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Hooked on Stumptuous
Robb Wolf  |  General Training  |  April 30 2007

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I have a confession to make. I’m a closet junkie (now out) for a Chick Fitness Site. No… it’s not one of THOSE sites. It’s a kick-ass site that covers everything from O-lifting to sound nutrition and even fighting! The name of the place is Stumptuous. You have likely tracked this place down already and are a fan as well. If not, you will be soon. Bold statement? Just to give you a flavor of the goodies waiting to entertain, edify and educate, here is one section found in the doh! & ouch (injury) section:

A handy guide to bodily ickiness. Post-squat puking, egg farts, pooplets... it's all here.

Yep, egg farts and pooplets. Pure freaking GENIUS. Like I said, you have likely already perused the offerings at Stumptuous or will soon. Then you, like myself, will want more. Now, you can take the passive “wait and see” approach and see what goodies arrive on the blog… or you can go straight to the Stumptuous Mistress herself, Krista Scott and ask her provocative questions like “Who are you?” and “Why do you do this stuff?”


Hey Krista! Like I said in the introduction I have been a fan of yours and your site for a long time. I’m not the only one around the P-menu who loves your work… you have been one of the most requested interviews for a long time. So tell us about yourself. Where’d you grow up, where do you live now, what do you do for painful employment. Be verbose, self aggrandizing and only marginally factual!

Thanks for your very kind intro!

I grew up as a four-eyed, brace-faced, bookworm geek with asthma who was voted ugliest girl in grade eight and picked last for just about every team. I have no athletic gifts to speak of besides having prehensile toes, being able to balance a spoon on my nose, and owning peculiarly hypertrophic sternocleidomastoids. Luckily I am smart and have a big mouth. Apparently those qualities come in useful in adulthood because you can, you know, learn stuff. I’m no longer brace-faced and grew out of asthma but I’m still a bookworm geek—I'm a researcher and teacher at a university in Toronto, specializing in the study of gender issues.


Stumptuous is super popular and you have helped thousands of women wind their way through the quagmire of bogus fitness sites to fitter (and geekier) new selves. When did you conceive of the Stumptuous idea? What the heck does it MEAN?

I thought of the word “stumptuous” about ten years ago. I’d seen a survey in some magazine asking men what kind of body type they liked in a woman. I think the choices were something like tall and skinny and having an “athletic” body (which meant a Sports Illustrated model, not a shotputter). At the time, I was fifty pounds overweight and upon reading this rather limited set of options, I opined that there seemed to be no tickybox for “stumpy and voluptuous”. Thus Stumptuous was born. The voluptuous part is gone, sad to say (although I don’t miss the exuberant funk in my trunk so much), but the stumpy part is still goin’ strong—thanks, Eastern European heritage!

 

Have you always been a fitness Diva or was there a pupae-like stage of fitness Dork? How have you changed? What was your first exposure to legit training?

Oh heavens, I could relate to you about a hundred childhood stories of athletic humiliation. I played soccer for a couple of years when I was about seven, and I played defense because the coach realized I couldn’t do too much damage there. I could just kick the ball—with about a 75% success rate of making my foot hit the sphere—whenever it arrived in my vicinity. And by the way this is also where I learned that female niceness is a myth. Once you’ve been kicked in the face by sugar and spice you learn that girls are just as aggressive as boys. They’re just socially adept enough to make cutesyface when the ref is looking.

Then I failed the swim class… you know the one where they make you blow bubbles and float with a styrofoam board? Yeah, that one. Oddly enough I was pretty good at gymnastics and diving, and can still knock off a one-handed cartwheel, although things like rope climbing got a whole lot harder when I grew bigger than 75 pounds!

My first exposure to legit training was in grade nine. One day our gym class (girls’ aerobics… eeuww) went to the weight room. While sitting staring in puzzlement at a dumbbell, I overheard some older girls talking. One of them was telling the other that she wanted to be a female bodybuilder. A female bodybuilder! I’d never heard of such a thing. The possibility seemed thrilling. A year later, I picked up the Weider book Pumping Up! Super Shaping the Feminine Physique. This was before the brunt of the crazy steroid years so the women in it looked fantastic and strong but hadn’t yet gotten enormous (which, by the way, I think is cool, just sometimes a little intimidating for a newbie). The book didn’t bother with the fluff either: it advocated heavy, hard training. That was pretty much my first sniff of the crack rock[1].

In my last year of high school I took a weight training course from a little fireplug guy called Mr. Stevens. He was one of those pit bull dudes who looked as though he’d be entirely at home in a self-dug foxhole in some tropical country. He was also a big supporter of women’s strength training, and he’d sometimes work out with us, chasing us around the track. To this day I thank Mr. Stevens.

I hit the weight room in earnest in first and second year university, with much more enthusiasm than knowledge. Our university dorm authority on training was a guy called Box, so named because he was sort of rectangular. Box was a big fan of HIT (hey, it was the early 90s), so I did that for a while.

Then, with the demands of school, work, and social life, I kinda fell off the wagon. I wasn’t eating very well and drinking a lot of beer. These were the low fat diet years, so I was eating plain pasta and “fat free” cookies, and thinking I was healthy. When I started packing on the pounds I just figured I was fulfilling my turnip farming genetic destiny. I also had this elaborate conspiracy theory about how all my clothing shrunk in the dryer. Humans have an incredible gift for self delusion.

In 1996, standing in a store with aching knees, hips, and back, contemplating buying a piece of clothing in a size that shall remain numberless but which is probably synonymous with “muumuu”, I thought screw this. I didn’t even have enough money for a gym membership (I hadn’t figured out that I could just lift heavy stuff on my own). I hauled my jiggling ass out every morning to walk for an hour. Eventually I saved up that hundred bucks or whatever it was to sign up for the gym, and never looked back.

 

You Olympic lift, power lift, box and brawl (ok, light on the brawling). What type of numbers are you throwing around on the big lifts and accessories? How do you structure your training and how has it changed over the years? How important is strength training vs. CrossFit style metabolic conditioning?

I always feel a bit weird talking about my numbers because they aren’t really anything to write home about. Twelve year old girls can probably lift more than me. It’s kind of a testament to how awesome strength training is that I can like it so much without being very good at it. What I like to tell people is that compared to the average woman, I’m lean and strong; compared to the average powerlifter or bodybuilder I’m fat and weak. I think folks get so focused on putting up the big numbers that they feel like they’ve failed if they don’t have elite 1RMs. But the other day, I tried that 300 workout that’s been going around. I tailored the numbers to my bodyweight based on what I guessed the guys who did it weighed, and I did real pullups and pushups. I didn’t do it in 18 min like the record holder, but I put in a respectable time and didn’t puke. In fact it was almost a teensyweensy bit easy. So that’s gotta say something.

What I’ve come to realize is that process goals are in fact much more of a testament to one’s commitment and achievement. At any one time I’m working two or three jobs: my regular full time job as a research project manager, plus teaching undergraduate courses, plus taking on other research contracts. I have a two-hour commute each day. I have a good, healthy social life full of meaningful relationships and wonderful people, which takes work. I just bought and renovated a house. I’ve had major injuries and illnesses, family crises, and so forth. Through it all, I stuck to training four to seven times a week and eating well. I’ve been pain free through most of it, and managing the pain for the rest of the time, and nearly every morning at 6 am I’m hauling my butt up and down an alleyway or up and down in a power cage. You hear about amazing athletes who just suddenly quit and make a groove in the couch once the stimulus of competition is over. To me, sticking to a regular activity and nutrition plan in the face of absolutely overwhelming pressure not to do so is a bigger achievement than anything else possible.

All that excuse bullshit aside, the lift I’m probably most proud of is my weighted pullup. My all time best is a single with a 45 pound plate. Before I did a stupid human trick in the gym with a stiff-legged deadlift followed by a face plant on the ice and messed up my lumbar spine and sacroiliac joint, I was closing in on a 2x bodyweight deadlift, and did a 170 lb ass-to-grass Olympic style squat at a bodyweight of 110. It’s taken me two years after that SI joint injury to get back to squatting anything over 100 (I’m at 145 thankyouverymuch) and I’m pleased to report that in the last month I’ve finally been able to deadlift again—a mighty 90 pounds! Hoohah! I’m also working on my handstand pushups. Those are a crowd pleaser. I took up running last year and did my first 5k on New Year’s Day this year. For an accomplished runner a 5k is nothing, but for someone like me who has never been able to run without knee pain, it’s like, wow! (Big shout out to Michael Yessis! If you think you can’t run, check out Explosive Running and learn the proper foot striking biomechanics. It will change your life, I assure you.)

Someone in the gym the other day saw me do a set of pullups and asked what I was training for. I thought about it and responded that I was training for life. Yeah, it’s cheesy, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Life throws all kinds of crazy shit at you. What if you have to run across a street or up a few flights of stairs suddenly, or move a couch, or push your car out of a ditch, or dodge a fistfight in a grocery store (yes, this happened to me once… the moral is, do NOT bring more than ten items into the express lane)? If I ever end up hanging off a cliff I’ll be happy about that pullup training.

The other thing I’m thinking about when I train is how I got the fuzzy end of the genetic lollipop. My family has thyroid disease, cancer, osteoporosis, reproductive diseases, various flavours of autoimmune and psychiatric disorders, etc. etc. Just about every male over 40 that I’m related to has had a heart attack. Some have survived, some not. We all have big appetites and the majority of my relatives are overfat to obese. The writing’s on the DNA wall for me. So I’m always asking myself: how can this training make me feel, work, and perform better in the face of my own intrinsic limitations? How can I do the best I can with what I have—how can I optimize what I have available to me?

My training now has a few components. First, I love variety and novelty. I am continually looking for new challenges. I keep the constants in there, but I love finding new little tidbits or setting little mini-goals. Weight training has given me the confidence and body control to try new activities and do moderately well at them. Second, I aim for all-round achievement. If you can do a huge 1RM but your heart tries to climb out your nostril when you go up a flight of stairs; if you’re so inflexible you can’t wipe your ass properly; or if your arteries look like the fatty equivalent of some crazy hoarding cat lady’s house, then you aren’t fit. This is certainly an endorsement for elements of the Crossfit style of approach. I do think you can have it all, and still achieve in the areas that are important to you. You can’t perform 100% in every single respect, and elite performance takes focus, but nevertheless you can enjoy moderate development in all aspects. This will enhance rather than detract from your abilities. I think the idea that strength training is some special thing that has to be done separately from everything else has resulted in a lot of poorly structured, myopic training.

Third, I choose quality movements that are based, to some degree, in “real world” tasks and demands. When I teach people to clean and press, I call it “pick up a thing from the floor and put it on a high shelf”.

Finally my training has to be fun! I try to be playful with it. After all it is a bit silly to be out dragging a sled full of cinder blocks around…

 

Talk to me about food! Likes, dislikes. Where are folks going right and wrong with food these days? Many people seem to have an adversarial relationship to food; do you have any insight in how to get beyond this or is it simply a matter of “step away from the cookies?” How does one balance healthy eating and REALLY enjoying food? Can I fit another food sensitive question into what will likely be a lengthy section?

I love food. Period. I will eat anything that is dead and isn’t poisonous, although I’ve had to give up a few things as over the years my body declared itself not to be a fan. Giving up cow milk dairy was a real drag, but thank heaven for goat cheese! (I’m also learning to enjoy goat yogurt, AKA goagurt, and goat milk lattes, but there is a little bit of goatiness to both that’s hard to ignore.)

There are a few things I don’t eat because I don’t consider them food. For example I believe octopus is not a food, because I think humans shouldn’t consume anything that is unchewable. Also, iceberg lettuce is totally pointless. It’s just a delivery system for water.

I also love cooking. I think that cooking is one way to get people in touch with their food. When people say to me “I hate vegetables”, about 99.9% of the time they have only tried maybe five vegetables, and also they have no idea how to cook them properly. I grew up with a mom who despite many gifts was not able to cook vegetables. She’d microwave or boil them. Microwaved Brussels sprouts taste like something your dog would upchuck. I make a sprout recipe so tasty that even people who hate sprouts will usually eat and enjoy it. The secret is knowing how to prepare food so that its natural beauty and flavour emerges. If you spend time putting love and effort into your food acquisition and preparation, experiencing its smells and sights and sounds as you get your hands dirty with it, you develop an entirely different relationship with it.

I have people begin by focusing on the quality of their food rather than the quantity. I tell them to buy the very best food they can afford. It should be locally grown if possible, in season, fresh, and organic if they can get it. It should come from somewhere that loves food as much as you do—from a farmer who’s busted his ass at 5:00 am to get that thing out of the ground rather than some industrial conglomerate who’s extruded chemical soup from the sphincter of a machine. When a gorgeous bunch of glossy green Swiss chard or the heady aroma of a freshly picked tomato in August makes you want to weep, I’ve done my job.

Half the stuff that people consider healthy is garbage. I look at protein bar labels and it’s like reading the side of a barrel of toxic waste. It also tastes like crap and makes my stomach declare armed revolt. Healthy food can be, and is, utterly delicious and decadent.

I also try to get people away from the moral connection with food. Food isn’t bad or good. It’s just food. Some foods make the body perform better than others. Eat to make the machine work as well as it can. Think about the gift that your body gives you every day, and give a little bit back to those hardworking organs that perform thanklessly. I like to say care for the insides and the outsides will take care of themselves.

 

What type of advice would you give for a complete newbie? Say… 35 years old, a little overweight, never trained before and thinks a good breakfast is banana bread and a white mocha?

I’d say start with daily movement. Right now. Doesn’t matter what. Walk to the store. Go out and throw a ball around with your kid for 20 minutes. Shake your groove thing to your favourite song when nobody is looking. Every day, do something physical to remind yourself that you live in a container that has needs. Get back in touch with that container because I assure you, if you ignore it, it’ll come calling eventually and it’ll be pissed. The more often you can remind yourself to care for your physical self, the more likely you’ll be to keep increasing the exercise and paying attention to nutrition.

I’d say think about how you can integrate wellness into your life. Maybe you love good wine. Maybe you love chocolate. Maybe you love throwing elaborate dinner parties. None of these things are incompatible with health and fitness. You just can’t chug a tankard of shiraz at every meal, but that’s hardly a disaster.

Finally I’d say think about strategies to make it all happen. Prioritize. Nine times out of 10, just cutting out TV and Internet time wasting frees up several hours a week. You can then use those hours to move around, shop for groceries, and plan how to address the challenges that will inevitably occur.

If you aren’t motivated by your own needs think about other people’s needs. What happens to your kids if you kick off early? Do you have enough money in your bank account to support Type II diabetes or heart disease medications? If these questions unsettle you, then you’re ready to begin.

 

Have you followed any of Art Devany’s or Loren Cordain’s work? Do you find any of the Paleo models of fitness, food and fun helpful in your own life?

Oh absolutely, and I think that we are coming to understand that our bodies actually function extremely well; it’s just that we’re asking them to do 21st century things with Cro-Magnon tools. Understand that what you want is sometimes a maladaptive response to a very healthy impulse—enjoying sweets is normal and natural with a prehistoric physiology. Our 20,000 year-old bodies don’t know that sweets now are trans-fat-laden cookies. They think sweets are still colourful ripe fruit. Give your body a little expensive dark chocolate and call it a draw.



[1] Note that crack is not to be sniffed. We advocate smoking.- Ed

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Robb Wolf is the owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning, a co-founder of the Performance Menu journal, and author of The Paleolithic Solution. His website is www.robbwolf.com.
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The Coach's Strength Training Playbook
The Coach's Strength Training Playbook
Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete
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Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coach's Guide
Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coach's Guide
Olympic Weightlifting for Sports
Olympic Weightlifting for Sports

3 Comments
Patrick Kennedy 1 | 2007-05-15
Krista, Robb, Great interview! Great sites! Thanks, Patrick
AB 2 | 2007-05-15
Krista is very inspiring, as always. I never get tired of her site, and I truly enjoyed the interview. Thanks!
Adam Kayce 3 | 2007-12-28
Krista is hilarious - what a great read. As I'm typing this, Stumptuous is down... I'm hoping only temporarily...
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