New strain of gym crazy

It has been quite a week around here, and fortunately none of the noise and distraction has to do with my better health quest. Except for the stress I am generating, of course, and that is just part of how I seem to roll. I console myself that my stress vibe is significantly reduced from what it once was, if only because I am older, maybe a bit wiser, and care less about stuff well beyond my control. Unfortunately I seem incapable of scaling and crossing over into the caring not at all about the things I cannot control, but at this point my progress is good progress. The work-related stress disrupting my sleep – 2 more weeks and it should be mostly behind me. Always it is the unpredictable unknown that zaps my stress and pressure (stressure) levels. And this seems true for just about anyone, so no special snowflaking here.

I have 2 posts about 50% written recapping this week’s training. Probably they will be posted tonight, this weekend, when I have time to finish writing down all the details I like to capture. This week it’s been hard to block out time to just relax and write; I am either caught up on my hamster wheel thinking about work or actually working. I wonder how I did all this or if life were just less complex before I spent time at the gym.

But an unfortunate side effect of the outside world stress has me pondering work inside the gym as well.

Of late J has been working with me on push-pull routines with heavier (for me) weights and lower (for me) reps per set. All good! Except, I’m using my at-my-desk working time to listen to fitness podcasts and youtube videos. Learning a lot of new terms and gaining exposure to different ideas and opinions. It has me thinking about my own efforts. Finding less fault with me than has been usual and customary, yet still wondering if I could do better or be trying harder somehow.

My type A- personality disorder has been kicking in lately, it with the harshly self-judgmental aspect.

I like my daily gym practice. For me, it is for the best and it works. For me. Unlike M (who is almost a zealot in his passion for running and exercise), I do not ever suggest anyone follow my examples, yet I have been told all sorts of things about how bad or unsustainable going to the gym every day is for me. *shrug* I’m fine, thank you. Despite the doom, gloom, predictions of Very Bad Outcomes if I continue on my current path, I seem to be thriving. Those with the darker outlooks suggest I am some sort of outlier on the exercise and fitness path, but not really. I philosophically understand now that not only our fitness objectives differ but our process for getting from here to there parallels our differences. Perhaps it is as simple as managing our expectations and listening to body and it’s feedback.

With J and in our current training methodology with the push-pull, I am not learning new exercises as much I am learning how to lift heavier weights and maintain good form for fewer reps, typically a range of 6 to 8 (versus my normal 8 to 12, 12 to 15, 15 to 20, etc.). This is all good, of course; everything I do and learn in the gym is ultimately very good for me.

Until it’s not. Until I get injured (superstitiously knocking on wood). Or until some new strain of gym crazy starts to invade my consciousness.

As I said, I like my daily practice. I have zero intentions of giving it up, as tempting as it is to sleep past 4 a.m. during the week and 6 a.m. on weekends. But this morning, running along through my most time efficient huffy-puffy List of the day, I realize that there is some fear and anxiety associated with lifting weightier weights by myself. While in hindsight I recognize this is not that big of a deal – just do something else when on my own – but in my mind during practice it grew and grew and grew until the idea was some 200 foot tall and 300 foot wide elephant bursting through the roof in the gym. Full-on spin cycle in progress. By the time I got home I was practically breathing into a paperbag imagining my ultimate wash out of training and exercise and dying a 600 lb. blob of personhood because I am incapable of doing anything on my own.

Such bullshit. Negative girl must have blown up her cell and been set loose to run free.

Shower and actual food slowed my thinking down and brought me back to reality. The elephant shrunk to manageable beanie baby size, and I got back to the business of dealing with my reality-based thoughts.

I do have some anxiety about using the weightier weights on my own right now. Fair enough. Rational me (obviously not in the wheelhouse this morning) starts brainstorming ideas. Do push-pull only on training days for now, with extra heavy emphasis that for now is not the same as forever. Perhaps more review time with the push-pull we have done thus far? Possibly a fantastic idea! Means less prep work and planning/thinking for J (compiling new List of the day for the week) and boring times standing around hanging out with me while I work at overcoming this latest phase of crazy. But there are dividends. A less crazy client (that would be me) means less chance of phone spontaneously combusting in his hand with overload of freaked-out texts describing massively growing elephants.

For the most part, I do not see myself as rigidly inflexible. However, I like structure and routine. Every week, I have my basics of 2 days of training sessions and 4 days of practice, with freebies on the other day and the evenings I am there to hang out with friend K. For the most part, I rotate through my Lists doing at least a huffy-puffy, a plexes, and an upper/lower every week. The way J writes my Lists, whole body gets some work a few days every week.

Since I am not known for working at or pressed to work at the same sort of intensity J does in his own fitness pursuits, I have really good weeks with daily Lists. Anymore, I tend to be crankier when I fail to get some exercise in every day, even if it is only a meandering stroll with my work pals. When I have tried to take days off or what feels like too much time off, I find myself getting anxious about the break in my routine. Unless I am on vacation and away from home, at which time it equates to I am out of town, gym is out of mind.

This is not a big, life-altering issue. Mostly it is just me recognizing that I’m uncomfortable with The Plan (all in my mind – nothing J or anyone suggests I should be doing) for various reasons and trying my best to address it head-on. I like the weightier weight training, but I am now educated enough to understand that I cannot work like that every single day. Perhaps with enough training I can get there, but I feel somewhat doubtful. To put that kind of pressure on myself is to suck all the joy, peace, balance I have found in the gym to date, and that’s a sacrifice I’m unwilling to make.

However, there is simple compromise to be found. Doing weightier weights only on training days is probably best until I feel more capable in my ability to maintain good form. Confidence increases under the watchful trainer eye that sees all and tends to correct less desirable practices before they become ingrained as bad  habits. It also releases me from the feeling that I must practice or J will believe me to be some super slacker client. (Oh please – there must be some hidden switch in my mind that make clinging to that old thought pattern cease.) I understand that wishcraft is not going to get me from here to some point out there in my foggy forward view, but I also understand no matter how hard I try, how furiously I might push myself, getting there faster does not mean I cross the goal line and am done and can now go out for pizza like the game is over. Nope. The process is a continuous one, a choice I will make every day for the remainder of my life. Acceptance that doing whatever I can to stay active and pursue better health is does not end until illness or infirmity or death overwhelms me – sometimes it’s just hard to believe that I have been at this long enough to call it a habit.

My recent foray and immersion listening to fitness podcasts and youtube videos has more focus on weight training with the weight lifting emphasis. A lot of stuff on the heavy lifting, 3 rep maximums, training to fatigue, personal records. All that stuff does not interest me much, except as data gathering to understand what drives others. It’s fascinating – for someone else. For me, unlikely to be a pursuit. Since I am now around a lot more people who do this kind of stuff as a hobby, it feels good to be listening and acquiring the knowledge and understanding so I can be supportive and encouraging to others in my realm as they pursue their own, differing goals and objectives. And it gives me new batches of questions to ask J about while we’re working together.

But it sometimes leads to new strains of gym crazy. I thought myself mostly inoculated or immune anymore, yet I seem to be feeling the mildest inclination of anxiety. The shoulds are chasing me down today.

#balance, #better-health, #exercise, #goals, #gym, #happy, #health, #inspiration, #lifestyle, #work

PT-44.1: Exercise adventurer

Monday morning, training with J. We are still in our push-pull (not press-pull – somehow got it wrong last week) series of events and learned a couple of new machines and things today. Just a whole lot to talk about with a weekend of reading and thinking.

Key Takeaways

Coming in PT-44.2: Exercise adventurer.

What We Did

Coming in PT-44.2: Exercise adventurer.

How It Felt

Coming in PT-44.2: Exercise adventurer.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

The kitchen sink is rather full today, a byproduct of a weekend spent reading Facebook posts from fitness people J has recommended, liked prior posts, or just crossed my feed and kind of made sense. On top of which, I just had a semi-disconnected weekend, in that work-work and full-time job trauma drama were pretty distant. If anything, I was immersed in fitness-related stuff and not blogging about it. Until today, of course. And naturally, since I was thinking about it, I brought it up with J (and others) in my life in one communication forum or another. All great things.

An unfortunate quirk of mine is to read or hear things in big, broad, anonymous (as in I am just one of the great unseen masses to the author) forums and take them personally, as if this writer posting an opinion or sharing his/her thoughts or information is looming large and pointing fingers and highlighting every real and imagined fault in my better health quest. Hell, doesn’t even need to be related to my better health quest; it could be just my life in general and their framework of “living right.” While I know it is mostly my inner insecure person running in circles flailing her arms in an extremely agitated state, I want to chalk it up to my years of fire-and-brimstone southern baptist church attendance (from age 6 until I turned 12 and decided I no longer wished to associate with the hypocrites I saw there every Sunday and Wednesday), but the more rational, more balance side of me has to take what I have just read or heard in a podcast and really think about why it impacts me. Could be the writer or speaker is just correct in his assessments and opinions, or that I am or have been guilty of the less desirable behaviors he is describing. Anymore, it is only unhealthy for me if I only think I am guilty or continuing poor choice behavior patterns. There are an equal number of positive attributes I have adopted or trying to adopt in my own life. If I am going to turn the mirror on myself for negative behaviors, I need to be balanced and do the same for positive changes as well.

Such is the case this weekend with a post discussing consistency in the gym or with exercise. This post is from Alex Viada via Facebook (dated June 10, 2017):

Integral to consistency is sustainability.

Consistency doesn’t mean never skipping a day. Consistency means doing something today that will ensure you are still doing something next year, five years from now, ten years from now.

And that something you’re doing today may very well be taking a day off. Because dedication isn’t about obsession, it isn’t a sprint, it isn’t some senseless display of self-imposed sacrifice. It isn’t the “hustle” or the “grind”. It isn’t some other nonsense word that just reeks of burnout. Dedication is an ultramarathon, it’s a winding path forward, and it’s all too often taking a step back today to catch your breath, knowing you have the rest of your life to take the next thousand steps forward.

I am kind of madly in love with this post. Because it makes me feel like I finally get M’s simplified “do something every day” with exercise to make progress with getting fitter. For the most part, I have incorporated this into my life and lifestyle. For the most part, I am successful with this concept, or have been recently (about 21 months). Yet I know myself and know how slippery that slope is to backslide down into not going back to the gym for months and years once more. I have done it so many times before it’s impossible for me to feel like I have succeeded, even after almost 2 years (this month) of working with J, even knowing I just resigned and have another 36 weeks of sessions on the books. While hopefully J will be present and accounted for with each and every one of those purchased sessions, I know enough now to feel comfortable that I can and will find resources to help me make it work no matter who is writing future Lists or trying to teach me how to use a machine or another piece of equipment. Maybe I am less likely now than previous periods to fall off the wagon, the possibility exists. Considering my fitness pursuits in terms of sobriety, I am sort of a recovering non-exerciser who is on the path to staying clean and in the gym. It is a choice I make every day, including days to take a day off or go forth and dilly-dally pursuing things that are new, giving me grief, a lot more fun than others.

And that in itself was another topic of discussion. Pat Flynn, another fitness coach I follow on Facebook and am on his mailing list, had an email about Training v. Working Out. In my life, it’s mostly semantics, but the topic was intriguing enough that I had to forward the email to J, friend J, and a couple of other friends for their thoughts and opinions. Because I’m kind of geeky that way.

When I am speaking of training, I am talking about Mondays and Thursdays with J, going through a new or updated List, working on my skills, correcting and tweaking my form, adding more weight, or all of the above. Practice is what I do on my own time, pursuing a List of the day. There is no real structure to it; J does not say “do this, that, the other one between now and Thursday.” No, the only structure is that I try not to do the same List 2 days in a row. Sometimes it’s a huffy-puffy day, sometimes it’s an upper or lower day, sometimes it’s plexes day. I wander to and fro, but left to my own devices, I will nearly always gravitate toward the dumbbells. Because it has the fewest opportunities to be inconveniencing someone else in their pursuits.

As far as working out, that’s what I do on Wednesday evenings when hanging out with gym sistah K. I have usually already completed my List in the morning, so the evening time is following along with whatever she’s doing and having a pleasant gab-fest visit. Lately, she’s been doing barbell deadlifts, and while she is doing that, I am enthusiastically following along with my dumbbell Romanian deadlifts while keeping an eye on her efforts and being a supportive gym compadre. That’s me working out – following no particular program, pursuing no particular goal. Because when I first began my quest to overcome my gym crazy, a “work out” was what everyone else was doing. “Trying to keep up” was my goal with my own pursuits.

But back to Pat Flynn’s missive about training v. working out. Quoting definitions directly from his email (by the way, his blog is

Training – Working toward something specific.
Working Out – Trying to fatigue the muscles.

As I said, semantics to me. “Better health” is about the most specific goal I presently employ. Trying to fatigue muscles? In my mind and view, fatiguing muscles seems to still happen pretty naturally, for me, with no “trying” involved. I also understand my definition of fatigue is likely very different than what most of the target audience thinks, so again, this is all about semantics. But interesting semantics all the same. Because J and I never tend to speak in terms of labels, absolutes, and the like, I just meander along through our sessions and my practices without giving too much thought to how the process is described. I’m there. I’m working at something and trying for good form and technique. All good.

Such is the mush in my head about exercise, fitness, better health. Inside and outside the gym. J has neither the time nor the ability to cover all my interests in the hours we spend in session, so I do my research and reading outside the gym, then drag it in when I have questions or trip over something curious. I tend to follow or at least read fitpros J mentions or references, because my geek self likes to understand origins and how the depth of the expanding exercise library.

In our earliest days of training, I would occasionally look up an exercise to try and remember the shape and ways it was supposed to work. Except I very quickly learned that others on the internet may be doing the same glute bridge in some way that looked entirely different to me than when J demonstrated it. Now, I get that maybe their shape and size might have impacted the angles of their limbs, but back then – I was freaked out and vowing never to look up anything ever again.

These days, I do tend to read a lot about weight training and fitness in general; I like the exposure to different ideas and training modalities (another new term just recently acquired). My exercise and fitness education still feels pre-K level to me, but I’m okay with that. Joining the fitpro ranks is neither a goal nor even an objective for me; I am more a dilettante in wanting to know stuff for my own purposes. I enjoy having some less vague notion of what people are doing in the gym and my other fitness wanderings.

Knowledge is security for me. If I can understand it, I feel better about the process – any process – as a whole. There are training methods and sports pursuits that do not interest me at all, but it’s good for me to have somewhat factual basis for my thoughts and inclinations. I dislike organized sports because I find them boring, and because I do not play any, haven’t in years, and sucked at them when I did, largely because I lack the competitive spirit, killer instincts, and coaches who could spend enough time with me to inspire me to consistently practice and try to improve. Not a natural athlete, and after 2 years of training with J, it’s even more apparent that it takes swimming pools of sweat multiple days per week to see any improvements.

Even now, I don’t do well in exercise classes. I don’t mind being in the area and observing what other people are doing around me, but I don’t want to participate with them. It seems a least 48% of why I am not gaining traction in yoga, the other 52% being I am not bendy and any hopes I have of increasing my flexibility will require a lot more intent and persistence than I am willing to muster. One thing to be on my own, or training with J and falling off and out of the 1-legged everything at some point or another, and quite another to be in a class full of people doing everything reasonably well while I struggle mightily and still don’t get it.

Plus I just don’t like class situations, I think. I’m fine if it’s a social thing – going to yoga with a friend, test driving a class in the gym with a pal who wants company – but not my brand for everyday fitness.

Which brings me to crossfit. *sigh* I have several friends who love, adore, worship at the alter of crossfit. If I am addicted to my Lists and the gym, they are something worse with the crossfit. I have run out of words to say or plainer thoughts to share on the subject of why crossfit sounds like a Very Bad Idea for me personally, so we have reluctantly agreed to disagree about our methods and obsessions with fitness. Yet stuff still comes up from time to time, and I cannot resist sharing the links or information that crosses my path that supports my dubious position on the topic. This article  from the weekend (brought to my Facebook feed by Trevor Johnson) – I simply couldn’t resist forwarding it to all my crossfit-crazed friends. (Here is the link to Trevor’s HIFC Show #10 discussing this article and diet-related matters.)

All the crossfitters I know personally are mid-40s to mid-50s. They love it and  have tried many times to get me to consider trying it. Ummm, no thank you. I am far too paranoid about injury in my own gym pursuits to try something that sounds so wrong for me. Of those ladies (they are all women), one is presently recovering from shoulder surgery, another was out for weeks with an ankle injury, and yet another has had to take weeks off for recovery after a mishap or more serious gym tweak. Those tales alone are enough to keep me safely ensconced in my gym with my stretchy bands and dumbbells and machines and at home with my (borrowed for the month) 8 kg kettlebell.

I don’t know enough about crossfit to talk smack about it, yet I know enough to steer clear as not a good fit for me. I want them to be successful in their exercise pursuits, but I worry about long-term sustainability. So when they tree me about being a bad or unsupportive friend (not often, but it happens), I retreat to the “sustainability” argument. Having rebuilt joints may eventually be just as good and as stable as the original equipment, but I vastly prefer the idea of keeping my original equipment joints in good working order. And I have empirical evidence that crossfit can injury you and your joints. Badly. No thanks. Prefer my slow-mo, safe and sane exercise methods.

Yeah, kind of a busy exercise geekery weekend all swirling around in my head this morning. Some of this I chatted about with J, some of it I forgot until I opened this window with my notes about stuff I wanted to talk about today.

Then there is diet and healthy eating stuff. Oh my – this one has been building for the last few weeks.

So trainer J uses his own body like a test kitchen with regard to food and eating. Of the course of our training partnership I have watched him bulk up and lean down at various times. It’s fascinating to watch and to discuss in real time.

Last year it was veganism – J was a vegan much of 2016. This year there has been no real theme until recently, when he began a quest to pursue simpler, higher satiety food choices that are not hyperpalatable. He began what is affectionately known as the potato diet.

Now, this is something I can kinda/sorta get behind. Vegan? I might have starved to death, because I am such an insanely picky eater. Because I actually like potatoes, it is far easier for me to test and even copy a few of his meals with potatoes, vegetables, chicken apple sausage – delicious. However, since I tend to TRY to pursue a lower carb diet, I cannot eat as much or as many plain boiled potatoes for my primary fuel source. But the rest of it – the vegetables, the fruits, the protein powder – these are a lot of things I do already and could definitely amp up and increase my intake and search for food balance.

Listening to him discuss his experiences and alterations to his eating habits, its encouraging. Yeah, eating lots and lots of potatoes seems a bit extreme, particularly for me, but eating more fruit, eating more vegetables, and eating leaner meats and protein sources – these are things that make sense to me and my limited cooking interests.

More importantly, and interesting to the accountant within, the money saved on this version of feeding himself. After his first few weeks, his grocery bill is significantly less. Even a non-frugalista like me can appreciate that aspect of the calorie budgeting process.

Wow, long post already and not a word written about actual exercise today. Definitely a 2-post recap today.


#better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health

PT-43: Pulling forward

Thursday morning, training with J. First appointment of the day was 30 minutes earlier than usual, so J asked if I wanted to come in 30 minutes earlier, giving me a little extra time. All good things. Except first appointment had to cancel and we could have gone back to our usual start time – not a problem for me. All good points that fab trainer J is truly fabulous and generous with his time.

Key Takeaways

What I have learned from all my training sessions: there is good form and technique, some exercises are more effective or productive, but a “bad” exercise has yet to cross my Lists. Probably this is partly why I depend upon J so much; keep me from doing stupid stuff or acquiring even more bad habits. There are things I like less, there are things I will avoid whenever possible, but there is truly nothing that makes me feel physically poorly afterwards.

Perhaps someday I will also develop stronger preferences for things than I have to date. I am more a generalist and interested in everything until it either hurts me or bores me. And even if it bores me, I do it anyway because it’s good for me. Kind of like eating vegetables; I really don’t love most of them, but I eat them because they are good for me. I am always glad to be learning new skills, and learning the big barbell and how to use one effectively falls under this umbrella. Still don’t see myself as a powerlifter or even a serious weight lifter, and that’s okay. I do not need a defined goal to learn new skills.

Those stretchy bands! In the back of my mind I keep thinking they will someday be relegated to warm-up routines, yet they keep appearing and evolving into something more challenging and productive. Not sure why I think I want them to go away, but it just occurs to me from time to time that I should be done with them by now. My wanting them gone is probably most recently related to convenience; every time I want to use one for warmup or on a List, I have to go on a search and rescue mission throughout the gym. Annoying. (Yeah, me and my first world problems, I know).

Heavier weights – oh my, it’s so thrilling! I feel ridiculous admitting this to anyone else, but being able to actually use a bigger weight is exciting. I have never thought I was strong. Sometimes, schlepping crap at the office, I still feel kind of weak (but that could be related to the dress and heels and the awkwardness of of carrying boxes of files and records to and fro while trying to keep them away from my dress). The way things sneak up on me and while I am looking doubtful at the weights J suggests, next I know I am capable with them. Maybe not for higher rep ranges, but once upon a time what I use now was in the 6 to 8 rep range, too.

I am an exercise nerd. My fascination with the way things work – like my own body, for example – seems to know few boundaries. Is okay. I keep it mostly to myself.

What We Did

On our List today:

Barbell RDL (61)
High Tension Resist Rotation Press

1-leg DB RDL (25)
Pullover (35)

SB Hamstring Curls
Seated Cable Row

Seated Hamstring Curls
Dual Cable Lat Pulldown

How It Felt

We started with basic form for the barbell Romanian dead lift and getting the feels for the difference in weight distribution for a 41 lb. barbell and its significantly longer length when compared to a 25 or 30 lb. pair of dumbbells. It was okay, not horrible, not too scary. There were no other members right nearby either so I was not too concerned about accidentally bumping someone while moving it to and fro. After the first couple of times hinging with just the bar, J added light weight plates – a pair of 5 lb. plates for a set, then took those off and replaced them with a set of 10 lb. plates. While it feels very different than my beloved dumbbells, it is not unmanageable, and I am too inexperienced right now to have a strong preference one way or the other. Bad habit that happens with dumbbell RDLs (wanting to soften or bend knees on the rise back to the top rather than keep them straight) also reared its ugly head with the barbell. I think I could learn these, and if I am a bad fit for it, there will be no pouting or tears. Mostly it was fascinating how different the weight feels, almost lighter than similar amounts in dumbbells because it is so spread out.

We have not done the band resist rotation press in awhile, much less the high tension resist rotation press. Only real difference is I don’t remember stretching the band out quite so much, to the high tension. When I was doing it right, aka not leaning away from the band a bit too much to maintain the high tension, I definitely felt it in the abs and the obliques. Best cue EVER – rib tuck – also applies here as well. We were using the lightest yellow band and it was still challenging to keep it tensioned and press properly. These are effective; I was feeling my abs all Thursday afternoon.

Big, huge, honking triumph of the day: the 1-leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift with a single 25 lb. dumbbell. When J said to use the 25 as the offset weight, I am quite sure my expression was doubtful. Last 1-leg RDL was with a pair of dumbbells and I struggled – still struggle – with my balance on those. But J has the fully functional, big giant brain and watches people do all sorts of things all day long, so away we went. To my astonishment, I did not immediately fall over or drop the weight on the floor or my foot. Rear leg elevated and weight dropped gracefully for 5 or 6 reps. OMG! I have gained unexpected new balance overnight or am I just stronger now? Could be both. Either way, my excitement over the initial success nearly did me in as I grew more fatigued. But my goodness – I was standing on 1 leg with a 25 lb. dumbbell in my hand! Never imagined such a thing being possible for me. J is a genius.

The pullover is a standard, and I have been doing these with a 25 lb. dumbbell for several months. I kind of love them. I genuinely enjoy the flexibility that has built after months and months of doing pullovers. Today we started out with my standard 25 lb. dumbbell for warm-up and then proceeded on to the 35 lb. dumbbell for a 6 to 8 rep range. While I was extraordinarily aware of when I made the minimum reps, I continued on to the full 8. Because I don’t want to perceive myself as a complete slacker. The one factor I noticed about the weightier weight is the physical size of the 35 lb. dumbbell in my hand being larger than the 25. The way it’s held for the pullover, I could feel the edge of the 35 against my wrist far more than with the 25, the edge of which tends to land more at the edge of my palm. It was not a dealbreaker; I was not complaining to J that this was an unworkable weight because of it’s physical shape. No, I just had to adjust my handhold around the handle and the way my palms pressed against the weight itself. Little things, little tweaks can make the difference between success and less success. I am improving in self-diagnosing what’s a Very Big Deal and what just requires me to change my bit a bit to ensure I am not getting my wrists dug into by the weight. Yay me!

The stability ball hamstring curls are back. I was actually very pleased with my progress since the last time I recall doing these – hips were elevating higher and my curling in was better. However, and I laugh as I type this, J is encouraging to lift hips even higher and curl in just another half inch. I am definitely out of practice, but it feels like my recent streak of kettlebell swinging has done a lot for strengthening my glutes and hamstrings. J as coach is there to coach and instruct and ensure I continually push forward and wring every last drop of productivity out of each exercise. Except I am actually not sure my knee bends in another half inch no matter how high elevated or low hanging hips are off the ball. Like everything fitness and exercise, though, I believe persistent practice will make a difference. I will keep trying.

The seated cable row – every time I visit this machine I feel as if I am relearning technique and proper form all over again. Perhaps from my years of rowing machine rowing or just because my learning curve is steep on this, but there you have it: takes a set (or more) to get into the groove and pick up the right form. Okay, so today it was all about pulling elbows back as far as possible behind you. I am trying hard to remember not to lean back from the waist but utilize the upper back arch and pull with the shoulders and not with the arms. But since we are talking about elbows pulling back, it gets confusing. Always I am thinking about the arch – arch obsessed with this machine as well – and pulling with shoulders back, back, back and that will move elbows back. I need more practice. I cut myself some slack – so many Lists, so few practice days. But for the most I feel as if I understand and capable of performing the basic shape.

My arch obsession follows me around in the gym. It even applies to the seated hamstring curls machine. I understand the shape of this machine; I understand how it’s supposed to work. However, I am also never sure if I should be using lighter weight or heavier weight, and in truth it fluctuates depending on the day. Like the stability ball version, I am watching and thinking about that last half inch of the contraction and the movement. I find myself dilly-dallying with the weights to ensure I can actually feel that last half inch and make it happen. When I use a light enough load to make that last little bit, it feels awfully light for the rest of the movement. If I use an adequately weighty weight load to feel the work all through the movement, the last half inch thing becomes a no-go in the process. So my explorations continue. For today, though, I had a pretty good experience with the last half inch and could feel my hamstrings working that range of movement.

Finally, we moved to the dual cable lat pulldown machine. I always want to lean forward in the shrugged up starting position, where I should be leaned back slightly. Minor correction and easy enough to fix. The arch obsession continues here, with the arching with the upper back coming into full effect while pulling down and feeling a pinch between the shoulder blades. I think anyway. While I am pantomiming it here and writing this paragraph, I’m pretty sure there is a pinch there. But there is no weight involved, and we have had so many recent discussions about arch and pinch between shoulder blades I may be applying it too liberally. But I think I am right; I will have to test my theories in real time tomorrow in the gym.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

While I have had no urgent or burning desire to learn about using a barbell, my friend K has been had barbell deadlifts on her bucket list and has been killing them the last month, 6 weeks. I have been in the gym and hanging out with her on Wednesday evenings and cheering her on with this pursuit. I had asked J if maybe I too could learn the technique, because I want to be able to support my friend in her interests. And as I said, it is good to learn new skills and how to work with different tools.

My impression – I am neither doomed for failure or destined for hot pursuit of this particular type of equipment. My interest in all things exercise and fascination with learning will keep me interested, and working with K once a week will provide enough practice to feel as if I am intent on learning and refining my technique. She and I can dabble with them for awhile, and perhaps we will both develop a yearning to participate in a deadlifting class. Time will tell.

The longer I go with training and practices on my own, the happier I feel about the whole process. It was renewal time for me, so my next block of sessions is purchased, my session bank refreshed. Yay! Sometimes I think maybe there is not a lot more for me to learn, and I laugh at myself and my own silliness. I need only look at the session recaps to see that there is always something new to do, whether it is adding more weight or working on my form or just learning to push myself to keep going when I really wold rather just stop now, thank you.

Like everything else in life my discipline is imperfect, but I give myself good more for consistently trying to improve. Fears about just learning and reinforcing bad habits are very far in my rearview these days. I find myself thinking about offhand comments J might make to me – try to go lower in my squats, butt back butt back butt back in so many exercises, and I realize that the process is like an infinity band. The more I think I know, the more I realize how little I know. And I like that. I hate to imagine me at the end of the learning curve; in my mind that is my time to die.

Since we are venturing forward with weightier weights, it means working in the big boys’ room more often, because that’s where the heavier range of dumbbells live. After 2 years of training (it’s anniversary month! Unfortunately not quite a cake occasion, but maybe we bend the rules.) I would imagine my gym crazy completely conquered. But nope, I still feel the hairs of anxiety dancing on the back of my neck when I go in there by myself and the usual crowd of men and far more confident-looking women are there working. I give myself credit for improvement, but am realistic that it is still a thing. Oh well. Still plenty of time to strengthen my spine and ensure my big girl capris are in place.

Wow – coming up on 2 years. How different my life is now. I’m starting a list and a separate post to celebrate and commemorate. And maybe there is cake? Maybe.




#addictive, #better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health, #motivation

PT-42: Pressing onward

Monday morning training with J. It was somewhat low-key, the start of newest adventure into training with heavier weights, lower rep sets.

Key Takeaways

The drama in my mind about heavier weights is not present this go-round. We experimented a bit late last summer, and the prevailing memory of the period is some low-level anxiety. I do not like disappointing J or myself with lack of effort, and while I did try hard while in that phase, I felt less successful. Partly it’s fear of the weightier weights on my own precludes me from my typical consistency with practice on my own. I have not pursued the heavier weights Lists once we went on to other things. This time, with the push-pulls, I feel more experienced and capable. I certainly do not think J would recommend I try to go heavier weights, fewer reps every single day, but I can see weaving them into the rotation of Lists each week.

The strength seems to have snuck up on me. I am in the gym regularly; I am practicing what I learned/am learning and striving to improve my form and skills. But until J suggests we bump up weights, I tend to stick with what I know. I have a healthy respect for what harm could befall me by trying too much on my own. Last Thursday, today, we used heavier weights, lower rep ranges, and I managed pretty well. Kind of astounding to me that I can do 8 reps with some of these bigger dumbbells. A very good and exciting surprise, to find I am stronger than I expected or realized.

Way back when, J described fitness as a giant iceberg with a lot of avenues, methods, areas to explore. While I am relatively certain that body building or power lifting or competitive anything does not interest me, I feel like I am an exercise adventurer or a dabbler in various things. Using heavier weights seems like just another avenue we should explore and see where it takes us next. The choices are not so stark and segregated and it is fine and important to meander down this brand of yellow brick road. I mean, between the huffy-puffy, the plexes, the upper/lower splits, plus the miscellaneous other random Lists, I have lots and lots of choices with how I want to exercise each and every day. But I like it. I like all of it. And I am okay with that. Being goal-focused on outcomes is not something that has ever bothered me. Outcome-based goals are still not a factor in my day-to-day exercise pursuits.

What We Did

Today was our first step toward the pressing aspect of the press-pull series of exercises with heavier weights, lower rep ranges than we have been pursuing. Our List today:

Heavy Goblet Squat (40)
Flat DB Chest Press (30s)

DB Walking Lunges (15s)
1-arm DB Overhead Press (15, 20)

Seated Hang n’ Band Laterals (10s)
1-legged Bent Elbow off bench Plank

Heavy Rope Triceps Pushdowns
Kneeling Rope Crunch

How it Felt

Thinking about the heavy goblet squat, is it slacking when I fail do not immediately choose to go as low as I can potentially go from rep 1? In the span of time it took me to type that question I decided definitely not. There is an element of fear about squats and falling over backwards that I am oh-so-slowly overcoming. This must be at least part of the reason for the offset weight in my hands. At the rate I’m going, the anxiety about falling over backwards will switch to falling over forwards with a much weightier weight in my hands. For the present time, I’m good with the 40 lb. dumbbell for my set of 8 reps. I am even remembering (or trying harder to remember) the speed pop-up of the return to the top. Since the springing up with power is crossing my mind on other Lists as well, the idea is obviously taking root in my mind.

Anymore, when I think about the flat bench dumbbell chest press (or any other chest press for that matter), I am not thinking about the weights so much as I am about the upper back arch. Yep, still obsessed with the arch. But the best thing about today’s chest press process was 8 reps with various dumbbell weights – from pairs of 20s, to 25s, and up to the 30s. And I did really well, particularly with the 20s and 25s that I use routinely before we ventured forward into this pressing series. My arch is still pretty good, but in my ponderings I see room for improvement, part of which is ensuring I either put my towel down on the bench or wear a top that covers my shoulders so I can ensure my skin is not sticking to the bench and preventing me from arching appropriately. Arch obsessed – that’s me. But it’s okay; better to be obsessed with form than not giving a crap about it. If I have learned nothing else throughout this journey, good form is always going to be more important than the weights I am using.

I am still not a big fan girl of lunges, particularly walking lunges. But I am more competent now; I do not live in fear or have chronic dread when they appear on a List. However, with a pair of 15 lb. dumbbells in my hands, they become a lot more challenging. Amazing what a difference it makes going from a pair of 12 lb. dumbbells to the 15s. But I can do them. New things to watch are not leaning too far forward and ensuring I do not let my shoulders round or fall forward with fatigue. That translates to me as not letting weights swing, because when weights start to swing, it usually means I am letting upper body form slip in some way. Also, keeping shoulders and upper body in proper position puts more of my weight on the lead leg, especially when dropping deeper with the rear knee/leg and how it feels lighter. Continuing to work at these. Feel light years better and more confident than my lunge anxiety days, but still working to improve my form and technique.

One of my favorite exercise things is the 1-arm dumbbell overhead press. For this session we did 3 sets of 8 reps with the 15 lb. dumbbell and a set of 8 reps with a 20 lb. dumbbell. I have been doing these with the 15 lb. dumbbell most of the time for at least the last 6 months, and last Thursday when we decided to venture forth on the heavier press-pull venture, we had used the 20 lb. dumbbell. So anyway, point of this is (1) love the 1-arm dumbbell overhead press, and (2) doing well enough, am now strong enough to use the 20 lb. dumbbell for a 6 to 8 rep set.

I still struggle with seated hang and bang laterals and the 10 lb. dumbbells feel heavy to me. On my own, I have tended to use a pair of 8 lb. dumbbells. But the challenge is good, and while I can just barely make the 8 to 10 rep range, I am proficient enough right now. Time and practice means I will get stronger and become better at these.

Planks, of any shape or form, are not now, not likely ever going to be a favorite. But they are effective and I can do them. While we were training and I did not have the benefit of the timer on my phone and had to count to guesstimate time, I would say it was maybe 15 seconds. The 1-legged bent elbow off bench plank are not easy, pleasant, or fun, but they are effective. The bent arm part makes my triceps burn, the plank – with strong rib tuck and tightened glutes and then elevate the rear leg – it is hugely challenging for me. I have practiced these every day since, and in my mind it’s the longest 30 seconds per leg of my entire day. But I will continue to practice and work on my form. “Rib tuck” continues to be be best cue EVER, and honestly, I know abs are stronger, even if they still feel uber weak to me.

New term:  accessory exercises. Love that, and triceps are apparently accessory muscles. We did the heavy rope triceps pushdowns (in keeping with our press theme). No idea what weight we actually used, but it definitely felt heavier than I typically use. Burn baby burn on the triceps, particularly after the planking in the prior block. Still satisfying, though; I think my arms are looking pretty damn sleek in these days of sleeveless dresses and tops.

New ab exercise of the day: the kneeling rope crunch. The cable machine thing is set up high and I am kneeling on the floor with the rope in my hands, knobs on the rope sort of pressed against my forehead. Crunching down toward the floor, then coming back up without elevating the hips. Sounds so much easier than it actually is in practice. Impulse is to lift those hips up while rising up, versus pulling myself up with the abs and more of an arch in my upper back. When I am doing it right, I can feel it in my abs. Practice is in order to get more proficient.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

For the first time probably ever, I simply forgot to finish writing this recap yesterday. It was an unusual day in many ways – it was non-office day for my full-time job (because I needed to be here for a couple of meetings today, one of which has been rescheduled) and had an unusually busy day of meetings and appointments that were more hurry-up-and-wait than typical. Instead of writing or working on other work-work matters, I indulged in retail therapy. Not the end of the world, but a bad sign of stress. That and emotional eating this weekend (donuts, of all things; I do not really even like donuts all that much), I am detoxing from sugar and fat this week and hoping to get back to my regular eating methods and schedule.

I am extraordinarily stressed about work right now. Busy, hectic, crazy as usual, and stressed because my full-time job is on the bubble and I am neither patient nor happy when left in a limbo-like state. Not that much of a control freak much of the time, yet in this I find any and all control freak tendencies flaring badly. It’s kind of ugly inside my head right now.

That said, I find there is a soothing sort of consistency about the gym and the List of the day. Monday night I went back after finishing up my scheduled work day to meet with friend K and give her a small gift. I stayed to half watch the first part of her training session with J – she’s learning barbell deadlifts and killing it – and we had a nice gab-fest during and after. I feel semi-dreadful about interrupting her session and did try to stay quiet on the sidelines, but it’s an exciting time for her and she is very generous in wanting to share it with me. It’s inspiring to see her excitement and triumph.

The outside world stress – this too shall pass. While in the midst of it, though – it sucks. Big time. Weirdly, though, I find myself doubling down in my engagement in gym-related pursuits. This (Tuesday) morning, I was completely immersed in my lower body, counting reps and ensuring I got past minimum or to maximum side of the prescribed range. And I pushed myself a little, trying for the heaviest weight I can remember using. Must be all the kettlebell swinging I have been doing, but it was not that bad. And it kept the ugly inside my mind from tainting all aspects of my life.

In the beginning, I felt kind of odd working with J because of his youth. Plus I had my gym crazy, my anxiety, my self-consciousness, and negative girl in the overall wheelhouse running much of my personal life. Perhaps his youth was the least of my concerns? Of course, in the beginning, I did not imagine training much past a few months – either I would quit or he would fire me, nevermind that his manager would not allow that to happen, that she would have moved me to some other trainer if I were too high maintenance or worse.

Mindset is so important, and mine is better, healthier, because I exercise regularly. The crazy in my life is full-tilt ON right now, yet other than not getting this blog post written on my usual schedule, everything else is calm, peaceful, moving along without much of a hiccup. Sad stuff with work, but the people, the relationships that are meaningful and matter to me, those will continue no matter what happens with the work. Through it all, working through my Lists helps maintain my balance with the rest of the shit going on in my life outside the gym. I knew my confidence had grown and my mental game improved as well, but I see it more sharply and clearly outside the gym as well. While physically I am still not very flexible, bendy, or graceful, I am definitely stronger and have some pretty muscle peeking out from where there was once only or mostly layered fat.

Anymore, I have a much deeper understanding that fitness is a process and a lifestyle, not some magic bullet or diet or gadget. Forever and ever, I will be monitoring my eating habits and in the gym or doing something else to build or maintain optimum balance of muscle and fat and in good health. All around me, I have female friends seeking some quick fix or setting goals that will (hopefully) motivate them to get up and get moving. When I hear them speak of the goals they are setting for themselves, I hear this hopeful earnestness that reaching that goal will be life-changing in real and significant ways. The hopeful romantic in me wants that to be true; the practical realist says it is unlikely. Time will tell. I just know that for me, the only “goal” I have is choosing me and my health every single day. Choosing me and my health is making better, smarter choices, by getting to the gym and exercising, eating a balanced diet heavier on the protein, not avoiding doing the work involved with keeping myself in a good, healthy place. It’s not easy. It’s definitely not glamorous. But it makes me feel better in all ways.

And better is just … better. Calmer, happier, healthier me. I may even be getting a little more self-aware and possibly even a little brighter for the good people and good information that comes with it.

It is now Thursday, another training session (recap in a separate post coming soon), and I am obviously quite behind on my training recaps this week because of work-related events. Ugh – I hate when life interferes with my blogging, because this week has been quite exciting for me in the gym.

#better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #mental-health


I have a horrible sense of direction. I also fear that I do not automatically know what is right, what is left without stopping to think and orient myself. The right/left hand debates likely stem from early childhood, when my left-handed preference for writing instruments became apparent yet is about the only thing I do as a lefty. Scissors and everything else tends to be right-hand dominant. At that time neither my parents nor school officials tried to get me to only use my right hand, but they did want me to do everything with my left and that was (and does) feel wrong to me.

As for my sense of direction, honestly I was in my 20s and driving probably 10 years before I noticed the east/west/north/south signs on the freeways. Where I live now, I have been in this area my whole life and grew up thinking of the freeway directions as Reno, San Francisco, South Tahoe, and Fresno instead of east/west/north/south (although South Tahoe is not technically north). M always has to correct me because I will be referencing a nearby town and point in the wrong direction of where it actually is geographically in relation to where I happen to be standing. Thank goodness for map applications.

While my sense of direction is a distant corollary to this post, I felt like oversharing obscure facts about me. 🙂

Ongoing Motivation

I have written so extensively on my better health quest and the steps I am taking to do better, be better for the balance of my life. Funny, but I don’t look backwards, don’t wish I had started sooner or earlier in life, imagine how much more accomplished and further along and healthier I would be right now. Before I started this time, I was not ready. Plus if you never think you will be successful at much, it seems sort of pointless to look backward and see the carnage of self-fulfilling prophecies. I had plenty of opportunities; I tried different programs, other trainers, stretches of regular exercise and really good, healthy eating choices. Obviously nothing stuck long enough to make much of an impact or I would not be writing about my current better health quest as this time. I tried setting goals and timelines and measures for accountability and tracking. I faltered, failed, stopped, quit. The cycle was so familiar it did feel almost preordained. I truly expected this time to be more of the same.

Then I started working with J and became the rebel without a rulebook. After a fashion, of course. I am still very much a law-abiding citizen, and the times I have forgotten my wallet and drivers license for trips to the gym were genuine accidents, not me genuflecting the very tiny ghost of any rule-breaking soul I may possess.

I am not big on goals and goal setting; for me it is an artificial deadline that stresses me out should I fail to meet it within a reasonable timeframe. The stress and my own definition of “reasonable” are factors that guarantee failure, so much so that the anticipation of failure makes me not want to start anything that could lead me to meeting the set goal. So I don’t set goals or timelines for achievements. I don’t track milestones and progress on anything other than a vaguely emotional practicality, i.e., how I feel about my progress. Instead of goals, I have some very general, very broad objectives to achieve. Someday. The path is there, and I can take baby steps forward, big giant leaps ahead, or backslide to square one and still feel like I am not a complete and utter failure. Semantics? Maybe. But I have finally discovered a process that works for me and has kept me faithfully reporting to the gym most days and completing a List of the day or some hodgepodge of exercises. Most important to me: I am seeing and feeling the results of my efforts. Not big, not flashy, not something that will set the world on fire and make me some social media phenom (besides, I barely use social media). Simple, quiet, obscure things that matter to me.

My healthier eating is always hit-and-miss. Sometimes I go weeks on end with lots of protein, fruits, vegetables, and feel fantastic. Other times I backslide and eat crap food and pay the consequences for my actions. The zig and the zag of it all doesn’t send me running for the exit and hiding out until those who associate with and inspire me finally give up and fade away. Nope. The zig and the zag – sometimes I make good choices, sometimes I make less positive choices. But there is always another opportunity to change my ways, to do better. More often than not anymore, I step up and I do do better. Negative girl no longer enslaves me. Realistic acceptance of my humanity and imperfection is infinitely more satisfying in its successes and a softer blow in its setbacks.

Perhaps motivation for me is that it’s okay to falter, okay to backslide, okay to embrace my imperfection as it exists right now. Success stories focus primarily on habits changed without the complete backstory of how many tries it took to successfully implement better habits. For the most part, I have stopped reading those as well. Things are too pat, too perfect, too spoon-fed to make it sound doable and even easy. I know from experience none of this is easy. Satisfying, even enjoyable in the positive vibes, but for me it has never been easy. I trust my experience more than the stories I read. I applaud and am genuinely happy for other people’s success, but I do not believe that what worked for them is going to work for me in precisely the same ways.

Fat vs. Fit

Awhile back, J shared with me the following images:

Fit v Fat

Comparison scans of an obese 250 lb. woman versus a fit 120 lb. woman. Image courtesy of

If I need motivation or a reminder why I am pursuing my better health quest, I can retrieve this illustration and examine it more closely. It’s not just the aesthetics of those big patches of white, but how it envelopes and smothers vital organs and even shows up inside the brain.

Uncomfortable and frightening to view, to know I was far closer to the obese woman scan than the fit woman scan.

Is this enough to get me to put down my fork and lace up my shoes? Not always, but when I’m waffling, when my feelings get hurt by inane comments from friends who I thought would celebrate my efforts with me and instead pooh-pooh and fret about my new little muscles peeking out beneath my skin. Where I see wow! I have muscles! They see something else, something dark and negative and unattractive. And it’s a shame. It’s unfortunate that they project their fears and anxiety about change onto me and my efforts. It’s not nice, it’s not fair, and it’s very hurtful. My understanding has expanded to where I can accept they disagree with my vision of better health. But, my life, my health; they can go pound sand. Most of the time I even express that in a far kinder, gentler fashion, though.

When I am being charitable, I believe they are trying to be kind to me. Love yourself and your body, no matter how correctably unhealthy it may be with it’s extra pounds that will likely bring on life-altering health conditions, serious disease, and premature death. You’re beautiful with the thick layers of fat that limit your ability to breath and put such a strain on your bone and joints and make it more difficult to move about freely under your own power. Let me shower you with freshly baked cooking and brownies and bread dripping with butter, because I know how much you love these poisonous (to me) foods; it’s an expression of my affection for you that I support you in this manner.

Then there is the gym and the exercise. You can’t train every day, because you’ll overtrain. Do crossfit, because it burns more calories in half the time. Never mind that you might get hurt, because you obviously are not meant to exercise if that happens. Lift weights? Not too heavy, or you’ll become unattractively bulky and flat-chested. Pay a trainer? To do what? Pander to your ego?

That’s me, being realistically charitable toward those in my life who do this to me and others like me. Loving, manipulative saboteurs. Looking back through my personal journal, emails, and other communications I have saved – at one point or several in the last 2 years I have heard all these things from present and former friends.

It saddens me, yet makes me so glad that I am capable of making and enjoying new friends who have more in common with me and are more supportive of my lifestyle goals. Ultimately, I would like to be more muscle, less fat. It doesn’t happen quickly, and it’s definitely not  glam makeover process. But that’s okay. I have time and keep myself occupied enough to not get (too) impatient.

Thanks for Being My Compass

After J sent me these pictures Monday, I asked him if he had the source, so I could credit where I got them. J replied that he couldn’t recall the source, but to google skinny body versus fat body and they would likely pop up. Sure enough – several pictures and results did appear on my screen.


Text exchange with J thanking him for pointing me in the right direction to locate a source of these images.

It occurred to me after I sent that text the wording used was more telling and on-point than I realized when I expressed my thinks. After 24 hours of thinking about it further, I realize that it’s an accurate description of many people who hold sway and influence in my life.

I am on my present better health journey because of choices I make every single day. Thing about me, I know and readily admit I need help getting started and proceeding when I have little idea of how to start or how to proceed. I lack the discipline and motivation to teach myself to learn what I needed to learn to be successful on my own. Many people are more naturally physically gifted than I am, or have the patience and tenacity to stick with a self-motivated, self-taught program of diet and exercise, many from practical necessity (not everyone can afford the luxury of a personal trainer or have made friends with a dietician or have a doctor who lifts). Beyond J, though, there is M, who does not exercise the way I do but is thrilled and grateful that I have found activity and community that keeps me engaged and moving forward. There are close friends near and far who ask me almost daily about how things are going in the gym or what I am pursuing right now. There is the tribe I have found and adopted within the club, in my office, in my crew of clients.

Before my whole gym tribe went away on vacation or had to stay away with illness at once last week, I had not really realized how dependent I have become on our frequently brief interactions throughout the week. At the office the conversations about food and exercise are so common I almost take them for granted, except I don’t. The interest is genuine, the curiosity about what others are doing sincere. While I wish they would all run out of contract with their own gym chains and come work out at mine, I am glad they are out there doing something, even if it is playing basketball 3 or 4 nights per week or choosing Orangetheory or yoga classes. I’m glad to hear about their interests and pursuits, happy they are equally interested in mine. We compare notes and it provides a warm fuzzy sense of camaraderie and support. I want to protect and promote those aspects of these friendships, because the relationships are important to me and I want them to be healthy and vibrant and around for a good long stretch of time.

I get that now. For years M would say something like that to me and I would hear it as a criticism, that I was somehow deeply flawed because I did not take care of myself. In the thrall of negative girl, I did not hear the concern for my health and well being in his encouragement to seek out something that motivated me to care for myself.

But I hear it clearly now. And every day I’m grateful M is who he is and has the wisdom to understand wounds and scars impaired my hearing, not matter how loving or gentle it was framed.

While I honestly could not tell you what direction north is, I am fine with asking for directions. I am also fine with utilizing resources available to keep me on a specific journey. Life is fluid and ever changing, and I know the time will come when I am likely to have to part with my village of experts. When it happens, it will be sad, but like parenting, they have given me a good foundation to continue building on my own or the skills to evaluate and find a different expert for the next leg of my better health quest. Finding those willing and able to help me know when I’ve wandered off the path, when I’ve zigged when I should have zagged – within my realm I know I only have to ask. Or to listen and to learn when someone shares their wisdom and their experiences.  I have the tools to evaluate what’s real, what’s worth testing, what’s bullshit, what I should ignore.

I’m surrounded by folks willing to help and to guide. I trust them to never intentionally send me in the wrong direction when I’m not sure. And I am a better person for all they do and share with me.

Under the influence of negative girl, I perceived myself as handicapped or special needs because I needed help from others to learn what I did not know or was not blessed with natural talent and ability. In reality, I now characterized myself as fortunate that I am capable of receiving instruction, possess the ability to mostly understand it as a concept and a theory, and have the willingness to try and to do the hard work necessary to make the wisdom part of what I now know as well.

I am making progress.


PT-41: Seminaring and embarking on new adventures

I love training days. Still. Especially now, after a few lumpy bumpy weeks with illness and vacation. But much of the tribe seems to be settling back in after the holiday weekend and vacations away, and of course J is back from both illness and his well-deserved time off. But we are back to noses to grindstone and getting back to work. I am ridiculously excited about the present day, while of course glad J and others had good times away and that J is completely recovered from the multi-week respiratory crud. Still going around in the gym, though, so hopefully it does not return for anyone else.

Key Takeaways

The more I learn, the more I realize there is so much more yet to learn. I have said this many times before, but with exercise and the better health quest, it is as if I am standing at the base of Mt. Everest and looking straight up without being able to even imagine what the summit is like. I know it’s there somewhere, but I am unlikely to reach it. Where that once would have filled me with a sense of “why bother?” and failure, now it’s is just something else to contemplate and file away into future potential thought files. Summit is not my objective, after all. Climbing, seeing what I see from each plateau, and staying present in my moments rather than dreaming of whatever else lies ahead. Having the summit as my destinations is like a goal to me – something that adds stress and pressure and drains and all joy from the process. Going forward, or sideways, or even backward on the journey is a better framework for my better health quest, because I do not wake up one day and voila! I have arrived at healthy. Healthy is here, healthy is now. Better version of healthy is tomorrow, or next week, next month, next year, five years down the road.

I know I don’t know everything in the gym. Hell, I am such a novice that barely knows anything and freely admit it. The construction and reasons why Lists are constructed the way they are constructed still mostly eludes me, although for the most part I can figure out which body part is working when, what kind of huffy-puffy response I’m seeking, and when something is not quite right and needs to be adjusted. These are things I know for me; I could not imagine tutoring or sharing what I know about me with anyone else. All good, because I have zero desire or inclination to challenge J for his crown in the gym. That said, I love my baseline knowledge level about me right now and how that base keeps elevating as the months pass.

The best advice about exercise I got from M and other friends who are or have been long-time fitness enthusiasts was to find an activity I like and pursue it consistently. I thought they were full of s–t – I hated sweat, I hated exercise, there was nothing I was ever going to like much less look forward to doing, it was all a big giant chore. Fast forward to now. Consistency is one of those things that I feel very boring about. Most days I get up, I go to the gym, I do something while there. Training days are always Very GREAT things, and the way I feel when there on my own and pursuing my Lists is what defines good practice, not so great practice. Sometimes I’m there and working for 2 hours, occasionally I can barely push myself for 30 minutes. But at least I’m there. I almost take that for granted. I should give myself a little more credit, as the last couple of weeks illustrated for me. While I have developed a sense of community that inspires me and makes me want to be there, I also do it because it feels abnormal not to exercise every single day anymore. I like me, feel better about myself after I have been through a sweat-fest of some sort where some muscles have moved and stretched and worked. Yoga is not doing it for me – not a flexie or bendy person – and for the effort I have to expend the payoff in feels is inadequate. As an accessory workout (new term I learned today), it’s fine and maybe, eventually will provide more satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. But it will never be something I can do most or even a few days per week.

Mind is going to undergo a bit of a reset with regard to rep ranges. Today we revisited heavier weight, shorter rep ranges, and where I am accustomed to 8 being my minimum on everything, the weightier weights have pushed it to the maximum. No sense of failure about it, more having to remember to stop at 8 even if I have potential to go to 12 or 15. Yep, me and my first world problems.

What We Did

With seminar discussion on a broad range of exercise and fitness-related topics, our List today is relatively brief. For each item we were going for a maximum of 8 reps (per side as applicable) and exploring increasing weight with each set to see where we are on the scale. Also, since this was an informal one-off type training day, there is no actual List for me to get the correct names of things, so I’m winging it and doing my best descriptive. At least I’m not using my personal nicknames for things; we did not do “pop tarts” yesterday, for example.

Squat machine (high set at 13 – maybe 130 lbs.)
Cable horizontal chops

Walking lunges (15 lb. DBs)
Planks off bench – arms bent/leg elevated and on elbows with step out, leg up, knee in

Chest press (sets with 20, 25, 30, and 35 lb. DBs)

Cable overhand face pulls
Cable overhead tricep extensions

How It Felt

I have a love-hate with the squat machine. Most of the time I like it well enough, and sometimes I actually do love it. But it feels different and like I’m trapped with this big giant collar-like structure. The times I hate it are when there is some baseline insecurity about what I’m doing, whether my form is correct under what feels like a lot of weight bearing down upon me. Probably I just need to ask more questions while I am involved with it, because my anxiety and dread about this machine is directly proportional to my concern about all I don’t know and could potentially being doing wrong. Problem is, I need to articulate said questions in the moment, or they escape me. Instead I am left thinking that it went really well with the increased volume of weight for 8 reps for the couple of sets, yet I am vaguely uncomfortable about it. Next time I will be hyper-vigilent about what I am feeling and ask if it’s right, wrong, or disaster is lurking. Probably not; probably it’s just me and my mind in overdrive and overthinking it.

Thursday night friend K and I were discussing chops using bands and cables – neither of us are super fans of these, and since I had been working at them earlier in the day, they were fresh in my mind. Frankly, the closest I usually come to really feeling these is the high-to-low version, if only because I have to serious tuck that rib to get the movement correctly. With the cable horizontal chops we did in training, I confess to not really feeling them, and I am 99.99% sure it is operator error. Or my obliques and core are mostly numb to the subtle nuances of exercise. It works best when I remember to tighten my abs and think of upper body as one twisting rotational unit versus pulling the cable with my arms and then following along with my core, but my focus is not always complete. I typically am not feeling it while in the motion, but sometimes I have some minor soreness the next day. Maybe the fat layer is obscuring all feeling in the area? I know something must be working, because I am starting to have more definable, positive curve in the area, but feels? Not quite there yet.

Walking lunges – I loathe you less, but hard to imagine a world where they crest onto a favorites list. Bumping up to 15 lb. dumbbells in each hand (from the 12 lb. pair I have been using for quite awhile) does make a difference, but so does the minor tweaking adjustment in form to sink the dragging behind leg more and stay ever so slightly more upright (I am quite sure J used other, more technical terms, but that’s the way mind interpreted and processed it). The experience with these is also colored by the aforementioned squat machine squats, with it’s largest ever (for me) volume of weight. Fatigue anyone?

We moved along to a new version of plank off the bench. Planks with a rear foot elevated and elbows slightly bent are a first for me and not quite as terrible as I was projecting. Maybe core is stronger than I realize. Maybe I was doing them wrong (highly unlikely with the laser-focused trainer eye engaged). Maybe my 20 to 30 second hold was actually only 2 or 3 seconds. Who knows? They were not terrible or awful, but planks leave idle mind to do the devil’s bidding and it tests the resilience of the locks on to negative girl’s cell door. Without even noticing I started thinking of all the ways I suck at planks, because I don’t always feel them working. As K articulated so perfectly – if we are doing all this work we want to feel something working. We also did a set of the now regular planks with the step out, leg up, knee in. At least with those legs are more active and moving about, requiring mind to pay attention and not wander.

Big excitement of the day was the flat bench chest press with the weightier weights. We went through several pairs of dumbbells – 20s, 25s, 30s – for 8 reps before arriving at the heaviest I have ever used for this exercise in the 35s. First set I went through 7 reps, second set my right arm started wobbling and threatening collapse on the way up from 6 – that was an interesting experience. But I was completely entranced by my ability to use the heavier weights. Of course I will not be trying those again on my own anytime soon, but I was thinking this morning that I might mosey upward into a 25 lb. standard for my warm up set and move along into the 30 lb. pair when doing the non-huffy puffy Lists. But I gotta say, it’s not the weights that have much of my attention and afterthought thinking – it’s the upper back arch while engaged and starting out with the weights overhead. I am finding it kind of tricky to lay on the bench, get the arch just so, and have weights up in the air all at the same time. It’s not impossible, but J has mentioned it since we were doing these with 10 lb. dumbbells, and I am trying to train myself to be mindful of it in my set-up. Remind myself this is a process and that I want a positive learning experience, not one where I’m squealing in pain and having to be placed on the injury bench.

On to the standing cable overhand facepull. I always smile at the name – facepull. It’s an accurate description, but still – facepull. Anyway, this is another of those shoulder exercises where I can tell my flexibility has increased through the months. When we started, I was continually perplexed by these, in that I could not understand how they were supposed to benefit me, yet I figured I was so grossly out of shape that they were invisibly benefitting me. I also did have the depth of understanding to even articulate a question about them. Now, I feel my shoulders and that contraction in my upper back between the shoulderblades. We have been doing the overhand version for awhile now and I think I have forgotten the other way to place my hands on the rope. Oh well; lots of training days left in the year if the other method appears on a List anytime soon.

And finally, the cable overhead triceps extensions. Not sure what I think about these, other than body should be straight yet leaned forward at a 45 degree angle. The actual work feels like work I enjoy, but I get distracted by my ponytail. I know – me and my first world problems. But thinking about this afterward, I can feel my triceps working, but also in the lats as well. Different than laying down on the bench with dumbbells in hand, yet the same sort of work-related feels.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Before we actually go started with the weights today, J and I had a half hour educational seminar. I am super spoiled – first Thursday of the month, and friend C is away at a monthly volunteer commitment, so the hour-long appointment she typically occupies was free for me/us to run off the clock and into overtime.


6/1/2017 – Whiteboard outlining our present and future training adventures.

We went over what we have done thus far in the last year or so of our List-making adventure: upper and lower splits, PHA-focused (aka huffy-puffy), and plexes that focus on particular body sections. Laid out on the whiteboard like that, I marvel at how much we have done, how many different exercises I have learned and the many ways I am able to exercise muscle groups using weights, bands, machines, etc.

Next we are heading into the land of push-pull exercises incorporating much of what I already know (rows, presses, squats, lunges, etc.) and advancing with weightier weights and a tighter rep range. We have done this before, bumped up the weights and shortened the rep range, but this already this feels different and new. Hence the seminar time. Plus, I’m an aspiring world-class exercise nerd; I completely dig this stuff.

We discussed the different exercises, the pushes and the pulls. Then there was the new terms: compound exercises (movements that engage 2 or more joints) and accessory exercises (smaller muscle groups like triceps and biceps). I always thought compound exercises were like poptarts – my term for power squat to overhead press and the like – which I suppose are more like exercise combinations. Present day rep ranges are typically 8 to 12, 12 to 15, 15 to infinity (or I have to stop). Weightier weight pushes and pulls with be smaller rep ranges, more like 6 to 8.

An interesting fact for me about using heavier weights: whereas J’s rep range for heavier might be 3 to 5 max, mine is more 6 to 8. Safety first always, and obviously he is far more experienced, comfortable, and has different objectives and reasons for wanting to lift more all at once. One of the (many, many, many) topics we touched upon and covered is the different styles of weight lifting and body building and reasons for doing (lots) more weight, less reps (aesthetic, build muscle) versus my version of more weight, less reps (than typical for me). Having been recently reading and following several fitpros on Facebook and elsewhere, the light suddenly comes on about what they are talking about with respect to their own training and what they present as best or better practices. While I was already aware much of that stuff is not applicable to me now (and maybe not ever), it is nice to get it into a context that I can actually understand and see how the principles fit in the bigger picture puzzle.

And because my doc runs a fat loss support group and I try to stay involved, I read the posts from other members including the monthly challenges. This month, the challenge is to do 300 kettlebell swings per day – definitely not something I would consider trying without discussing it with J in advance. On my List where these appear, I typically end up doing 15, setting the kettlebell on the ground and glaring at it, then picking it back up and doing another 15 to complete my set. So 300 per day? Daunting to say the least.

J did not tell me it is a terrible idea, but he did suggest (1) using the lightest weight (at 8 kg) kettlebell and (2) perhaps start at 100 per day and work my way up. I had already borrowed an 8 kg kettlebell from a friend (for whom this is now too light) to do whatever volume of swings possible in the backyard rather than trying to squeeze 300 before, during, and after my morning practices or training sessions. So I’m giving it a whirl.

Tonight I went back to the gym and hung out with friend K and got 100 done over the course of our meandering conversation. Tomorrow I will add a bunch into my warm-up and during my practice. I think I may actually be able to do this challenge. M is so helpful in my fitness efforts. Upon seeing the new addition to the back deck and hearing my hopeful intentions about this month’s challenge, he immediately suggested doing them facing the swimming pool, so if I lose control the kettlebell lands in the water rather than the side of the house or worse. Appreciate that vote of confidence! But it’s true – that vision is part of my recurring nightmare of Very Bad Things that can happen with heavy objects flying through the air.

So, while I am working on glutes and hamstrings of steel with an overload of kettlebell swinging, I am also looking forward to the next chapter in my weights adventure with trainer J.

Even on a briefer workload training day, we cover a lot of ground and get quite a bit done with the overtime session. I am excited about the idea of bumping up with weights I am using and seeing how it feels as we move along. The process and evolution feels very organic, as if this is the natural progression of the journey.

Watching the power lifting ladies group last night, I really do admire their abilities and the type of focused dedication that got them to this place and level. However, I also recognize that I no longer feel like less because I am not there now and have no genuine aspirations to train to lift in the same ways. Part of the learning curve for me is to abandon the idea that having different personal objectives and being on a parallel journey does not make me less than others pursuing strength or a particular aesthetic. I always believe it’s possible to be supportive and encouraging to others with different dreams, yet for me to fall away from the established norm made me wrong, lazy, or worse. As I have noted many times before, my confidence has grown and strengthened as well. Thankfully I am a very different sort of thinker and self-supporter than I was when I started 2 years ago. In fact, this month hosts an anniversary of sorts – 2 years since my first training session with J.

It has been a long and winding road, full of surprises and triumphs, buckets of sweat and puddles of tears. I have made new friends and developed different interests. I started to recognize and believe that I do have strength and stamina and stick-with-it-ness heretofore unimagined.

Whoda thunk? Certainly not me. And I have never been so pleased to be wrong about how weak I truly am.

#emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #flexibility, #friends, #growth, #gym, #happy, #health, #inspiration, #knowledge, #mental-health

A little (boatloads!) help from my friends

Trainer J is back from his vacation and was back in uniform at the gym today. Friend C also returned from her week away, back in her usual Tuesday training time.

And I am beyond happy to see them both.

While glad they both were away and had a good time on their respective trips, I am so selfishly glad my Tuesday was more typical and normal and they were where present at their usual time. Honestly, I had not realized how dependent I am on the day-to-day social contact in the club until nearly all my tribe is away at once. I soldiered onward on my own; I even took a couple of days off myself. But while I typically go through my practice on my own, it’s nice seeing others I know go through their routines or to get a glimpse of what J is teaching someone else. There is just enormous comfort for me in the routine and typical predictability of the days.

Plus I just missed them.

I went through a lower body routine today that has been lying fallow for a few weeks, neglected in favor of the newer plexes and huffy puffy Lists. While I thought the yoga might help with the general tight soreness in my glutes and hamstrings, the opposite seemed to be true. But today, after seeing my pals and having my gym right itself once more, I had renewed focus and went through my List with no issues. If anything, it seems to have been the right call; my glutes and legs feel far more limber from the more focused work.

Or I’m just a lot more relaxed because the summer is shaping up and the week will be back to normal tomorrow.

I feel almost guilty for being so happy they are back. But absence made the heart grow fonder in this case, and since I love and adore both these folks, I am completely unphased by admitting my delight at their return.

Friend J asked me yesterday what I would do when things do change, when trainer J moves along to his next great adventure. I’ll miss him, of course, but a more permanent move creates a new normal. Vacation, mine or someone else’s, is like a temporary placeholder until things get back to normal normal. I could almost hear him shaking his head and trying to suppress a laugh on the telephone, but that’s okay. I am patiently awaiting his return and the restart of my next rendition of that normal as well.

It has been a fantastic day thus far.

#emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #inspiration, #mental-health