PT-1: New chapter begins

Monday afternoon, training with J. Being as I was not going to the office today (officially a holiday for us) and he was essentially returning from a second vacation, 6 a.m. did not seem like the most attractive time to meet for our first session of the year. In truth it really did not matter to me either way, but I thought J might enjoy a little later start. So instead of 6 a.m. we met at noon.

Key Takeaways

Oh my FREAKING goodness – it was drive my blood sugar to the point of needing juice type intense. In an earlier version of me, pursuing a negative dark rabbit hole of thoughts and self-shredding that suggests I do not work hard enough and am a worthless waste of space for even trying could have been an issue. Or that I am a complete insincere, unmotivated, lazy slacker who is a gym poser rather than genuinely there and doing my best. Oh, and my best is not good enough anyway so why bother trying? Vicious circle.

Thankfully, there is now enough real estate between me and negative girl that I absolutely cringe and want to physically step back and away from such self-directed cruelty.

I am so thankful my mental game has healed enough to not be having to overcome all that crap. Today was hard enough in the intensity to step-up the pacing and power through the suck of it all without having my head hampering and second-guessing my entire effort. And while it sounds kind of bad when J tells me a new List is going to suck, it is almost a term of endearment between us. EVERYTHING sucked when I first started, and while I was barely practicing between sessions, I kept coming back. Since I have since fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with exercise, his mentioning that he is “bringing on the suck” is almost akin to him saying “we’re having Godiva in the gym.”

Yep, I am a true believe in the positive benefits of exercise and an evolving, work-in-progress exercise nerd.

In our pre-session discussion, J explained our List evolution last year. I had learned about body part splits, then went to weightier-weights with fewer reps per set, then finished off the year with upper and lower body splits. We are returning to full body workouts, and J would like me to stick with the most recent upper and lower body splits on my practice days and pursue to the whole body Lists he’s developing on our session days. I found it amusing how he worded it – started to say “I want you to do this …” then quickly backtracked it to “I suggest you do this, but you can do whatever you want ….” Perhaps there are far more rebellious clients in the training tribe, but I am certainly not one of them. If J says “please pursue these Lists on practice days” that would always be my go-to option. Unless boredom set in, at which time I might wander back to the weightier weights or something else for fun and variety. But after 18 months and an amazing amount of positive progress, I have absolute faith in the method behind his training program madness requests/suggestions.

I presently have enough of a library of Lists to pursue a different one every day for a couple of months if it came to that, but I tend to become fixated on what is most current and pursue it. Since I am still working on perfecting certain technical aspects of our late 2016 volume, I am glad. My biggest anxiety about having a personal trainer is wasting his time. If I am not practicing what he is teaching between sessions, it feels like I will not improve, not advance, not pass go, not collect my better health points.

So I am actually relieved that today’s List is kinda/sorta reserved for training days and I am off the hook and free to continue working at my favorite dumbbell matrix and other warm-up routines along with an upper or lower body List. Because now my brain is thwarted from conjuring up and projecting J’s frowny face of disappointment when I may still struggle with what we did today. Telling me me up front to continue to pursue the upper/lower Lists takes away that negative girl legacy. And again, that’s all in my head and has never been a reality, more a product of my brand of gym crazy and negative girl’s influence, both of which have now been well contained even if I cannot completely exorcise them.

What We Did

Today’s List and what we did today:

A1  Bodyweight 1.5 Bulgarian split squats (3 sets, 12-15 reps)
A2  1-arm dumbbell rows (25 lb. DB, 3 sets, 12-15 reps)
A3  Plank off bench with step-outs to kickbacks (3 sets, 10-12 reps)

B1  DB walking anterior lunges (15 lb. DBs, 3 sets, “there and back” or 10-12/side)
B2  Slight decline dumbbell chest press (25 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
B3  Medicine ball vertical chops (6 lb. MB, 2 sets, 12-20 reps)

C1  Alternating lateral reaching lunges (15 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-10/side)
C2  Cross bench dumbbell pullover (15 lb. DB, 3 sets, 12-15 reps)
C3  Band horizontal rotations (3 sets, 12-20/side)

How It Felt

To be fair to me, I have been doing bodyweight Bulgarian split squats for at least a year. These are not the easiest exercise on any of my Lists, but I have not been experiencing a lot of improvement for the most part. They had not appeared on a List for several months, for many months were part of my daily warm-up several days per week. But then J added back to a List in October and the process of diagnosing what was ailing me with these truly began. Unfortunately, a few months of being off the reservation had cemented a bad habit (staying too upright) that I have been having to retrain myself away from. It has been going pretty well, and my strength and endurance has been increasing. With bodyweight 1.5 Bulgarian split squats (down, up 2-3 inches, down, up … lather, rinse, repeat at brisk pacing), it’s brutal. But effective for breaking bad habits, especially when the leaning forward that is required to get the balance and productivity out of the working front leg and get through J’s entire 12-15 rep range. I’m now striving to bend the rear, elevated-on-the-bench leg a little more to go a little lower, and amazing how when I have the form right (proper lean forward) how much better it all works. The upright positioning had been giving me low backaches, hence my lack of forward progress, but I am feeling far more confident in my ability to master these once I am not fighting myself over proper form.

One my favorite upper body exercises is the 1-arm dumbbell row. Now that I do these standing up and leaning on something (versus one knee on the bench), I have developed great fondness and affection for them, possibly just because I feel like I have finally grasped and mastered the movement pattern. Today we were using a little lighter (25 lb.) dumbbell than I use with other Lists, but all good because the pace we are driving is faster than the other Lists. I know I am doing okay with something when J has little to correct as we are moving along. Finally I seem to have learned to use my shoulder versus my arm for pulling the weight.

The plank off bench with step-outs to kickbacks have been absent several months, but not forgotten. Planks of any sort are not my favorite, but of late I have been reconsidering them and idly wondering if I should add them back at the end of the List of the day. After today, I remember why I need to do more planking – left to slumber, returning to them is so hard. Staying straight, tightening abs, tucking ribs individually is bad enough; trying to do it all at once feels almost impossible. At least with the step-outs and kickbacks components, at least I am not stuck in a static position for X number of seconds trying to hold on to a plank. I like the rhythm of the step right, step left, kick right, kick left while planking. It is a nice distracting count and typically, eventually brings the focus back to holding onto the plank position, and my newest, bestest cue, rib tuck. When I do it right, I feel the effects of that rib tuck on the abs.

With the dumbbell matrix I have most recently been pursuing, anterior reaches are a staple. The dumbbell walking anterior reaches use heavier weights – a pair of 15 lb. dumbbells versus the 5 lb. dumbbells in the matrix – and the number varies depending on which length of the “there and back” I happen to be pursuing. The walking version brings a different dynamic to this movement, and there is almost a balance to deeper forward bend and lean with the heavier weights. Amazes me how different these small changes feel, how it becomes a whole new exercise to me, and how mysterious it seems that it is suddenly so exhausting. Of course, by the time we reached these I was pretty huffy-puffy from the first block of exercise – those Bulgarians are killer. But no matter; I continually reminded myself that this new grouping and pacing of familiar exercises changes everything and body had to adjust as if it is completely brand new.

The slight incline dumbbell chest press is another List regular, and of late I am working on my back arch. Of the consistent cues and corrections, watching my shoulder shrug or round at the wrong times has got to be top of the list. J began focusing my attention on the shoulder positioning and upper back arch with this press a few weeks ago, and since then it comes back to me slowly and then consumes my thoughts. I am improving. This is not me making excuses for not being perfect at this after however much time has passed, but I am trying to be fair and realistic with myself and my own expectations. Usually about rep 6 or 7 in the first set my awareness of arch and where my shoulders are sinks into my consciousness, and I start making the small adjustments to get in to the right shape. By the end of the third set I have come as far as it feels possible right now, and I know just from the feels that I am closer than I was because of the way the weights feel in my hands. Hard (for me) to explain why, but when the arch is in the ballpark of correct the weights begin to feel lighter in my hands and I can feel the shoulders moving smoothly and without a lot of conscious thoughts about what they are doing.

New exercise of the day is the medicine ball vertical chop, essentially a squat with the medicine ball in my hands to standing up and elevating the medicine ball overhead. Sounds easy, right? Possibly for the more coordinated among us, but for we mere mortals challenged in this area, it’s new and unknown and going to require more practice. The squat part I mostly have down, but the standing up tall, tall, tall and elevating the medicine ball overhead without bending backward is tricky for me. Quizzing J about tightening glutes and abs to prevent the backward bend with the momentum of the medicine ball, the rib tuck came into play once more. With the upward movement of arms and medicine ball and the rib tuck, I definitely felt it in the abs. However, I let myself fall a bit too much to one side and felt the rib pull instead of in the abs. The expression that crosses J’s face when I do something like that is rarely seen and not one I ever like having repeated in our sessions. His concern and empathy combine into something that registers as distress in my brain and harshes my exercise buzz. When I got home I ran through the shape of this exercise again, sans medicine ball, and feel much better about my understanding of how it’s supposed to work.

Still on the nemesis list after 18 months, alternating lateral reaching lunges of any sort. Today we went through them with 15 lb. dumbbells. I still do not love them, and actually really do not like them much. Because they are so insanely challenging for whatever reason. Personally I believe it to be a balance issue rather than a strength or weakness issue, because sometimes when warming up I do these with the TRX straps and have a lot less angst. But what I know is the my confidence and balance will both improve with practice, so I will keep working at it and doing my best to get through the sets.

There is always something about the cross bench dumbbell pullover. It’s not the weight – I wander from 15 lb. dumbbell to 25 lb. dumbbell and the disquieted feeling persists no matter how light or how heavy. This exercise was on the upper body List I ran through this morning (Tuesday), and I believe it is the set-up/dismount that bothers me. I am not a bendy, flexible person, and it seems to me that sitting down, figuring out how to hold the dumbbell while positioning shoulders and head on the bench and keeping hips elevated and core still is ungraceful and reminds me of an elephant sitting down in the dirt. That picture alone is hugely unflattering in my head. If it lingers it tends to distract me from the actual exercise, and it is easier to banish when I am on my own and practicing. This is still new enough that the confidence of the doing has not completely taken root, thus wiping out my awkwardness of sitting down, setting up, and then climbing back to my feet after all is said and done. Graceful I am not, and unfortunately, my self-consciousness about it with this exercise has not yet completely evaporated. I’ll get there.

It has been quite awhile since the band horizontal rotations have appeared on a List, and for the most part they went fine. Anything that has me pivoting on one foot is questionable, though, and sure enough, as fatigue from the whole day began to sink into my system, I began to falter and have too much pivot in my turn and the desire to topple over sideways in the momentum happened a few times. Patience, grasshopper, patience; slow and controlled is the term J frequently uses with this one. It does appear on a warm-up List I use only occasionally, so I may have to resurrect it and get some extra practice.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

When I look back upon the last 18 months of training with J, I can see distinct “chunks” of activities where J was teaching, then reviewing, then technical reviewing, and then maybe we moved into something else or we dwelled a little longer in the current cirriculum. We have done fewer reps with weightier weights, we have done lesser weights with higher reps, and interwoven throughout all that is pacing, sometimes slower, sometimes faster.

Our first “chunk” of training for 2017 is metabolic training, something we have not done before. I do not typically do a lot of cardio – truth be told I do not do any dedicated cardio – so today was a bit of a shock to the system. But I hung in, hung on, and did not make excuses or whine about my shortcomings in this regard. It has been awhile since J has worked me this hard, and it made me very glad that I had my usual pre-gym protein shake even though our training was in the middle of the day and I had eaten a decent breakfast. As it was, when I got home my blood sugar was 89 and I was starving. A turkey and cheese sandwich and an apple later, all was well again. A few hours later, blood sugar is 74, and I start getting worried around 70. J had told me that this particular List was going to burn through the blood sugar and he was not kidding. All good, though. But it reminds me why I still test 3 or 4 times daily.

I love that after 18 months there is still so much to learn. While I am familiar with nearly all the exercises on today’s List, the pacing, the grouping, the methodology make it into something very different and where J earns his paycheck. At the end of an hour of working today, my shirt was soaked through and I was breathing hard. I am fitter than I was once, but there is always going to be room to expand and grow in this realm. Rather than doing 3 sets of all 3 blocks, I only had energy to get through 2 sets of the second and third blocks. My progress point has risen, though, because I walked away happy. It was not a terrible day by any stretch, and making it through less than 3 sets on all 3 blocks is not failure of even a faltering. It’s reality of something new and does not represent the character defect or lazy slacker tendencies.

Huge progress for me.

Training days are my favorite times of the week. My curiosity and interest in the exercises we do and how we do them seems infinite, as does J’s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge or ability to quickly find answers. I believe I mostly have the “listen to your body” advice down, only I am now back to ignoring body when it pleads for a cookie or chocolate or soda. The present detox from all that crap food makes that voice louder in my head, but also fresh in my mind is trying to get up and to the gym after a evening of sugary sins and the crap-tastic time I had last week from overdosing on junky food. If my system has a governor to regulate its “just say no” mechanism, it appears to be losing ground on my exercise gains.

I do not feel as if I am good at exercise yet. I feel as if I am competent at things I have learned and improving steadily with regular practice. Funny how my perception has changed. When I started, I genuinely thought an 8 lb. dumbbell was really heavy and was quite impressed with myself when I advanced to a 10 lb. on anything. Now, the amount of weight concerns me only that it is appropriate for the present objective, whether I sign weightier-weights for lower rep sets or lighter weights for my normal routines. My ego has been deactivated in this, and I am far more interested in ensuring I am pursuing safe and sane form versus using more weight.

Look at myself in the mirror, I am finally seeing the emerging muscles and not just fat and flab. Every week there seems to be a new little crease emerging from a muscle that is starting peek out. Trust me, I still have plenty of fat and flab, but I also have some more defined muscle overcoming the fat and flab in spots. If I depended on the scale to measure my progress, I would have given up months ago because it barely budges. But when I notice my shoulders have more definition, I am really pleased. I still dislike mirrors; I can barely stand to watch my form in the mirror at the gym. But I’m better than I once was, because it is kind of fun to see my own muscles actually working. I lacked confidence in them for a long time, though for sure I would be the only person in the whole wide world who did not gain muscle and lose fat with exercise. In gaining muscle with consistent training I am pretty normal.

Reading fitness experts I have come to respect and trust, I know that being further disciplined with my diet would make this proceed at a difference pace than it has. I do not feel at all guilty about my unwillingness to be more disciplined about my diet. While my food choices are generally okay, there is lots and lots of room for improvement. One thing I have learned, pushing my round self into a prepackaged square hole with anything health related only ends badly.

I do not weigh, measure, track calories and such. My solution to that sort of thing is to just eat the same meals over and over again, because I am a hugely picky eater. The battle to eat more protein has been ongoing for 18 months, and while I am better at it, I supplement generously. Every day I have a protein shake before going to the gym or pilates, and if I attend a yoga or pilates class in the evenings, I have another then. I try to eat more vegetables and a couple of servings of fruit is not an issue. Carb control is always going to be a thing for me, in that I love bread, crackers, potatoes, etc.

While I kind of hate the term, I think being even more mindful of my eating habits is the theme for 2017. In 2016 I made progress and strides forward, but there is so much room for improvement. But I want sustainable improvement; expecting me to give up foods I enjoy forever is simply ridiculous. I can continue to expand my vegetable consumption, though, and perhaps continue to keep an eye on my carb consumption in times of extra stress or unusual boredom.

My support system understands my need for balance, nothing too extreme either way. In his youth M was king of maniac obsessive athletic endeavors, and while he has mellowed significantly as the years passed, he does tend to push himself hard and pursue huge goals and personal accomplishments. It is not an attitude he wants for me, though, and has always suggested modest, incremental adjustments be my objective. He’s extremely proud of my consistency with the exercise and compliments me lavishly on my changing shape and makes supportive, agreeable noises when I excitedly point out my latest new, previously unnoticed curve, crease, or muscular enhancement. M readily admits he fully embraces that “happy wife, happy life” philosophy.

I’m hoping to become a bit more competent and consistent in my yoga/pilates practices. The gym and my training Lists are always going to be my first love and very highest priorities in the time management queue, but there is definite long-term value in pursuing more flexibility. From a purely financial standpoint, my unlimited yoga membership only makes sense if I use it, and my minimum is 10 classes per month for a respectable break even point. Burned myself out a bit with too many back-to-back classes in December, so trying to regroup and find balance once more. Time management and prioritizing this more high on my weekly to-do is the only way I will ensure this gets done. Fortunately, the studio must be reading my thoughts because their class shuffling for January opens up new opportunities for the activities and want to pursue. Giving myself this month to see how it goes with exercise/work/life balance before deciding on any changes.

A new year always brings forth feelings of freshness, excitement, blank pages upon which to write my own story. While I felt completely burnt walking out of the gym yesterday, it was an amazingly great feeling. That I am capable of this level of effort makes me feel really powerful and like I belong in the gym and know what I am doing. Because really, I do. The equipment I use, the exercises I do regularly – I am confident in my ability and competency. That I walk out of there in a sweat-soaked shirt and starving to death is almost a new threshold of pride for me. I can always revert to packing a granola bar and premixed protein shake in my bag, just in case. Easy peasy fixes for the extraordinary feeling of working really hard and not quitting when the challenge is laid down before me.

And I am over the moon happy about that.