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Meet the Chennai women who deadlift 90 kilos for fun

Athira Jishnu

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As I walk into The Unit, a quality and conditioning exercise center, for my regular class, Srividya Gowri comes up to me, lifts up the sleeve of her T-shirt, and says, “Hey, see my cut.” I am somewhat confused by Gowri’s apparent happiness about the ‘cut’ — and by the fact that I cannot see any cuts on her arm. Srividya sees my confusion. “My bicep cut,” she explains. We burst out laughing.

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Gowri is 43, the mother of two teenaged daughters, a homemaker, Carnatic singer, and your typical new-age Madras ‘maami’ outside of the rec center. Inside the exercise center however, she is straight out of a Marvel comic, a Peter Parker shedding identities like second skin. Here, she is a ‘brother’, deadlifting 90 kilos and benching 40 kilos. Here, she speaks the language of cuts and reps and brace and form. Here, she transforms into the living, breathing, walking epitome of ‘strong’.

Behind Chennai’s tapestry of sensory clichés — the aroma of filter kaapi, the stir of Kancheepuram silks, the shimmering Marina, the heat that wilts, the Margazhi that revives — is a gathering of feisty women who lift weights. They contend. And they resist clichés.

“If women can strap on several kilos to their spine and carry the weight around for nine months, and then some more when the child is three or five, why is it difficult to understand when I shape it properly for you like a barbell? If you are going to lift, you might as well lift with proper form,” says Jyotsna John with her trademark wit. ‘Jo’, as she is called, began The Unit a little more than five years ago at a friend’s home and later ran it from the backyard of a school.

I joined The Unit two years ago and by then it had discovered its own space. It was like I had opened a mystery wardrobe to an intoxicating and impossible new world where the odors of elastic and iron converged with the hints of snorts and groans. Six months later, I participated in my first competition — a State seat squeeze competition — and won gold.

Popping veins

At powerlifting tournaments, there is a sea of men and a tiny island of women. The testosterone in the air is overwhelming and raucous. A stage is set with a table on one side where three individuals from the Tamil Nadu Powerlifting Association sit, all wearing white, calling out names and numbers from little slips of paper.

For the uninitiated, the competition is divided based on age and weight, and the amount you lift is calculated accordingly. They weigh you in, record your weight and age, ask you what your first lift will be, and then you wait your turn. You are allowed three attempts, and increase your lift with each turn.

These women speak the language of cuts and reps and brace and form. A training session at The Unit in Chennai.

These women speak the language of cuts and reps and brace and form. A training session at The Unit in Chennai. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

At the focal point of the stage, against a big banner showcasing utilized muscles and popping veins, is the seat (for seat press) or a simple barbell (for deadlifts), or a squat rack (for squats), with 2.5 kilo, 5, 10, 15, 25 kilo plates (and more) lying around looking strangely disconcerting, like uninvited visitors. Sitting on a chair in advance, back to the audience, is the judge.

At the competition, I felt disoriented, apprehensive and woefully inadequate. I watched the impossible weights the men were lifting, as awe swung to fear and the fear incapacitated me. I mishandled my first attempt — 22.5 kilos. I repeated the weight in my second. I went ahead to 25 kilos in my third, and that won me the gold.

chennai women lifting

In India, the belief that women over a certain age cannot lift weights is as profound established as form on an abandoned building. Add to this the fact that within the powerlifting community, too, women stop once they are married and have children.
“I constantly hear the ‘Oh, if you stop weights you will become fat’ line, but perhaps the most bizarre line I have heard till now is ‘Your uterus will fall out!’ So I just smile and tell them how much I bench (27.5 kilos) and lift (55 kilos), and their jaws drop.” The benefits of powerlifting are many, says Jalihal: “Quality of life improves, your reflexes improve, memory improves, you feel energetic and, most important, especially for women my age, you can sit cross-legged on the floor!”

Gowri agrees. Battling obesity in her teenage years and continuing to battle hyperthyroidism, Gowri discovered her way to The Unit five years ago to help strengthen and support her running form and iron out (play on words unintended) small injuries. “I got a casual invitation from Jo to come for the State bench press competition last year, where I ended up winning a gold in my age and weight category. That feeling was incomparable, and I shifted completely to strength training after that. I find that I am a lot more confident and empowered now.”

In school, Gowri’s nickname was ‘chubby’. “How I wish ‘chubby’ could hear that I am presently ‘athletic, fit and toned’,” she says. On her Instagram page, Gowri as of late posted a picture of her washboard abs giving all of us, regardless of age, #fitnessgoals.

“Many people think that after 50 there is not much one can do,” says Jalihal. In fact, at the 2018 National Powerlifting Championship held in Coimbatore, during the weigh-in, the man taking down names and categories declined to believe Jalihal was more than 60. Incidentally, she won the national gold.

Jo says her intention as a coach is not about creating powerlifters or to inspire individuals to contend. “Rather, the focus is on helping you attain whatever goal you have. Usually it is weight loss and that is a great place to start. But there are other uses to strength training and all I do is point you in the right direction, and help you see that there is more to this than just the mirror.”

Jo, whose efforts prompted the creation of a separate women’s trophy in competitions, has been chosen Assistant Secretary of the Chennai District Powerlifting Association. “The reason we chose Jyotsna for this post was because of the number of women she has introduced to the sport. I remember how in one competition there were more than 20 women from her gym alone. Not only do they lift with good form and heavy weights, but a lot of them have gone on to become champions at the State and district level, and now at the nationals too,” says S. Bhagavathy, Joint Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Powerlifting Association.

chennai women lifting

Like most women (and men) who find their way to The Unit, I wound up here because of an injury — my knees had taken a hit after my two pregnancies. At 35, I discovered I couldn’t climb the two floors to my home without a sharp, shooting pain in my left knee, and simple everyday activities left me totally winded. “People have the same quality of muscle in their body, yet we have 30% less muscle than men of the same weight and height. With more established women, the ability to build muscle backs off. A great many people who come to me have injuries and simply want a way out of pain,” explains Jo.

Once you discover quality training, it’s like cool water on a mid year afternoon — refreshing, invaluable and life sustaining. Sowmya Cotah, 51, a life coach, says she has never been an ‘exercise person’. “My tryst with fitness was sporadic at best until I started to appreciate it. And watching so many women around you powerlift encourages you to give it a shot and then you are snared,” she says. Cotah also spoke to the State at the Nationals and won silver. “It’s not winning that matters — because you realize that in the Masters category (40-50 years; Masters 2 is 50-60 years) there are so couple of women participating in India that most times you are assured of a medal. In any case, even to get that medal, you have to lift right and lift well, and then it winds up about the amount more you can do whenever; the amount you can better yourself.”

Muscling in

Sumitra Ravindranath, 50, an architect, deadlifted 105 kilos at the Nationals to win a bronze. “A year ago, I visited my daughter in Chandigarh and climbed the overbridge at the station with my suitcase, reached the other side of the platform, and then realized I had actually done it,” she says. “I think competing is significant because, at least for me, it is important to realize what it feels like to be on stage in front of an audience; to have the capacity to defeat that anxiety and still have the capacity to do your lift. At the Nationals, I actually lifted 110 kilos, however I was so excited I had done that, I dropped it instead of putting it down and the lift was disqualified.”

In Time magazine’s 2017 special edition on ‘The Science of Exercise’, one of the stories took a gander at the benefits of quality training for women. The story paints a scary picture of how a sedentary lifestyle is making us weaker by the day and how increasing bulk is a way to fight that — it leads to denser bones, a necessity especially for women. “If we imagine the bone as a bank account that stores calcium, then you can begin to see that it is so imperative to keep that account active,” explains Kannan Pugazhendi, sports physician at the Indian Institute of Sports Medicine. “Women lose a ton of bone mass as they become more established and more so at menopause. And the only way to deposit calcium is through development, through optimum weight and quality training, so when you begin to lose it, you already have an account to rely upon.”

At the finish of the day, when I think back to the medal around my neck, it seems so clear — this is what I want. Not the medal itself, but rather all that it speaks to: quality of bone and muscle, beyond any doubt feet on the ground, emotional and physical balance, pride and a feeling of achievement, and the incredible language of development. As Jo says, “What many of these women feel is an enormous feeling of vindication: ‘Everyone is wrong, I am awesome.'”

Health

World Diabetes Day, 5 Tips to control Diabetes

Keerthi Krishnan

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5 tips to control diabetes

Living a diabetic life is a challenge. You need to constantly monitor your diet and ensure that your blood sugar level is well under control. One of the major diseases affecting millions and millions of people in the country today, diabetes is life-long and deadly. It is a condition when the hormone called insulin that is produced by the pancreas is unable to break down glucose into energy, and as such, the blood sugar level increases in the body. What one eats plays a crucial role in diabetics, and monitoring it constantly along with following a regular meal schedule ca help tremendously. Physical activity is a must too to ensure that insulin is utilized by the body. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and looking for all sorts of ways to keep a check on your blood sugar level,

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 5 Tips to control Diabetes

Follow a Balanced Diet with Complex Carbs: Health and Wellness Coach, “Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and good sources of fat. Foods to avoid are those rich in trans fats (also called hydrogenated fat), processed food, and sugar. Complex carbohydrates are rich in fiber and are not highly processed like refined carbohydrates. They take longer to digest and hence provide a sustained source of energy for a longer

Try Nuts: Nuts contain unsaturated fats, protein and a range of vitamins and minerals that lower cholesterol, inflammation and insulin resistance. According to a study published in the journal BMJ Open, you should include at least 50 grams of almonds, cashews, chestnuts, walnuts or pistachios in your diet to control blood fats (triglycerides) and sugars.

 5 Tips to control Diabetes

Ginger Benefits: According to a study done by the University of Sweden, ginger has the potential power to control blood glucose by using muscle cells. The study found that ginger extracts were able to increase the uptake of glucose into muscle cells independently of insulin.

 

 5 Tips to control Diabetes

Have Breakfast Like a King:A high-energy breakfast and modest dinner can control dangerous blood sugar spikes all day, as stated by a study done by a group of researchers from Tel Aviv University and published in Diabetologia. They found that by eating more calories at breakfast when the glucose response to food is lowest, and consuming fewer calories at dinner, glucose peaks and glucose levels throughout the day were significantly reduced

 5 Tips to control Diabetes

Physical Activity is a Must: A minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity is a must for diabetics. “Regular exercise is required for keeping your glucose levels under control. Muscle movement results in the utilization of insulin. Thirty minutes of walk every day will cut your risk of diabetes by one- third

 5 Tips to control Diabetes

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Beauty

THE BEST AND EASY HOME REMEDY TO REMOVE DANDRUFF AND HAIR FALL

Roselin Ravikrishnan

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Three out of six people have experienced dandruff at least once in life. Dandruff is more about scalp than it is about hair. The health and bounce of your hair indicate the underlying scalp situation, and no matter how much you hide, those nasty flakes are always visible to people around you. Unreasonable shedding of dead skin from the scalp is known as Dandruff. Here are some natural home remedies for dandruff you may not have known.

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1. Apple Cider Vinegar for Dandruff
By restoring the pH balance of the scalp, Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) inhibits the growth of yeast. It also works as a natural hair cleanser and helps unclog pores and hair follicles. Method: Mix two cups of Apple Cider Vinegar with three cups of cold water and use this mixture to rinse your hair, post shampooing. Let it sit for two minutes before washing it off. For best results, use this once a week.

2. Coconut Oil and Lemon for Dandruff
Lemon juice for dandruff works wonders! Known for its anti-fungal properties, Coconut Oil moisturizes a dry scalp and tackles itchiness like a pro. Plus, it nourishes your hair and boosts hair growth. Method: For a potent anti-dandruff remedy, combine equal parts of Coconut Oil and Lemon Juice and massage on your scalp. Let it sit for 20 minutes before you wash your hair. Follow this dandruff treatment at home regularly for the best results.

3. Tea Tree Oil for Dandruff
Tea Tree Oil has long been used to treat dandruff, owing to its potent cleansing and anti-fungal properties. A classic anti-dandruff treatment if we may say so.Method: Add six drops of Tea Tree Oil to half a cup of essential oil (such as Lavender), and massage on your scalp to get rid of dandruff. You can also add a few drops to your regular shampoo to make it into an all-natural anti-dandruff shampoo.

4. Olive Oil and Vinegar for Dandruff
Olive oil for dandruff is a natural conditioner and minimize oxidative damage owing to its anti-oxidant properties. This lightweight oil is effective on hair without weighing it down. The acetic properties of vinegar fight off fungal infections and improve blood circulation. Method: Mix 1 tsp Olive Oil and 2 tsp White Vinegar in a bowl of water. Apply this mixture on separate sections of your hair and massage the scalp for five minutes. Wash it off with a sulfate-free anti-dandruff shampoo and apply a conditioner.

Another Simple Home Remedies

1.Mix 2-3 teaspoons of coconut oil with 1 teaspoon of Indian gooseberry (amla) juice. Tenderly back rub the scalp with this regular.
2. Add 10 drops of lemon juice to 1 egg white and beat well. Apply to the scalp and hair once per week.
3.Mix 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon mustard oil, and 1 glass yogurt. Apply this to the hair 30 minutes to 1 hour before washing the head and hair.
4. Soak 50 gm methi dana in some water overnight, following day toward the beginning of the day make the glue and apply on scalp for 15 minutes.
5. Chew 10 sacred basil leaves (tulsi), 10 margosa leaves (neem), and 10 bael leaves (belpatra) on a vacant stomach at a young hour toward the beginning of the day.
6. Dandruff is a typical, non-irresistible skin ailment of the scalp. It might be found even in confront, ears, body overlap, neck and front of the chest. It is caused because of speedier destroying of the dead skin in the injuries. In this manner, the white clean gets seen on the shoulders of the casualty.

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Health

Beware ladies, less sleep will affected your bone mineral density and developing osteoporosis

Keerthi Krishnan

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less sleep will affected your bone mineral density and developing osteoporosis

Late night Netflix sessions and getting up early in the morning might be affecting your health for worse in the long run if this new study is to be believed. Getting too little sleep is linked with a higher risk of having low bone mineral density  and developing osteoporosis, researchers have warned. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone weakening increases the risk of a broken bone.  Although mass screening for osteoporosis is not recommended among postmenopausal women, there is no consensus on which women should undergo testing for low bone mineral density. The objective of this study was to develop and validate a clinical tool to help clinicians identify which women are at increased risk for osteoporosis and should therefore undergo further testing with bone densitometry.less sleep will affected your bone mineral density and developing osteoporosisThe purpose of this study was to determine total and regional bone mineral density  in highly competitive young adult and master male cyclists. Patients with inflammatory bowel disease are at risk of developing metabolic bone disease. AIMS: To compare bone mineral density in patients with Crohn’s disease with patients with ulcerative colitis and healthy subjects, and to evaluate possible risk factors for bone loss in inflammatory bowel disease. A simple questionnaire would be useful to identify individuals most in need of bone mineral density (BMD) testing.less sleep will affected your bone mineral density and developing osteoporosis We designed a new predictive model and risk assessment instrument based on an extensive review of the literature evaluating risk factors for osteoporosis, and tested its performance in a large cohort of postmenopausal women in whom BMD was measured by dual x-ray absorptiometry. After adjustments, women reporting five hours or less per night had 22 per cent and 63 per cent higher risks of experiencing low bone mass and osteoporosis of the hip, respectively.

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