And yet, an estimated $50 billion has been poured into hosting the Olympics. Journalists have been quick to note that Putin is using Sochi as a means of showcasing Russia as a resurgent superpower. And in the midst of our fervor to cheer on the athletes dressed in our country’s colours, we condone this display by a brutally oppressive government. Is it really worth it?

Problem #2: the Olympics
This is where I expect some resistance. People love their Olympics like they love their McDonalds. It’s not surprising. While we don’t tend to think of the games as such, the Olympics is a brand. In fact, it’s the second biggest brand in the world. It is a brand that gains fame from the efforts and skill of the athletes who compete in the games. It is a brand that convinces countries to invest billions of dollars into infrastructure to host their events.

The result? The IOC generates an estimated $8 billion during the Olympics. As for the athletes? Many of them are living near or below the poverty line. As for the cities, economist Victor Matheson explains that, despite the sales pitch that the IOC delivers to potential hosts, “there is very little evidence to suggest hosting the Olympics provides much of an economic benefit”.

Yes, cities will be able to utilize the infrastructure created for the games. That is, provided that the rush to build said infrastructure didn’t result in substandard building practices, as was the case here, here, and here.

Problem #3: When Russia and the Olympics combine
The photo of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 games in Mexico City is arguably one of the most iconic images in recent history. Even as a child of the 80s, I know that photo and the feelings of hope and defiance that it evokes. I think that leading up to the anti-gay Olympics, many people were hoping to see a similar act of defiance, this time championing queer rights in the face of government sanctioned oppression.

It could be assumed that Sochi has been free of acts of protest and/or solidarity against the anti-gay laws because of Russia’s harsh stance. After all,  the Olympic Charter states that “the practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” So, surely, the repression is Russian… right?

This brings us back to Tommie Smith and John Carlos. While many of us know the image, far fewer know about the fallout that resulted. Smith and Carlos were stripped of both their medals and their credentials, giving them 48 hours to leave Mexico City. The IOC took a hard line with the sprinters and their team, threatening to disqualify the entire team from the remaining events.

The IOC is in the business of putting on a profitable show. It could be argued that politics have no place in a sporting event. But we’re not talking about debating foreign policy on the podium. We’re talking about basic human rights.

This brings me back to privilege and the related responsibilities. There is a quotation that has been floating around the internet for some time now. Debates about whether or not it can truly be attributed to Albert Einstein (a favoured contender on both facebook and pinterest) rage on. Regardless of its origin, the weight of its message remains the same:  The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. You don’t need to be queer to be offended by the anti-gay laws. You don’t need to be an activist to care about the repression of dissidents in Russia. Resisting your privilege means choosing to not participate in an event because of the violence it does to others.

In conclusion, God hates flags
We now return to my ultimate point. If there is a God, I think it likely hates flags. We know what is happening in Russia is wrong. And yet we are so caught up in our nationalist fervor that we are willing to excuse away brutality. We justify the questionable allocation of government funds that could help alleviate extraordinary suffering.

Don’t get me wrong. I love sports. After watching events like ski jumping or luging, I have to pick my jaw up off the floor because the level of skill demonstrated is so astounding. What I don’t love is how the Olympics uses nationalism to convince us to go along with their events — even in a country with tough anti-gay and anti-opposition legislation. What I don’t love is the insane amount of debt that cities and countries find themselves in after the five ring circus leaves town. But what is the worst for me is feeling like I can’t speak out about these issues because if I do, I’m not supporting my country’s athletes.

full_the-words-dont-fit-the-picture

Leading up the the 2010 games, this piece by artist Ron Terada was installed in downtown Vancouver. It sums up the problem with how the Olympics operate. I see a startling parallel between the church and the IOC: the words don’t match the picture. One teaches compassion and forgiveness while condemning homosexuality. The other promotes the right to play yet partners with countries who have histories of human rights violations.

I encourage you to imagine a world without the Olympics. Not a world without international sports competitions. Just one wherein the original mission of the Olympic Charter could actually be realized. A world wherein the billions of dollars that goes to producing this event every two years could, instead,  be used to build lasting infrastructure and to provide sports programs for all children. Most of all, a world that recognizes that equality can never take a backseat.

Baseline testing

If you don’t know where you are, it’s kind of hard to know where you are going. When it comes to setting fitness goals, the first step is accurately assessing your current level of fitness. If the results of the test come as a blow to your ego, change your mindset. This test gives you your baseline and, provided that you stick with training, you’ll only go up from here. In the running community, there’s a popular saying that no matter how slow you run, you are still lapping everyone on the couch. For this test and the training that will follow remember that from this point forward, you are lapping your former self.

I like to tell my skaters that as long as they are pushing themselves 10% harder than the week before, they are winning. Keep that in mind as you move forward.

Part 1:

  • 60 seconds push up test (record the number of push ups you are able to do in this amount of time)
  • 60 seconds rest
  • 60 seconds burpee test
  • 60 seconds rest
  • Low plank until failure (record the amount of time that you maintained a proper plank)
  • Prisoner get ups until failure, alternating sides (record the number of get ups)
  • If you are unable to do prisoner get ups, that is okay. Record the number of sit ups you are able to do in 60 seconds, making sure that you are not using momentum from your shoulders to lift your chest towards your knees

 

Part 2: The Beep Test
Record the level at which you were no longer able to get to the cone before the next beep.
If you can’t set up a beep test due to a lack of access to open space, you can record your time for a 1 mile run.

And that, friends, is your baseline test. Hooray for getting stronger!

Exercise tracking: Does roller derby exist?

For anyone in the roller derby community who is monitoring their fitness, understanding caloric requirements is important — regardless of whether or not weight loss is a goal. As I learned last winter, if you don’t replace the carbohydrates that you use during exercise, you are setting yourself up for a serious energy crash. This can be challenging, however, as many fitness trackers don’t list roller derby as an activity. This leaves users guessing what is a suitable substitute. Today, I answer the important question: which fitness trackers list roller derby as an exercise?

Fitocracy: Roller derby is listed as an exercise that can be tracked. Options include practice, skating for fun, competitive bout, and scrimmage. This is a pretty awesome set up. Or so it seemed…

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Fitocracy points system

I log my Sunday scrimmage and Fitocracy “Fred” makes a calculation. Is it a calorie burning score? I can’t tell. All I know is that I’ve earned 674 points. If that was the goal of my training, that would be pretty rad. But it’s not. And I’m confused. As soon as I log my workout I started to “get props” from the random ab selfies. But I still can’t figure out how to determine my caloric burn for the day.

Spark People: Roller derby does not exist as an exercise. Herein lies the problem with tracking fitness when it involves roller derby. If you are skating in a bout or a practice, you are not actually skating for the duration of the time on skates. Here, Fitocracy’s options for type of derby activity is very helpful (provided it was giving a caloric instead of a point value).

For a  60 minute scrimmage with a 20 minute warmup, I estimate that I spent 30 minutes skating actively. For 30 minutes of skating, Spark estimates that I burned 231 calories. Because I can’t input the intensity of my skating, I am not sure how accurate a gauge this is.

What I do like about the Spark tracking system is that it identifies what types of exercise I’ve completed which helps me realize how cardio intensive my plans have been.

My Fitness Pal: Again, there is not a roller derby option. But there is a skating, roller (roller blading) option. Using the same estimates as I did for Spark, I input 30 minutes of skating. MFP estimates that I have burnt 238 calories.

Map My Fitness: This site has an option for roller hockey. I seems like this kind of action is a better stand-in for roller derby given the explosive movement, changing pace, and overall intensity. When I input 30 minutes of activity, it reports that I burned 292 calories.

So there we have it. Fitocracy lists roller derby as an activity and has amazing differentiation options ranging from practicing drills to skating bouts. Unfortunately, it awards points rather than reporting caloric burn. With that in mind, the read from May My Fitness seems to offer the most accurate read by using roller hockey as a substitute activity.

 

Author’s notes:
1) The caloric burns reported here are based on my weight and age and should not be seen as a general guide.
2) Based on the confusing and frustrating set up of Fitocracy, I stopped using the site at this point.

The set up: navigating stage one of fitness tracking

Part of the reason that I’ve shied away from online fitness and nutrition tracking is the culture of shaming and idealism that can go online with these platforms. If a page is overly focused on weight loss, it immediately makes me uneasy. I want to get stronger in a way that is sustainable and positive. To me, what a fitness tracker posts on their front page  and in their initial profile set up indicates the site’s…..

Fitocracy: I logged into the site and began to create my profile. What I liked was the list of interests that I was allowed to select from to personalize my experience. The options given included being completely new to fitness, weight loss, strength training and group training. While I enjoy being able to personalize my interests, Fitocracy encouraged me to select my interests to help connect me with “friends” and “groups”.  My discomfort with this was reaffirmed by an email I received before finalizing the list to inform me that a random user on Fitocracy had “liked” my activity. At this point, signing up for Fitocracy felt like I was signing up for a fitness dating site. Hello, random guy cruising my profile. Thanks for reminding me to explore my ability to increase my privacy settings.

Based on my interests, Fitocracy made me friends with a bunch of women on their site. I have yet to determine how to unfollow them. I’ve also been added to several groups. I actively dislike being signed up for things without first deciding to do so. My feed is full of selfies from skinny girls in short shorts.

I popped into the Fitocracy support section and searched “unfollow”. There were no articles found. I managed to google an answer to my question. Unfollowing my unsolicited friends requires visiting each of their pages. This is less than ideal work for me to undo unwanted changes to my account. Not a good start, Fitocracy.

Spark PeopleI used my facebook profile to create an account. After that, Spark requested some information about me, specifically my height, weight, and weight loss goals. Spark asked me to identify my level of activity based on my type of work. As a researcher, this means that my level of activity is sedentary. I have weird feelings about this. Spark then informed me that I could only ingest a maximum of 1900 calories per day. I also have weird feelings about this.

Next, the site asked me to identify “health concerns”. This feels like it is less about my interests and more about data gathering. I select a health concern randomly just to see what it will do for me. Spark gives me the option to use their meal plans. In the name of science, I selected this option.

I try to start building my Spark profile but before I can,  the Spark Points spinning wheel pops up. I spin it and win 5 points. I’m confused and a little irked. I just want to track my fitness. Not spin wheels. I get past the wheel but am a little unclear about what to do next. The interface looks like it was designed in the early 2000s and hasn’t been updated since.

My Fitness Pal: MFP has a similar set up to Spark People. After entering my email address, I am asked to state my height, weight, and level of activity using the same metric as explained above. However, it also asks me to identify how many times I intend to workout per week. What I dislike about this experience is that, even after specifying that I don’t want to lose weight, the next page encourages me to connect with friends on the site because “members who diet with friends lose 3x as much weight!”

According to MFP, I can consume 1880 calories per day.

I already have my account set up with Map My Run/Map My Fitness. Similar to Spark, I used facebook to expedite the profile creation process. I dig into my nutrition section on MMF and discover that they suggest that I can consume 2338 calories per day. Clearly, there are some discrepancies in cyberspace regarding my caloric intake.

And that, friends, was day one of fitness tracking.