Fitness for Merfolk
Much like I wrote about in my “Merfolk and their Weight” blog, fitness is very much a personal journey. I started documenting my fitness journey almost a year ago on this blog. For this entry I want to give a summary of the year, share some wisdom with my personal trainer, and let you know what I’ve come to learn is important for mermaids with their fitness!
A lot goes into being a mermaid. Whether you’re doing it for fun, or doing it as a job. Hair, makeup, costumes, and yes… fitness. It takes a lot of strength and stamina to be a mer, and being a mer can add an extra layer of stress to your body. You’re swimming, often in a very heavy costume, lugging loads of gear and sometimes kids, balancing precariously, and dealing with often stressful situations. Your costume puts a lot of pressure on your hips, knees, and ankles. The dolphin kick can put a lot of extra force on your lower back when it’s coupled with a tail that is either heavy or creates a lot of drag (resistance) in the water.
The Struggle of "Getting Fit"
I believe that fitness requires a multi-discplinary approach. This means we can’t look at it as a singular thing to do. Fitness doesn’t just mean working out or eating right. Fitness requires attention to almost all aspects of your life. Yes, what you eat and how you physically move play major roles, but how you think, how you sleep, and what you do when you aren’t moving play roles too.
Getting “fit” or staying fit can sometimes be an overwhelming task. Many of us have different barriers in the way- mentally, physically, and emotionally. For me, I have chronic illness and mobility issues. My whole life I have focused very much on what I can’t do. I have had periods in my life where I have had difficulty walking or moving. I didn’t learn to swim until very late in life, and I am almost always in pain. My illnesses also cause other physical symptoms such as dizziness, numbness, problems with my gait, and weakness. Throw in a lot of extra fatigue and a person who can’t sleep well at night and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a mermaid who will make any excuse not to do her workout.
Many are like me, and struggle to find the motivation and lack the skills or knowledge to know how to overcome the barriers in their way. For me, I felt the best choice was to hire a personal trainer. Not everyone can afford this, but getting a gym membership is an excellent start. There are the options of classes, training, group boot camps and more. Having someone motivate you and hold you accountable can be a big help.
I was a tricky case. In addition to wanting to improve my mermaid swimming and capabilities, I also wanted to improve my overall fitness to help my chronic pain and mobility issues. When I first started the training I experienced a bad concussion- and working around that created extra challenges as well.
I was never a very fit person growing up. I was sickly thin and had a lot of trouble with movement. I was sick a lot so exerting myself just wasn’t something I did very often. I would dread gym class because of how icky I would feel during and after. When I started dating my partner Sean he really encouraged me to do a little bit of fitness. I got a gym membership but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I purchased 6 introduction lessons with a trainer and became familiar with a few machines. I basically just did cardio and very minimal weight lifting on machines. It certainly helped me, but I would make excuses not to go all the time.
As I really got into my mermaid journey I started having a reason to push myself. I started out as a very weak swimmer due to the problems with my legs, and I wanted to do better. I wanted to feel safe, and honestly I was tired of feeling so week all the time. This was my motivation for years. In 2015 I experienced something traumatic and for the first time in my life I put on a lot of body fat despite living a very healthy lifestyle. My chronic pain also flared up really bad. That’s when I knew it was time to ask a professional for help.
Ryan to the Rescue
This is how I met my personal trainer Ryan. Ryan had a long list of qualifications; MSc in Exercise Physiology, Bachelor in Physical Education, canfitpro PTS, NCCP Olympic Weightlifting, Twist conditioning and sport conditioning specialist, PTA Global, and an Ashtanga Yoga Instructor. Reading Ryan’s biography on the gym wall, he seemed like the guy who was up for a challenge.
As previously mentioned I wrote a blog after our first two weeks together. The main takeaway is that I was terrified, very negative about myself, and Ryan was determined to turn my thinking around to focus on what I COULD do and build from it.
The first few months of my training were the hardest. I was trying to build confidence, balance, and muscle. I was also struggling with a terrible sleep routine with a lot of insomnia, the concussion, and despite all my continued hard work my body fat % continued to go up. I was very discouraged, but Ryan wasn’t. Every day I would come in and he would help me push my limits. My biggest fear finally happened when my stomach fat got so bad that I popped my mermaid tail open. I had been afraid it would happen for a long time. Silicone tails are often skin tight and don’t leave room for weight gain. When it finally happened, Ryan said at least the worst was out of the way and we could still keep working on improving it.
One of my big inspirations for training was the actress who played Rey in Starwars the Force Awakens. She’d often post her fitness routine and I told Ryan I wanted to be able to lift 180lbs because she could. Then that would mean I could lift as much as a Jedi! This became a running joke for us. Anytime Ryan would propose a new activity I would reply with “I’ll try!”. Ryan would then don his best Yoda voice and tell me, “Do or do not, there is not try!”. I even ended up purchasing a gym bag that said “Training to be a Jedi.” One of the best affirmations I had was when I learned that Daisy Ridley- the actress for Rey- has two of the same chronic illnesses I have. It was impressive to see her working so hard despite chronic pain as well. It motivated me whenever I’d feel super low.
Ryan designed a program for me that started with a foundational phase to help me get my bearings. As Ryan put it, I was learning “all the primal movements and developing the coordination to perform them well.” When I started this meant Ryan had to spot me on EVERYTHING I did. I was convinced I’d trip, fall over, drop something, or fall backwards. I even did some of my movements with a makeshift walking stick! Years of the trauma build up from having an unreliable body really had me scared.
After that we moved onto a build phase to help me build some muscle. We would sprinkle in some burn workouts to help burn those calories and build my stamina. Finally, I did a strength phase to help become as strong as possible.
SO what did that look like and how does it relate to mermaids?
Some of what I started with was a lot of flexibility and stretching work. I have incredibly bad hips, which doesn’t pair well with mermaid tails. You may not realize this but mermaid tails- especially the silicone ones- put a lot of extra force on your hips, knees, and ankles, that wouldn’t normally be there when performing the dolphin kick. It can be on par with the damage crossing your legs do to your body, or for some people even worse. Part of my medical problems makes some of my joints very painful and sort of frozen. My hips have always been the worst. I can’t sit without paint often, and the constant force of the weight of the tail when we do the dolphin kick can also be very bad for your lower back. (ask my doctors and chiropractors!) Many of the most famous mermaids will tell you about hip and back pain.
I would often use a roller to help loosen up the tight spots in my legs and hips. Squats would also help me open up my hips. Finally, a specific machine that would do “reverse hypers” helped me extend my back and legs in the opposite direction with opposing force than what a mermaid tail would do. This really helped alleviate some of my hip and back problems, and I have built them into my daily workouts.
Cardio is obviously important, but I started to realize I got more benefit when it was combined with weights into circuit training. I certainly recommend this for mermaids. I would alternate activities In a set of reps, and then do the circuit 2-3 times. Sometimes it meant swinging a kettle bell up and down working on my core, stability, and stamina. Other times it was going through a set of exercises using the TRX system that would also help open up my hips, build strength, and get my heart rate up. I’d use the rower, the bike, and utilize a lot of body weight movements like step-ups. The heavy medicine ball was also great for toning my arms and stomach. I’d lift free weights in all sorts of different ways meant to sculpt my body and build muscle. I’d also use weight machines that did the same things. These became very handy when I was suffering with the concussion because I could remain seated while doing the motions.
One of my favourites is the dead lift. When I started out I simply did the deadlift motion with no weight. I even had trouble doing that because of my balance. About 7 months in or so I had worked myself up to my first 100lbs, and then when I finished I hit 140lbs. I am only 40lbs away from my Jedi goal. Lifting that much weight in the proper manner was a great full body workout, but it also really proved to me just how far I have come.
Here are videos of my first time reaching personal bests at dead lifting
I have seen so many positive changes in my body beyond the number on the scale going down. I made huge lifestyle changes and eat even better. I feel stronger; more balanced, and have much better coordination. I perform better at gigs and have an easier time lugging our gear around, and it helps me feel more independent. Here's a few gym selfies showing my progress....
An Interview with Ryan
Why do you think it's helpful for people to have a trainer, compared with just regular workouts at the gym?
The problem with only relying on yourself for accountability, motivation, expert feedback and program design is that it's far more than what the average person can do. If you want something done right, work with an expert.
What are your thoughts on group fitness programs?
Again, I feel that whatever works to increase exercise adherence (actually getting your workouts done) is great. I like group because you are still getting the expertise of an instructor/trainer and there's other group members counting on you to get there. The social aspect helps a ton.
What were your first impressions/ideas when Raina reached out to you and explained both her unusual mermaid job, and health issues, in regards to taking her on as a client?
I did some research on her job and her health issues first, and then really focused on her strengths and what she was able to do rather than focus on her limitations.
What was your fitness plan for Raina?
We started with a foundational phase to help her learn all the primal movements and develop the coordination to perform them well. Then we moved through a building phase to hep her add strength by building new muscle. We also used burn workouts to help her burn calories and increase her energy. And lastly we used strength phases to get her as strong as possible.
Why do you think fitness is important to someone swimming in a mermaid costume or performing as a mermaid?
It's a very demanding activity with very different demands placed on the body than usual activities; being under water firstly, and then having your legs bound together. You need strength and flexibility work to counteract the repetitive strain of working with the tail on underwater.
Was their anything unique or special about your approach with Raina given that she has this special job?
It's the same approach I use with all my clients in that I needed to find out more about what demands were being placed on her and what being a mermaid entailed (pun intended!). Then I designed a specific program for her to make sure we maximized the results.
Was their anything unique or special about your approach with Raina given that she has chronic illness?
Exercise wise, there was nothing special I did. There were two things I focused on for her though. One was simply being understanding, the other was focusing on reinforcing the positives and what she could do rather than focus on limitations. I always worked to ensure she was giving her best, even though there would be some days that would be better than others.
If there any particular experience you have training Raina that stands out over the last 10 months?
For me, the stand out piece is her confidence in her own abilities. When I think back to how unsure and apprehensive she was with just doing a squat with no weights on our first day, compared to the way she attacked the bar on her deadlifts during our last few sessions, it blows me away. Very inspirational!
If you could say one thing to people sitting on the fence about personal training, what would it be?
What do you have to lose? Yes, there's a substantial financial investment to working with a trainer, but there's not much more worthwhile than investing in yourself. How do you put a price on feeling and looking better? Odds are you're going to spend the same amount of money it would cost to get started with a trainer on non-essentials over the year anyways. Make the choice to try it once in your life and to become a completely better version of yourself. I've been training people for over 20 years and I've never ever had anyone say that it wasn't worth it. Mermaids included!
What You Can Take Away from My Experience
So what exactly is the message here that I am trying to share with telling you all about my fitness journey? It's that if I can do it, I know you can do it too! Everyone's fitness journey is unique and there are many excellent reasons why everyone in general- but especially merfolk- should focus on their fitness.
Here are my important tips for you:
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