Sponsor what you Preach: The Gymshark Singlet Controversy

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It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon in the online powerlifting community:

Powerbellies were resting, nose torque was gently nestled in its protective tupperware container, and singlets were all folded and tucked in for the day.

That is, until, Gymshark unleashed its secret weapon to cracking the powerlifting consumer. The dominating purple wondersuit, the Sports One Piece, was designed for powerlifting. Complete with criss-cross straps, an open back for ventilation and convenient(?) front zipper, the garment is the solution to every “what will I train in today?” conundrum for lady powerlifters – or so the Gymshark masterminds thought.

The poor soul responsible for Gymshark’s social media channels was woefully unprepared for the powerlifting community’s digital onslaught spurred by the phrase designed for powerlifting.

Designed for powerlifting,” they say “but not IPF approved.”

The comments varied (I’ll include samples below), but can all be summarized by a response type of #TRIGGERED – these three words were so powerful, that even I felt compelled to add to the conversation:

 

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Before I dig deeper into reading the powerlifting community’s response, if you are not familiar with Gymshark, let me just give you a quick brand orientation.

Gymshark 101

Get your learning caps on, because I’m about to drop some ~*knowledge*~

Gymshark is a UK brand that has taken North America by storm. If you’ve been to any type of fitness expo, you’ll see Gymshark fans in the signature flex leggings or minimalist dry-fit tees. You’ll know it’s Gymshark because of the iconic GYMSHARK embroidered waistband or the reflective geometric kinda-looks-like-a-shark logo.

The brand had humble beginnings in Birmingham, where teenagers Ben Francis and Lewis Morgan created a website and started hand printing t-shirts in a tiny back room. For the full backstory, watch the video below:

 

 

Despite being across the pond, Gymshark has an insane international reach. There are many North American-grown fitness influencers that are partnered with the brand: honourable mentions include Nikki Blackketter, Whitney Simmons, Jazmine Garcia, and Steve Cook. Earlier this year, Gymshark even collaborated with the aforementioned Nikki Blackketter to design a custom collection that sold out online almost immediately.

With such international success, it makes you wonder: is Gymshark really worth the hype? Is it worth standing in a snaking line measuring multiple blocks of New York City’s downtown?  Maybe. Take a look at some of their core values:

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Gymshark’s About Us

These values can be summarized using one of their company slogans: Be a visionary. I can appreciate their focus on continuously improving design and activewear technology. With everyone and their grandmother coming out with an athleisure line, Gymshark doesn’t forget where they started. With a focus on engineering and art, Gymshark fills a gap in the athletic wear industry,  seamlessly blending performance with aesthetics – and who doesn’t want to look and feel good while they work out?

I’ve ordered three times from Gymshark, and have been impressed by the amount of quality and detail in their pieces. Every pattern and colour combination is thought out. Each contour exists for a purpose.  Gymshark is comfortable with straddling the line between innovation and function and it works

… most of the time.

How many “visionaries” does it take to piss off a powerlifter?

I’m not sure about the answer to this question, but I believe it’s safe to say not a lot of demographic research went into this product launch. Let’s circle back to the issue at hand:

With more and more online communities surfacing, the female strength athlete has more digital resources than ever before. Powerlifting Women, This Is Female Powerlifting, and Girls Who Powerlift are all changing the game when it comes to the perception of women in the gym and those that compete in strength sports. And while support in the strength community is needed for both genders, there are just some issues that are female-specific. Pelvic floor issues, the gymbro gaze, fupa acceptance, and lifting while pregnant are just scratching the surface when it comes to lady lifting topics.

Unlike physique competitions, there is no set body type and no aesthetic symmetry required on a powerlifting platform. This means that across all weight classes, you’ll find a myriad of different body compositions, shapes, and sizes. I’d argue that it is one of the most diverse sports out there. Come as you are, and get strong. It’s just that simple.

With this in mind, Gymshark has a challenge. In order to market to women powerlifters, you have to expand your thinking and garment technology to include very different body types across multiple weight classes.

Here is strike one for Gymshark.

Not a single product in Gymshark’s Women’s collection has XL sizing. This immediately ignores a huge portion of the female powerlifting demographic.

Strike two? No woman powerlifting presence within the Gymshark brand. While they have many respectable female athletes (hiiii jazzypoo & whit: ilysm),  none of Gymshark’s ambassadors are powerlifters in the traditional sense. With the powerlifting community growing, I find it very odd that Gymshark has yet to partner with a female strength athlete. YouTube celebs like Megsquats and Amanda Bucci are expanding the fitness YouTube community to include powerlifting. In making serious gains in social following, both Meg and Amanda prove that there really is no excuse for Gymshark to say “there are no women powerlifting influencers that are popular enough.”

Finally, I’m guessing it’s not very innovative for a company to take ownership of their mistakes. Despite the outcry, despite the flurry of comments, Gymshark did the only thing a scared brand could do and simply changed the description on their singlet Instagram post. Instead of apologizing, instead of remedying the situation, Gymshark took advantage of IG’s Editing functionality and erased their marketing fumble… but not before screenshots were taken and feelings were #triggered. Strike three for Gymshark.

 

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What did we do before the Instagram Edit feature?

 

The Counter Argument

So it’s not IPF approved (and probably never will be), and maybe it’s not the most functional combination of nylon and elastane in the athletic wear market. Why should powerlifters give it a chance?

Amber Abweh aka Swoleesi takes a sympathetic approach to the Gymshark singlet launch, saying “you do you, boo-boo.”

If you think it’s cute, wear it. Don’t think it’s cute? Don’t wear it.

Yes, it could be that simple, but I believe it signifies something much deeper than that. The “bullying” that Amber alludes to in her video doesn’t come from a place of animosity. Instead, I argue that it’s a collective defense mechanism.

I’ve experienced it. Chances are, if you identify as a powerlifter, you’ve also experienced it. This is a sport that chews you up and asks for more. Hell, I broke my damn arm powerlifting and went back to it like an idiot. It’s my addiction and my magnificent obsession (please tell me you got that CT Fletcher reference).

It’s no secret that powerlifters and strength athletes don’t do what they do for money or fame. But when someone attacks my sport, when someone doesn’t understand why I do it, yeah I get a little miffed. And this was a classic case of misunderstanding and underestimation on Gymshark’s behalf. I don’t think the visionaries imagined how much this sport takes out of athletes, and to just pigeonhole women into a cookie-cutter body shape and say “this is what women powerlifting is about,” just delegitimizes all of the hours spent training, the time used to establish the confidence to walk into a weight room full of men, the hundreds of how-many-sets-you-got-left conversations exchanged again and again… To me, it says “your powerlifting isn’t sexy,” “your hard work isn’t sexy if you don’t look like this fitness model” and it’s 50 shades of wrong. Something’s gotta give, Gymshark. Your visions came from fever dreams.

If you want to commodify strength sports, you have to commodify all of it. Every weight class. Every individual. This was a chance for Gymshark to diversify their brand – even change the fitness industry – and they missed the mark.

What do you think? Am I reading too deep? Will this singlet pass your next equipment check? Let me know in the comments and let’s discuss.

 

 

 

The problem with #TransformationTuesday: Why you should stop demonizing your “Before” self

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For some, killer transformation photos are the reason they do this whole fitness thing in the first place.

Scan any #TransformationTuesday hashtag and you’ll see a common theme: Phrases like “I can’t believe I allowed myself to be that big” or “I feel so disgusted looking at the left photo” echo like a comedic soundboard as you scroll through endless left-right comparisons.

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There is undoubtedly a lot of work and dedication that go into any transformation photo – no matter how small the changes are. However, what’s problematic is the self-deprecating talk. This isn’t a contest for how many euphemisms for fat you can string together in a single Instagram caption. Embracing fitness and fitting an active lifestyle into your routine should improve you. Making everything about the tangible results isn’t the point.

For me, fitness quite literally saved my life. I found purpose and found my sport – something my nine year-old wheezing, soccer-playing self wouldn’t have ever dreamt of. In my 20’s and after a bad break up, I found an outlet for my sad energy. Instead of letting inferiority and heartbreak stew and simmer deep inside of me, physically pushing, running, or stomping it out gave me a sense of control over my emotions I didn’t have before. My initial goals were transformational in nature, but today, I am much more appreciative of the confidence and drive fitness and gym-going have given me. It’s a priceless gift that I encourage everyone embarking on a fitness journey to find for themselves – whatever your “fitness” is.

That gift is precisely the reason why you shouldn’t discount that girl/guy on the left. You gave yourself that gift in the moment you decided to make a change. As much as it hurts to look at your left hand-self, that’s still you in that photo. I admire Left-Me for taking the steps (baby-sized and giant) towards where I am today. I went from a predominantly sedentary lifestyle of work, home, study, repeat to fitting in activity where I could, and finally to committing to a sport I love. I admire the strength (both the figurative and literal kind) it took for Before-Me to get where I am today. I respect myself, present and past, for all of the progress and decisions made thus far.

Don’t get hung up on the “I wishes” of life. Many times I have scolded myself for not incorporating working out earlier in my life, but what matters is that I’m here today and thoroughly enjoying my fitness routine. It’s never too late to start something new – whether it’s fitness, a new book, or learning opportunity. Focus on the You that exists, lives, breathes in this moment and not on your unchangeable past.

Why you should ditch your inferiority complex and make the grass greener where you water it

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That guy’s shoulder caps are bigger than my head. 

Look at her! Why can’t I lose these last 10lbs?

I just wish I had her genes (the DNA kind).

If you’ve frequented any gym, chances are these thoughts have trickled into your self-talk regimen. It’s unfortunate, unhealthy, and yet it’s automatic behaviour. Comparative and competitive instincts are just human nature and take a lot of conscious correcting to control.

I started this blog to talk about fitness, but also to remain transparent about my experiences as I take baby steps into the world of powerlifting. A few days ago, I had a meltdown on bench day. Bench press was (or still is?) my best lift, but my numbers aren’t budging. I’ve been stuck at a 110lb bench for a few months now, and I became so frustrated after my third failed attempt the other day that tears began to form. Y’all can bug me about crying at the gym (what a wimp, amirite???). My meet in September is so important to me, and this “off” day became the straw that broke my perfectly arched back. I furiously scrolled through my Instagram feed to find some insight into how I’m failing. Are there cues I’m missing? Is my form off? Am I just not meant for powerlifting? I see all of these incredibly strong women benching 135lbs like it was an empty bar, and the inferiority sets in all over again. I’m not worthy! I wanted to quit.

I am my own worst enemy. I’m finding that as I progress further into training, my mental barriers are the toughest part of lifting. I can have my form and mobility down, but my mind tells me I’ll never hit this personal record squat. It’s something that has been ingrained, rehearsed, and is seemingly impossible to unlearn.

I am by no means free of this self-deprecating monologue, but I’m actively acknowledging it. I’m slowly learning to catch myself at these low points and remember the ONLY comparison I should be making: it’s me vs. me.

Fitness in a digital age

In one of my earlier posts, I talk about fitness as an industry and boy, has the industry changed as technology makes fitness more popular. Instead of just seeing our favourite celebs on the big screen, we can now follow their daily activities with ease. We can see Kim K’s workout selfies on Snapchat, Instagram… I’ve even seen her gym selfies on the national news (um, how is that national news?)  Celebrities reveal their workout secrets and if you’re following Kim’s workout regimen every day (she runs 4 miles a day followed by 1000 jump ropes), you might be strapped for time if you don’t call yourself a seasoned runner.

The reality is that if you’re a single mom with two jobs, it’s no surprise that you can’t achieve a Kardashian body. Kim probably has two chefs, three personal trainers, and a surgeon on-call. Her life is all about looking her best. Your life is about bringing home the bacon for your kids. Actors and sponsored athletes make a living off of their bodies. Their gym sessions can range from 4-6 hours. For all of us common folk, this is outrageously unrealistic.

The other troublesome fact is that images online or in print are manipulated. From the documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger, here is a clip of some photographers talking about editing:

The “after” image for the supplement absolutely astonished me, because to me, that transformation looks very real. The key takeaway is that what you see isn’t always what you get. Photographers and athletes rely on a bunch of different factors (lighting, blurring, etc) in order to project their ideal body to the digital world.

Having a You vs. You Mentality

Because walking into the gym with blinders on isn’t very productive, here are a few things I try to remember when the self-doubts surface:

1. I’m on a path

This path is no one else’s. It is my own. It is full of individual obstacles and triumphs that are completely unique to me.

2. Everyone has a story

We assume that the girl with the flawless curves at the gym also has a perfect life. This is a fallacy. Great body ≠ Perfect life. 

3. Everyone brings experiences with them

Some people have been lifting since they were adolescents, others have started in their mid 30’s. If you’ve been lifting for a year, you won’t be hitting big lifts like someone who has been lifting for their whole adult life.

4. My body is unique to me

It has its own quirks and while some of these quirks are the opposite of a blessing, they are unique to me and I should honour them.

5. Failure and plateaus are normal

Not every week is going to be stellar. You won’t hit records reliably. Each time you fail you get another opportunity to learn and grow in order to battle your weaknesses.

The next time you get mad that a 13 year-old girl can bench press more than you, try to remember that this is all about being better. Feel the cold steel in your hands and tune out the static telling you you’re not good enough because you are good enough – even better than your were before.

Why fitness competitions shouldn’t measure your success

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A few days ago, I was approached by a stranger in the gym who asked me if I compete. I never thought I’d be at a place physically and mentally to step on stage and strut my goodies in a blingy bikini. I immediately thanked them, because I know the amount of dexterity, commitment, and discipline it takes to train for physique competitions. But then I began thinking: just because I don’t want to compete as a physique model, does that mean I don’t exhibit commitment? Does it make me less of an athlete?

I started my active lifestyle four years ago with the hopes of losing weight. Later on, I wanted milestones. I signed up for my first 5k and trained for it. Next, I signed up for Tough Mudder and found my love of obstacle racing. Commitment to running these events got me off of the couch and into the weight room, but they’re not the sport that’s keeping me going now. I just want to be strong. And although I’m still on the fence about delving into my first powerlifting meet, I love lifting, and I love lifting heavy. Just like I did years ago, signing up for this meet could be the spark I need to train to get stronger.

Clearly, your goals will change. I’m a Zumba class dropout. I’m a cardio bunny turned Iron Lady. I’m Exhibit A of how much your training focus might change throughout your journey. It has taken me years of experimenting to find the right combination of fitness and fun and I’m finally at a place where I can say I’m happy with my training program. I don’t need a competition to validate my success in fitness because knowing how happy I am right now in this moment, is enough validation for me.

If you are thinking about competing, I encourage you to do it because you love the sport. Don’t compete because it seems like the only next step for you. I feel as if fitness – especially around Instagram – has one be-all and end-all goal and that’s becoming an International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) pro. If you have made progress in your own way, believe me when I say that you do NOT need to be an IFBB pro to be an inspiration, nor do you need to be shredded and lean year round to be respected. I think fitness has become so conflated to the point where we forget that fitness is an everyman and everywoman sport. It’s accessible to everyone. Whether your fitness is at the tennis court or dancing in your living room, you’re making fitness your own. Own it, wear it, and your confidence will grow. No competition will allow that natural confidence within you to bloom.

So a Crossfitter, Bodybuilder, and Powerlifter Walk up to a Bar…

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Just like figure skating and hockey, sprinting and long distance running, sports of the iron variety differ greatly. Even though the equipment remains the same, differences in technique and goals set these three sports apart from the rest.

You’d think that since all three use weights as their tools that they’d all find something in common.

Wrong.

Discrimination against Crossfitters, Bodybuilders, and Powerlifters can be heard amongst any of these iron heavers. Bodybuilders are too vain. Powerlifters lift heavy just so they can stay fat. And Crossfitters… well, do they even lift?

Don’t knock it ’til you try it

I think all of this boils down to a classic example of neophobia: the fear of trying anything new. How will you be able to accurately evaluate something without trying it yourself?

I started out with Zumba. Next, I got into running. Finally, I started lifting weights. I was more interested in body sculpting – most of my workouts I got from Bodybuilding.com’s figure/bikini athletes. My weights weren’t extremely heavy and I did anywhere between 10-12 reps for everything. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but I wanted to lift heavier.

Strength in fitness competitions like bikini and figure competitions is not required. That’s not to say that bikini competitors don’t have immense strength. Canadian athlete, Hailey Goss, can deadlift 300+lbs.

Clearly Hailey knows the feeling of satisfaction and overall badassery you feel when you lift something really heavy from the ground. This is exactly why I decided to take more of a powerlifting approach to my training.

However, I don’t consider myself a strict powerlifter. I’m more of a sweaty generalist. I like doing a lot of obstacle racing (think Tough Mudder and Rugged Maniac). For obstacles, you need a lot of coordination and functional strength to help you. Last summer, I tried Crossfit for 6 weeks.

I’ve never sweat so much in my entire life.

Each WOD exhausted every ounce of power within my body and even though workouts were only 45 minutes in length, each time I wanted to puke mid-sled push. I did discover something I really loved, though, and that was Olympic lifting. I don’t quite have the mobility for it yet, but I really want to make an effort to train with some oly lifts and learn to snatch, jerk, and clean with the best. If you want to get more of a sense of what Crossfit is like, Buzzfeed made a great video:

Timing and high reps give Crossfit its cardio-focused reputation and, if you have a great coach, the “bad-form stereotype” will quickly disappear from your mind.

Where is the love?

Whatever your preference, we all love iron and have the callouses to prove it. There needs to be a paradigm shift within the fitness community because, well, the gym would be a better place if we all supported each other – no matter how we’re lifting.

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Nutrition: What you need to know

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When you lose 40+lbs, you start getting questions: how’d you do it? What are your workouts like? Can you recommend a meal plan? The truth is, it’s taken me 3 years of experimenting with fitness and nutrition to find the perfect combination for me.

I’m not a nutritionist, so really the only things I can recommend are consistency and dedication. While your workouts are important, the real magic happens in the kitchen. Anyone can go and workout for 2 hours but it takes real commitment to keep nutrition at the forefront. Before you jump into the next fad diet, detox, or juice cleanse you scroll over on Instagram, here are a few things you need to consider about your food preferences and your meal strategy:

Feed your needs

I’ve shared that I grew up with food and that food was there for me emotionally whenever I needed it. In the moments when I was eating, everything was okay. It didn’t matter if I was sad, happy, angry – food was comfort.

I still reach for that unnecessary slice of pie when I feel stressed or even as a reward for myself. What’s different now is that I don’t overindulge (or I try not to). Ignoring my cravings just made me more agitated. Combine a shitty mood with an intense workout and you get SURPRISE! an even shittier mood. Have you ever tried to deadlift your 1RM on a stomach full of baby carrots? I don’t recommend it.

I use flexible dieting because it gives me enough freedom to have the odd donut and still see results. I can eat carbs before a heavy lifting sesh and get the most out of my workouts. Evaluate your goals (strength, marathons, fitness competitor etc.) alongside your individual preferences and then go from there.

Lifestyle

Hey, diet! Don’t tell me how to live my life!

A lot of nutrition gurus might call bullshit on this one, but I think your lifestyle is totally valid in this decision making process.

Do you travel a lot? Constantly on your feet all day with minimal breaks? Strapped for cash? All of these reasons factor into your food choices whether you like to admit it or not. You can be the meal prepping MASTER and still succumb to on-the-run food choices.

In my case, I work part-time (no food or drinks allowed on the sales floor) and don’t make a lot of money (no extra cash for ultra-organic food). Sometimes, my study snack involves protein oats and poptarts. They’re quick, in my fridge, and satisfying. That being said, I make sure that these things fit my macronutrients  for the day. If I’m travelling, there’s no guarantee that there will be a microwave and a minifridge where I’m going. My flexible diet allows me to eat out at restaurants with relative ease. If you’re not willing to give up girl’s night at your fav wine-o joint (I hate to tell you this, but wine has carbs) , maybe that no-carb diet isn’t so great for you.

That being said, there are options if you still want the occasional high-carb refeed. Here’s a great into to carb cycling from Bodybuilding.com.

Don’t be afraid to test drive

I think I’m one of the few people who “diet” and can say they genuinely enjoy their nutrition plan. I didn’t get to this point, though, without some trial and error. Tried paleo, hated it. Tried eating clean, binged on chocolate every 2 days. Your nutrition plan should complement you. Research some nutrition plans that interest you and fit your goals and experiment.

I have the utmost respect for people that eat paleo because it is damn hard. Whole 30 is a great program that allows you to try before you commit to paleo indefinitely. Hey, it’s only 30 days. So if after 30 days it’s not your thing, you didn’t waste 6 months of your time grumbling about missing butter.

Masterpieces aren’t made in a night

Nutrition is probably the most difficult part of any wellness goal. It’s important to know that there will be some growing pains on starting any diet or nutrition plan. You won’t be and aren’t perfect – no one is. The most important part is not eating right but waking up each day and making the conscious decision to keep at it and get back up if you’ve strayed from the path.

Orange you glad I didn’t say Denim?

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Okay okay okay… let’s talk about JEAN shopping. If I was Kanye, I would insist that jean shopping deserves the Worst-Shopping-Experience-Of-All-Time Award. Of all TIME. I think most of my fitness friends will agree: jeans are the devil in a mask of acid-washed denim. 

Let me also preface this by saying that even before my fitness journey I hated jean shopping. At the age of 9, I remember grumbling as my mother took me from store-to-store to stock up on jeans during the Back To School season. At the time, I just thought it was lame (but also way better than dress shopping). Looking back, though, I was 9 years old wearing size 9 women’s jeans. That’s completely insane. At this very moment of writing this blog post, I am a size 8.

I have to stress the “moment” part because jean sizes fluctuate. They fluctuate to align with styles, specific stores/brands, and even time (anyone remember when the size “double zero” didn’t exist?). They change almost as much as your body changes. I’m not as lean as I was 3 months ago. As a result, my muffin top is a lot more noticeable than it was in October. The reverse can also be true. You could be getting really lean, starting to get some quad separation (!!!) and your jeans, with an evil zipper-toothed grin, laugh and say, “Not today, quads. Not today.”

And with all of this sadistic pleasure your jeans partake in, every one of us still needs at least one pair. I mean, would Casual Friday even exist if it weren’t for jeans? Would I still be a great Canadian if I didn’t have a Canadian Tuxedo in my closet?

I’ll leave these philosophical questions to the experts and I’ll also leave the jean shopping to the very last possible second. If jeans are an absolute pleasure for you to shop for, call me insanely jealous – because once I enter the realm of low-rise vs. super low-rise and bootcut vs. these-make-me-look-anything-BUT skinny jeans I lose every ounce of joy shopping once brought me.