If you have followed this blog for any length of time you will know that two of my passions are books and sport. Both have formed the person I am today and when I get the chance to mix my love of sport with my love of books I am a very happy human. Enter stage left, Anna Kessel’s Eat, Sweat, Play which is about the power sport has to change lives, and more specifically women’s lives. The book is out today (HURRAH!) and as part of the blog tour to celebrate the launch not only did I have the chance to read it early, but was also encouraged to try something new. Which is exactly what I did!
‘There are a myriad of reasons as to why women are exercising and competing more and more, many to do with health or fitness or losing weight. But the smart ones will have latched onto something far more valuable. That sport and exercising is fun.’ – Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessell.
When I read this little bit of text at the very beginning of Eat, Sweat, Play a little light bulb went off in my head. I follow so many fitness instagrammers and they are always talking about how beneficial move x is or class y and how you too can get your perfect set of abs in six moves or less. But rarely do they talk about how much fun running around on a track or with a ball or cycling, or swimming in a pool actually is. Or how when you want abs and you try a move and fail so spectacularly it is so much fun.
Just a few moments ago @thevikingmethod put this amazing workout video on her Instagram page. She skipping but not in the traditional way and I was inspired! There is a gathering happening at my place tonight and I'm helping my mum prepare (samosas are being made!!) so when I show her the video she looks at me and says, 'no. You are not doing that. No. I need you to have non-injured wrists tonight so you can help me. You tell that @thevikingmethod to stop putting ideas in your head'. .. Of course I don't listen to her and as she films me we both giggle like children because I am not good at this at all! Had the best time trying but I barely leave the ground! 😜😜 .. Have a look at Svava's actual video and pretend I am able to do that! 😂 #betterforit #fitnessisfun
I was very lucky growing up because while academic learning and education was very important for my parents (and me) they never once dismissed the importance of PE (physical education). It never occurred to me to bunk any of my PE classes because school was something I had to attend and PE formed my schooling. So I went to each and every single PE class. Some I loved (rounders, hockey, netball, basketball) and some I absolutely hated (dancing still lives on in my memory as one of the shittest classes I have ever been to. The instructions were simply ‘create a routine and in three weeks perform it’ and then the teachers fucked off somewhere else while we looked at each other in genuine confusion. Riiiiight.) and even though I no longer remember the horror of the changing room when you are a teenager, I do remember the disgusting school uniform. Who in the world thought tracksuit bottoms were a good idea? Where was the lycra?
Over weekends with my family we would go swimming or play badminton and I grew up cycling and running to the park and jumping off things and then back onto things. The Fathership was the gym bunny in my family – he would go to the gym or running every day. On birthdays, holidays abroad, after drunken nights out. The Mothership was the one who watched every single sporting event on TV – no matter what she would watch it. Between the two of them they gave me the most excellent sporty upbringing. When London 2012 came around I volunteered to be a Games Maker because when it was Beijing 2008 I would wake up at 2am every morning and go to sleep at 6pm every evening just to watch as much as possible. Now it was here, in London and there was no way I was going to miss it.
My sister and I grew up with sport and fitness being important and valued. When I read Eat, Sweat, Play I realised just how lucky and (sadly) unusual that was. PE, PE teachers, a lack of understanding around women’s bodies ruined sport for so many women and relegated it to a men-only zone – from watching to participating. With her work as the chair and co-founder of Women in Football, sports writing for the Guardian and Observer, and this book, Anna is working hard to change this stupid belief and I think everyone with even a passing interest in sport should read this book.
Anna has included so many personal stories and anecdotes throughout the book. We learn about the women championing sport in the workplace for women AND men, the research being done on high profile female athletes with regards to periods and sex (because until now research has mostly been done on men and the results extrapolated onto women….because women’s bodies are exactly the same as a man’s, duh) but more than this she talks about the impact sport has had on her from her childhood to discovering sport in her twenties, to sport while pregnant and then later how it helped after her miscarriage.
She talked about the sexism and misogyny women constantly face – just look at how the world treats Serena Williams, one of the best athletes (female or male) in the world, to the sexist chants in football stadiums, to Gabby Logan being asked to ‘get your tits out’ while on TV from a fuck of an audience member. The message I got from Eat, Sweat, Play is that weather men / society /idiots like it or not women are reclaiming sport and falling in love with the sweat, the competition, the joy all over again. This book made me want to own sport in a way I hadn’t before and urge everyone I know to own it too!
So as someone lucky enough (and to be able to do this I consider myself very, very lucky) I hopped about the Tour de Eat, Sweat, Play, donned my metaphorical yellow jersey and tried three new challenges in the past week: belly dancing, speed training with Puma, a speed session on a track with Nike. The first one I went to with friends and the latter two I went to alone. This is a recap of exactly what I did and my honest feelings about each event.
I wrote a full blog post about it here and even though I loved the experience I don’t think this is something I would take up regularly. I prefer more high intensity workouts which don’t require you to move your hips in time with the music. I am so glad I went to this with friends because it was so brilliant to have other beginners there who were very happy to enjoy it with me!
Speed Training with Puma
This was a one off event which I happened to have the opportunity to go to (thanks to another friend dropping out and recommending me). The whole point of the class was to improve muscle strength to increase running speed. The warm up was a short run at a speed way too fast for me and my heart actually sank while we were doing this: I couldn’t keep up with anyone and had to really push myself not to lose them. My knee started aching (again, the joy) and I was pretty sure that I was going to hate the rest of the session. I went there by myself and felt lonely. Then came the actual speed work. We then partnered up for some core strength work – planks, squats, and jumps – and ended the session with a whole section concentrating on legs including some sprints at the end.
I was so grateful for the partnering up at the end because it forced me to socialise with people and them with me – in the end I met up with some amazing women and left feeling pretty amazing because over short distances my sprint speed is up there with the best of them so unlike the run at the very beginning I wasn’t miles behind everyone.
Out of the three things I did this was the only one which was mixed in gender and again it was something I went to alone. Every week Nike host a free speed session on a track with drills and exercises to help you improve your speed. Every week I don’t go because the thought of running on a track with really fast people intimidates me. But I girded my loins and feeling inspired by Eat, Sweat, Pray I booked a slot.
The excellent thing was that everyone is split into pace groups and you decide your pace group for yourself. So if you want to push yourself you can move up a pace. Even if you want to in the middle of the session you could. I can’t tell you how wonderful this is – no one likes being told where they should belong and here you can chose for yourself and move up or down as you like.
There were three groups – volt, tempo, and sexy (volt being the fastest and sexy being the slowest). I put myself fin the sexy group because I didn’t want what happened with Puma’s session to happen here – I didn’t want to be at the very back, miles behind everyone feeling demoralised. I wanted to have a good time more than anything and to be able to keep up.
This was what we did:
1 X 100m at just below sprint speed
30 seconds rest
Repeat X 4
60 second rest
1 X 400m at just faster than recovery pace
60 second rest
And all of that repeated x 4!
As each round came and went my cheeks became redder, my breathing much faster, and my heart started pounding. The rests never seemed long enough and even though we were asked to think of the 400m as a recovery run it really did not feel like that. But, and this is a massive but, I really enjoyed this. I enjoyed it so much that I have already booked myself in for next week’s session (if you want to do the same all the information is here: nike.com/London – please do consider it: it was fun and free!)
I can’t thank Anna and her book enough for inspiring me to try three new classes and push my body and myself out of my comfort zone. I urge you all to do the same: try something new either by yourself or with friends / family. And there are so many free classes everywhere now that it doesn’t even have to cost more than travel and post-sweat food.
One thing that I really want to talk about in greater detail is that Eat, Sweat, Play talked about the lack of research into the effects periods have on playing sports. My personal experience is very mixed – as a Hindu with parents who are also Hindus I have been told that Ayurveda advocates a menstruating woman do nothing while on her period (but the sexist connotations of this piss me off so much) but while in school PE teachers would tell me to keep on going even if the pain was crippling. As an adult I try very hard to rest during the first couple of days I am on my period every month but this doesn’t always work when you’ve scheduled a race and paid money for it. I have done a triathlon on my period (the cycling section was pretty horrific), run 10ks (I thought I was going to die), run Paris marathon the day before it started (again I thought I was going to die) and genuinely have no idea if I should be doing this or if I shouldn’t. Anna talked about the relationship between periods and injuries and my eyes boggled because Paris marathon completely destroyed me and I am still trying to recover. More research on this really needs to be done and I hope it is.
This is the kind of book I want to force into everyone’s hands and urge them to read. I’d probably even beg. It’s published by Pan MacmIllan and on sale from today, available from all good and evil retailers. I received this book free from the publisher and the free book-based swag hasn’t influenced my opinion or the content of this review because I genuinely loved this book and recommend it.