Gyms aren’t answering our fitness needs. They are uninspiring and after the honeymoon of novelty wears off, you find yourself either forcing yourself to go so as not to waste the extortionate fees or finding excuses not to go. We interviewed 4 amazing women on their alternative ways to keep fit and engaged.
Viking Shield Maiden
Katt: Well I chose Viking re-enactment because of a few reasons, one of them being that my family are descended from Vikings! Vikings have always been given a bad rep, which I’ve never really believed. The warrior and social structure of Viking life is amazing and it’s one of the few re-enactments where women have a historical role in fighting!
A typical session for me, as a warrior would be warm-ups consisting of stretches for the legs and our arms, these are usually shield holds which even a seasoned warrior can struggle with! Holding out your shield for an extended period of time buuuuurns!
After that, we do our basic 8s, which is a basic set of attacks and defensive moves that all combine in a fight. This can be in a group or one on one. We also might spar or work on our shield wall, which if you google or go on YouTube to see, is pretty damn epic! After that, we usually work on our display fighting. Which is bigging it all up for the public (or as I like to call them, the muggles. Got to throw a bit of Harry Potter in there!), this consists of a fight but exaggerated and a lot of acting! This might include a scenario that’s pre-written or Holmgang, which is an honour duel in the Viking age. It might not sound like much but it’s quite physical! All our weapons are real (may have blunt edges but all made from steel and that hurts!)
We wear steel helms for protection and gloves for our hands, you can protect yourself as much as you want while training but to be honest, I prefer to have as much speed as I can do I do the minimum with helm and gloves! And yes; accidents can happen, you can walk away with a new bruise. But that’s half the fun! A good training session will leave my muscles aching and in need of a nap.
It’s a challenge for me and I love that I get to do something that pushes me past my pain whilst being pretty epic at the same time. I keep going back because I’ve made some amazing friends from Brumvik, we all have the same love and passion for living history and my shield brothers and sisters are bloody great fun to fight with! There’s a sense of honour and dedication from everyone and it’s great to be a part of it! And to contribute to it as much as I can. I think everyone should have a passion and this is fast becoming mine.
Sally: Why Live Action Role Play (LARP)? Friends nagged me to try for about 4 months and I eventually gave in and loved it.
The is no typical session – depends entirely on the LARP. Some are 4h one-off 20 players in a pub back room, others are 1400+ people across several fields or a scout camp with “in character” tent villages for a long weekend. Drachenfest & Mythodea in Germany are a week-long almost back to back and people do trips on holiday to do both.
LARP can be low fantasy, high fantasy, sci-fi, horror, noir, Wild West, children’s cartoon based (the was a popular Redwall one last summer). Some are worlds specific to the game, others are entirely familiar – Firefly/Serenity, Defiance, Fallout, SG1, Warhammer 40K… There are political LARPs, foam weapon LARPs, airsoft LARPs, nerf LARPs, LRP where combat is resolved via the pull of a card, dice rolling, rock-paper-scissors or similar.
I personally am involved with two LARP systems. One, Curious Pastimes, is a fest system, so I guess around 800ish players at an event. High fantasy, swords & sorcery, Vikings and knights, elves and orcs, goblins and beastkin, and all sorts of other things. It’s got a huge amount of story to get involved with at all levels – world, nation, even group level. There’s a whole bunch of fictional science behind the scenes about how the world actually works and came into being for people to discover and play with. Actions and choices have real impact on the game world, which is ongoing from event to event. Plus there are big battles involving pretty much all the players on site, and are led by players, not game staff. The game is hugely immersive and engaging. There are loads of players and ex-players who volunteer to help run as staff, both setting up before and clearing down after, and playing the various world characters, bad guys, big gribbly monsters, and so on.
The second is Green Cloaks, a much smaller fest system of around 200-250 players per event, a sci-fi military-esque system. The players are all part of the Terrain Sovereign Army in the year 6000 and something, in a different planetary cluster a long way away across the galaxy. We have aliens, Nerf weapons, and something that looks a lot like “space magic” though we are trying to avoid that term! I don’t play the system but volunteered to help behind the scenes and run the monster crew, delivering plot to the players that has been written by our plot team. We also have a whole world to play in, with history and science, and multiple planets with different characteristics.
Both games have a similar expectation for a player attending. In character Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, a couple of sessions monstering (playing the bad guys for other players, who do the same in return), and a big battle or two depending on the length of the weekend. Neither system is in character overnight, although systems exist that are 24 hour time in.
Why do I keep going back? Why does anyone keep doing any hobby? It’s fun. I have made a lot of friends through it, I enjoy getting involved with plot, I like to make costumes and props, I like to explore different aspects of the game (like magic or fighting or scouting or crafting or ritual magic), and the game world is always evolving, so the story continues whether I attend or not! Why do I volunteer is a better question – because I get the satisfaction of helping a game I love to play keep running. Because I get to help make game for other people. Because someone has to do it, and I’m willing to chip in.
Bess: As many a small child, I loved ballet. I took classes between age 8 and 11. During my teens and early 20s, I found that most standard exercise classes or gym sessions were utterly boring to me. I don’t like team sports, I have no hand-eye-co-ordination for sports such as Tennis and other athletic sports such as running do not suit me at all. In my late 30s, Ballet for Adults or “Balletcise” was the answer. Though it followed typical ballet class, it didn’t expect the same kind of commitment as formal ballet training did. It’s a destressor: I can focus on the movements in an almost meditative way.
A ballet class, whether for professional dancers or for those who just want to do ballet for fun and a bit of exercise, all follow the same pattern. It means that a dancer can go into any ballet class in anywhere in the world, and can follow the class easily.
Each session would start with a gentle, though quick warm up: shaking all the limbs, loosening the joints and slowly stretching the muscles all over, including back, neck, arms and feet.
The next part is the Ballet Barre where exercises (names of which are all in French – the “language” of Ballet) are practiced and repeated, to develop core body and leg and ankle strength, balance, and foot articulation. These exercises, along with the five basic positions, are the foundation of all the ballet steps.
After Barre work, there comes Centre work. For my class, this was learning very simple steps which made up a small dance or sequence. The steps would build on the exercises for barre work or could be the tiny steps which made up a movement such as a Pirouette. Each step in the sequence is learnt slowly, and then sped up so they become a seamless sequence. Near the end of the lesson, our teacher would ask us what we would like to focus on in centre work the following week which meant we were involved in the class and not just being taught ballet.
At the end, all the dancers Reverance (curtsey) to the Teacher. This is a thank you and marks the end of the lesson.
It was a very “safe” place: No “uniform” was expected, except to have our hair pinned up and out of the way and to wear soft ballet shoes (not pointe shoes). We were encouraged to wear looser exercise clothing than the typical tights and leotard of more formal ballet classes if we so wished. The class was very friendly and were roughly a similar age (all over 30). One lady was in her late 60s (and I wish I could have danced like her). None of us were what most people would think of as “ballet dancers”.
We all had different reasons for being there: Some of us wanted to lose weight/tone/get exercise; some were there as they just wanted to dance. Some were there to recapture their lost love of ballet from many years before. It didn’t feel like an exercise class. It was dance – the sheer joy of dancing – but with a structure and rules and discipline, which oddly enough, gave us all the more creativity within the class.
VR (virtual reality)
Steph: To be completely honest, I was initially very sceptical about VR. My initial reaction was something along the lines of ‘It’s just another computer game which will only result in more children mindlessly looking at another screen’. However, since trying it myself, I have in fact been pleasantly surprised. There are of course the obvious flaws, that yes, it is another screen, and there is potentially the problem of motion sickness (though as the technology advances this is becoming rarer and rarer). Nevertheless, there are many advantages compared to your normal computer game. Notably, the majority of VR games allow you to leave that sofa behind, and take a far more active role in the game.
Take the game ‘The Lab’ for example, a free to play game available on Steam which is essentially a pocket universe containing multiple mini-games or experiences. One of them, Longbow, described as game in which you ‘Use your archery skills to defend your noble castle from a rampaging but adorable and equally noble horde of attackers’ is guaranteed to give your arms a work out, or alternatively you can duck and dodge your way between shots fired at your miniature ship in ‘Xortex’. So, if you’re pretty competitive (like me) and you’re trying quite hard, you can find yourself relatively exhausted by the end of a short session of VR, even as little as 20 minutes.
Now, for me, it doesn’t compare to sport itself, but if I have too much energy pent up by the end of the day, VR can be a good way to use some of that up, making me more tired and relaxed, and helping me to sleep better – though, as with any screens, it’s best avoided immediately before going to sleep. So, if you’re not a particularly sporty person or simply have a preference for video/computer games, VR can get you moving without having to leave the house. The amount of movement strongly depends on the game, and how much you put into it, but that is the same with any sort of exercise!
It can also, paradoxically, be extremely social. While you can quite easily immerse yourself in the virtual world by yourself, you can also rally your friends together and take it in turns to try and beat each other’s’ high score, cheering each other on (or making sly attempts to distract them…) as you play. VR Fruit Ninja high scores are currently the source of severe competition in my house at the moment…
What do you do to keep fit? What would you like to try?