Thursday morning, training with J, and the first day this week it was not raining. Still, I like the title; I decided to keep it. Surely there will be another rainy Thursday sometime in the future? Maybe there will be a post title rerun.
Love training days. If you’re new here, get used to that statement, because I use it a lot. But I have evolved into a weird and twisted exercise geek.
Several of my work associates are now reading (hi guys!) so they can truly know how twisted and weird I am about this stuff. Plus now they know why I am typically so engrossed in writing while eating lunch before our walks around the block.
If Monday ended up being all about lower body and quads, today emphasized upper body and shoulders. As in, oh my do I ever even use my shoulders? How can the shoulder muscles (as opposed to the shoulder joint) be this tired, sore, and weak-feeling if I use them like normal people use them? Then again, I thought the same thing about quads and legs earlier in the week. I thought those same thoughts yesterday, after doing a different lower body List. Shoulders are fine. Shoulders are getting stronger, only today they appear to feel emphasized in new or different ways that we have not focused on in awhile. Which in gym training-speak could be a few weeks or several months.
With the peppier pacing we are pursuing right now, I allowed a tiny bit of doubt to tinge my thoughts this morning. While in the moments of training with J, negative girl wormed her way through the sound proofing and whispered that I was not trying hard enough, that I was a lazy slacker, and that I am a poser. Yep, heard it clear as a bell inside my head while working on pushups. Pushed her aside, screamed at her to “shut the f–k up,” and doubled my efforts to push it aside, focus, keep going, do better. Honestly, if my thoughts went over the gym’s loudspeaker I would be tossed on my ass for the sheer volume of profanity going on in there. But in the negative girl world view, after 18 months of pushups I should be an expert, yet I still struggle mightily. These have lingered on the nemesis List this entire time, but they are being booted upward and back into arch-nemesis status, which means striving for perfecting practice daily until I improve. And I will improve, of that I have zero doubts. Habits only become habits with repetition; I will get there.
Idly, I wonder how long my life truly is and if those years are going to be enough to eventually conquer this bad boy. Makes me laugh, because even as I am having that thought flitter through my mind, I am also pondering the progression from push-ups off the bench to push-ups on the floor. One thing at a time, though; master the bench before seeking out the floor version. The shoulder shrug – my achilles heel, so to speak – strikes again, only with the push-ups this time.
When I got home and was getting ready to leave for the office, I was thinking over all we did today and fretting about the pacing and how much power I was or was not exhibiting on the various exercises. And because when I am thinking so hard about it I find myself unconsciously moving into practicing my form and shapes. So I was drying my hair doing squats and the overhead press motion with my hairbrush in one hand and hair dryer in the other. Then I was slowly working my walking lunge form brushing my teeth, spraying the bathroom with toothpaste because my Sonicare was in my hand and running while I was doing this (almost made me late for the office cleaning up the mess). Dressing I was pantomiming my Romanian deadlift form. And in between all these things I was mimicking the ABC shapes and forms to figure out which little muscles in my shoulders were squeaking so loudly.
kind of obsessed.
Negative girl sneaking out with her megaphone, that little tinge of doubt creeping in today, and I have to accept that shit happens and my thinking is as imperfect as the rest of me. Could I work harder? Of course; I could have driven my blood sugar into the ground and been swigging from my can of juice immediately afterwards. The deceptive nature of the exercises – the ABCs do not look like they are as difficult as they actually are – tricks mind into feeling as if body is on the beach when body is doing the best it can do under the load.
All this plays into my script that my mental game is the weakest part of my whole better health strategy and had to or has to be put in order before other good stuff happens. I do not necessarily disagree, but I give myself credit for great strides and improvement in this area. No way would I have been able to overcome my gym crazy and be so steady with my work in the training and practice realms if I left negative girl in the wheelhouse.
My shoulders ache, and my heart rate was comfortably elevated, and J brought the suck in big giant buckets. I am already plotting tomorrow’s lower body practice and what to do about my repeat offender arch nemesis, the push-up, and all that is based on what else we did today. At the end of it all, my key takeaway is excitement. I smell new level of challenge in the water with this methodology we are pursuing, and I choose to embrace it rather than shy away or be fearful. We have been here before, and I have made steady, forward progress almost in spite of myself. Having my doubts is normal; letting those doubts hinder me is not. I will be gritting my teeth, squaring (and unshrugging) my shoulders, and pushing ahead with peppier, more powerful pacing and make these Lists my own. Listening to my body – I know the signs of pushing too hard or too far, and I was fine today. Nervous Nel about the work? Not at all. About mind collapsing into a quivering heap? Only for a hot second. Going through it with grooming tools in my bathroom apparently calms my anxiety.
What We Did
Our List today:
- Front squat to overhead press (12 lb. DBs, 4 sets, 12-15 reps)
- Bent over dumbbell row (20 lb. DBs, 4 sets, 12-15 reps)
- High-low chops (green band, 4 sets, 12-20 reps)
- Dumbbell walking lunges (3 sets, there and back)
- Bench pushups (3 sets, 8-12 reps)
- Band ABC extensions (pink-ish bands, MAX)
- Dumbbell “power” Romanian deadlift (25 lb. DBs, 3 set, 8-12 reps)
- Bench triceps dips (3 sets, 8-12 reps)
- Squat to row (red band, MAX)
How it Felt
First we examined scapular plane, to ensure I was in the right spot on my overhead press. Then we did the front squat, with me asking clarifying questions on what my feet/heels are supposed to be doing with this version of squat (staying on ground, upward push comes through midfoot versus heel). Finally we put everything together for the front squat to overhead press. The tricky part (for me) on these multi-part exercises is how fluidly they are performed. For example, do I push the weights up overhead while rising from the squat and then lower into the squat while lowering the arms? It makes a huge difference to me on form and focus, because I am neither graceful or gifted in coordination. Walking and chewing gum I have mostly mastered, but anything more complex is questionable and requires instruction and practice. Consultation and instruction – do the squat, then press with an “explosive” upward un-squat. But after that, lower arms before descending on the next one. With our emphasis on peppier pacing, J was explaining to me that there should be a more purposeful, powerful, “explosive” conclusion to the exercise, and in this case it is the press portion. Mostly I think I have the timing and sequence of movement down, watching carefully on the upward press to ensure I do not lean or arch backward. Every time peppier pacing comes into play, I start having a mental freak-out about going too slowly or being out of control. Understanding the shape and sequence is a great first step; pacing will vex me forever anyway and I know it is just going to require practice and building my endurance.
Funny (or not) story surrounding the bent over dumbbell row. Yesterday while scrolling through Facebook I came across
propaganda marketing video from our club highlighting the low row. Since I am familiar with the machine they were demonstrating, I clicked on the video to see what the director of fitness shows on how these are done. It was interesting, even if I did not learn anything new. From there they went to the bent over dumbbell row, and again, I do these, and I can and have used the same (not literally, of course) set of 25 lb. DBs the young man was using. I admired his form and abilities. Then they went to the 1-arm dumbbell row, probably my favorite of the series, and the demonstrator member essentially does an unsupported single leg RDL and starts pulling the weight up and down. Immediately I resolved to boycott the gym’s YouTube channel. Forever. I assumed they put this video up to attract potential new members, and the first 2 were pretty good, but that last one? After a year and a half no way I can stand that way and do a 1-arm row. There was a vague notion that I should be able to perform as demonstrated; no wonder I have suffered from gym crazy. So then today, we have the bent over version, with 20 lb. weights because we are emphasizing peppier pacing. New cue – tailbone up – and focusing on expanding chest and pulling weight up with shoulders, not with arms. I feel pretty good about these, because they are straightforward and I have done them enough to feel confident that I have the basic shape and form down pretty well. Got my eye focused on peppy pacing and not allowing myself to stop or to rest between exercises.
The high-to-low chops we have done off and on throughout the last year. They are on one of my most recent warm-up Lists, yet I am not confident or really competent with them as yet. I understand the basic movement pattern – arms outstretched with band handled in hand, pivot and rotate halfway, and then bend over dive-bomb toward the foot. I added my new favorite cue – rib tuck – to the dive bomb part of the bend forward. This is the peppier, more explosive portion of the exercise. The return trip is more controlled and is supposed to follow the same trajectory as the first part, only the first set I had more of this scoopy-doopy round-about thing going on. I have a better handle on how it is supposed to work and progress now, and with some practice (warm-up List is suddenly moved to top of the warm-up pile) I
should may will gain more competence. Maybe it will even happen sooner than I expect.
It has been awhile since dumbbell walking lunges have appeared on a List. These were, for several months, an arch nemesis before I got to the point of naming an arch nemesis. In fact, I hated them. I had lunge anxiety in the very beginning, then they were just very hard, then I got a little better. Now it has just been awhile and I am out of practice. And after doing so many anterior lunges, the shape is different and I had to adjust. Get the step forward and lean in a fluid motion, keep shoulders back and dumbbells back (versus rounding and forward) while back leg comes down and propels me forward. After all the Bulgarians we did on Monday, these actually felt easy in comparison. Once I got the bend forward and the shoulders back form correct, they felt fantastic. Not do-them-all-day fantastic, but they represent how far I have come since we began this transformation process.
The newly restored arch nemesis, bench push-ups, are so hard. So. Hard. Perhaps it is a psychological block? If that were the case I would still be struggling with the walking lunges. I got my 5 lb. dumbbells and first set J pointed out the shoulder shrug and demonstrated how to correct it. Breaking it up into smaller numbers of reps allowed me to make some progress. It seems like this should be easier than it is for me, but it is what it is. TIme, persistence, practice – I will own these. Someday.
Okay, not quite arch nemesis but at the top of the general nemesis list, the band ABC extensions. These look like they should be easier than they are, and honestly, it’s that appearance thing that causes me so much grief and angst. Pick up band handles, extend arms and pull bands upward and overhead, shrugging up the shoulders and standing tall. Return to starting position, pivot left pull overhead, return to center and pull overhead, pivot right, pull overhead … on and on until shoulders and arms burn and refuse to cooperate any further. Alternating mini sets with the bench pushups helps, but I still feel like I should be capable of more. But here I am, almost 10 hours later, and I can still feel those little shoulder muscles. Burn baby burn.
Part of me recognizes traces of the shoulds when writing this recap. The dumbbell “power” Romanian dead lift it is not new, the 25 lb. DBs we used today are not the heaviest I have ever used. Again, anterior reach influence has me wanting to round the back and shoulders rather than keeping it straight and them back as is appropriate for this exercise. It does make me smile, though, because I always think about our earliest sessions and how mysterious and confusing these and the basic goblet squat were in the very beginning. The “power” part of this movement is the pop-up return to starting form, pretensions the glutes and hamstrings and minimizing if not eliminating the tendency to lean backward with the explosive finish. Today I found myself on guard about the rounding back and shoulders and being less capable of the power uprighting because I was trying hard to retain a stiff upper body and not leaning back. Head full of mush on this one, but I know it well and can smooth it out and get to the point of competency with the peppier pacing.
Today the nemesis list has taken center stage, but my favorites list may also have a new entry with the bench triceps dips. We have not done these in awhile, and I did have a tiny bit of anxiety at first that I had forgotten how or would do them wrong, and to be truthful they went so smoothly I remain mildly unconvinced that I was doing them correctly. J and his training eye made no corrections or adjustments, and damn I feel my triceps right now, so maybe they are okay. I will say that since my last outing with these I have grown stronger somehow, because I remember them being a lot harder last time they appeared on a List. Again, not something I feel like I could do them all day long, but a set of 12 to 15 or 15 to 20 would be manageable.
The squat to row should is another warm-up List staple. By the time we reached these today my shoulders and arms felt like mush and my mental game was so detached and fatigued that MAX reps was somewhere in the 8 to 12 range. I was not really counting and just did what felt bearable. Others I know have discounted the use of stretchy bands, but I find them extremely useful in my various Lists and with the warm-ups. I know this exercise appears on my warm-up List, so I will be working on my endurance even if I am not practicing this List right now.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
I wish better health was a simple, straightforward, marked pathway. I wish there was a one size, fits most solution. But as I discussed yesterday, wishcraft does not get me (or anyone else I know) very far. So instead I take a deep breath, put my head down, and just get busy doing.
While writing this post and my key takeaways, I contemplated prior efforts as a cardio queen. If I jumped on my arc trainer, ratched my heart rate up to 80%, and stayed there for 30 to 90 minutes, would I be more successful with today’s List? Would I have been less huffy-puffy and more fluid, explosive, powerful in my health and fitness endeavors? In my mind we are talking apples and oranges; my ability to stay upright and moving on an arc trainer does not translate directly to push-ups or ABCs or even the walking lunges. It seems unrealistic to pursue that point, because while I would have stronger legs from arc training (similar to an elliptical/stair climbing hybrid), it does not seem relevant to my overall ability to use my shoulders and upper body.
Bodies do not come with operating manuals, and while there are many general principles and apply to all of us, there are so many other big and small things that are unique to each of us. It kinda/sorta feels like I have a pretty good handle on that, yet I find myself wishing there was a more direct cause/effect. After all, it seems like 18 months of even hit-and-miss effort would have me more ahead of the learning curve with the newly crowned arch nemesis, the push-up. Yet the shrug habit rears it’s ugly little head yet again. Years and years of working on a computer and holding my shoulders in a rounded posture is apparently not undone in 18 months of effort, no matter how hard I have worked. It’s mildly disappointing, yet I am happy to have it called out, brought to my attention, corrections implemented … lather rinse, repeat … maybe forever. In the bigger picture of routine mistakes I could be making, this is not the worst. And drill it into my sessions frequently enough eventually I remember to consider that and correct myself on my own and in my practices.
I bring this up because along with the tinge of doubt there was a half-hearted attack of the shoulds today. I should be stronger. I should be more competent. I should be lighter and stronger and faster. Reality is that only thing I should be doing is getting myself up and into some form of regular daily exercise, which for me translates as off my ass and into the gym and putting forth honest effort at my List(s) of the day.
Sometimes I feel myself falling short of my own expectations, and I have to stop and examine whether I am rationalizing not putting forth honest effort or if the use of the tiny bundle of shoulder muscles takes a beating from time to time with focused work. My ability to overthink everything remains intact, but honestly, being hyperaware of my own behaviors and habits in this relatively new and fragile lifestyle and the underlying habits seems warranted, particularly given my history of starting and stopping exercise and healthier eating. It’s why I have a blog dedicated to these topics, because I cannot talk to my friends about this individually ad nauseam (or I would not have any friends left) and my thoughts and feelings are so transitory in nature they rarely linger beyond documenting them here.
I love success stories. I love hearing about, reading about what other people are doing and trying to expand and enhance their lives. In my own club, I have made friends with other people pursuing their own brand of fitness which may look very different than my own journey, yet I celebrate their wins and the progress they enjoy. Inspiration for me is not the person who has lost a lot of weight and is now a fit and trim marketing model. Inspiration for me is the ladies I see most mornings pursuing their own programs or participating in the class going on around me. Being a creature of habit, the same faces day after day is part of the drumbeat of my own practice and exercise pursuits, and I do tend to notice when someone is missing for more than a day or 2. I never think “oh, they must have given up on themselves.” Nope, I wonder if they are on vacation, ill, or are working out at some other time when I am rarely to never in the gym. Since I do not actually “know” them, my ponderings are merely the idle observations of someone who has lots of minutes on her hands while getting her sweat on.
Right now I am pounding the marketing and success stories they present because there is a pervasive all-or-nothing vibe that comes with the new year and making positive lifestyle changes. If you have a significant amount of weight (more than 20 lbs. ranks as significant to me) you would like to lose, the changes necessary are going to require work and those adjustments will likely include habit-breaking you may not desire to undertake. Having some buff bunny telling you earnestly how easy it is or how quickly changes can occur – the intimidation and anxiety are laced into the sales pitch. Because if you are Jane Average like me, what happens if you do not find it easy and change does not occur quickly? The blame game – you must not want it badly enough. Maybe the buff bunny does not say those words out loud, but they echo inside our minds nonetheless.
One of the things I actually like about my club, employees look like normal people, with normal bodies of varying shapes and sizes. I like that not everyone who works there looks like a buff bunny or their bulkier sister/brother. People fluffy up, lean out, bulk up, sculpt themselves down on some personal timeline and schedule. I have watched this with phenom with trainer J; he was leaner when we started, then he got bulkier, then he leaned out a bit, then bulked up again. I feel good that I can actually discern a difference when the overall impression is his muscles have suddenly exploded over the course of a month.
Writing these posts, exploring my thoughts and opinions on what I read, overhead, observe, discuss about health and fitness … it makes me feel like I am affirming that we, regular people, are not lesser, weaker, dumber, or lazier as a group because we have to push ourselves and choose to do the hard work and sacrifice to change our bodies and try to impact our health.
I struggle with the food component of my better health quest. My doctors recommend a lower carb diet, and I try, but it is a hard habit to break when you are a picky eater and foods you love most and will eat are on the carby side of the equation. I have done well with being strict with myself about the sugar, cut down significantly on pasta and potatoes, expanded my consumption of vegetables and fresh fruit. I eat more protein, even if I do supplement generously.
The bottom line for me, though, is that I stay on this side of the diabetes medications line. Perhaps 2017 will be the year I make more progress toward portion control and food choice to the point where I drop some weight. It is a lower priority issue, because if I am doing well with other aspects of my physiology, this will be a natural consequence. No plans to do anything crazy. No fasting. No intermittent fasting. No calorie counting and skinnying down to the bare amount of food necessary. Hopefully simply good food and drink choices.
With the ongoing recovery from holiday socializing and such, I think everyone I know has been struggling to greater or lesser degree with getting back into their sleep groove. One of the only things I check routinely on my Fitbit is how I am sleeping. For whatever reason, I like to know how long I have been sleeping, when it says I fell asleep and woke up, how restless I was during the night. The rest of the stuff my Fitbit Blaze tracks? Rarely do I look at it. This week was probably the first time since I have had it that I checked the heart rate function and explored what that report even looks like.
So despite what this recap sort of sounds like as I have been writing it, today was a fantastic day. Not every training week is going to go as super wondrously as the best one before that; my controls over negative girl are not impervious and inescapable. But I am not so secretly delighted (because I’m telling you openly now) that I did not fall down and wallow in my own harsh self-judgment. I am not dreading or feeling anxious about returning to the gym tomorrow because mind has blown up today’s lesser successes into major catastrophe events that make me unworthy to be part of the training tribe. Now I can smile as the thought floats to mind, because it seems like a long, long time ago when such things were real and serious ideas to be fought and overcome. If anything, I am looking forward to tomorrow’s Lists of the day and pursuing various aspects that reinforce what I learned today, what J corrected and reminded me about, and making those positive changes stick.
Onward I go. The abyss, as I once thought of going to the gym for practice on my own, has turned into kind of a cush arena where challenges are faced and overcome. Warrior princess? Nope, not hardly. Rodeo clown seems a lot more appropriate.
Great session, good day. And despite the title of this post, it did not rain a drop all day today.