About this time last year, I was working hard at mastering an essentials List of exercises with dumbbells. It was a pretty standard full-body program with something for every major muscle group. This was a staple List for most of the first half of 2016, and somewhere as the weeks and months passed it was eclipsed by other Lists and other things.
I have the original List we used, which includes my hand-written notations about weights and reps. I pulled it out today and ran through it 4 sets this morning. What a difference a year and regular, consistent practice make. The List is as follows:
1-arm dumbbell row – then 15 lb. DB, 12-15 reps; now 20-25-30 lb. DB, 15-20 reps
Band speed rows – then green band MAX; now red band MAX
Bulgarian split squat – Left leg – then 12-15; now 15-20
Dumbbell chest press – then 15 lb. DBs; now 20-25 lb. DBs
Band decline speed press – then green band MAX; now red band MAX
Bulgarian split squat – Right leg – then 12-15; now 15-20
Dumbbell pullover – then 15 lb. DB, 12-15 reps; now 25 lb. DB 15-20 reps
Band speed straight arm pull down – then green band MAX; now red band MAX
1-leg Romanian deadlift OR anterior reach – Right leg – then 5 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps; 10 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps
Curtsey lunge with reach – Right leg – then 5 lb. DBs, 8-12 reps; now 10 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps
Hammer curl – then 10 lb. DB, 12-15 reps; now 15 lb. DBs, 15-20 reps
Alternating band speed curls – then yellow band MAX; now red band MAX
1-leg Romanian deadlift OR anterior reach – Left leg – then 5 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps; 10 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps
Curtsey lunge with reach – Left leg – then 5 lb. DBs, 8-12 reps; now 10 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps
Dumbbell tricep extensions – then 8 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps; now 15 lb. DBs, 15-20 reps
Alternating side lunge and reach – then 5 lb. DBs, 8-12/side; now 10 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps
It is nearly impossible for me to remember all the thoughts and feelings associated with this List a year ago, but the weights I was using then and the weights I am using now tell a story of my progress. And I honestly do not care at all about that aspect of my training. In a world of tracky-tracky, of measurable gains and losses, I have something tangible to show for my efforts. While it kind of gratifying, tomorrow is Monday, training with J, more bring-on-the-suck, more new challenges to overcome and to conquer. Life is good.
I have fallen in love with movement and exercise. There are Lists I feel pretty good out, there are Lists where I need more work. But the point is, I keep plugging away at it. Despite the length of time involved and how much I try, my imperfection and inability to remember and execute what I have learned perfectly on demand is regularly demonstrated.
Today’s example – Bulgarian split squats. I still recall the day that I was able to balance without the elaborate helps that had to be set up. It’s been over a year, and when these resurfaced on a List a few weeks ago, J had to create some new cues to help me break some bad habits. Today, finally, I seem to have had the breakthrough on these that I have been seeking. Good form trumps everything and is my highest priority. “Rib tuck” was the cue J gave me last we did these, to get me to stay bent forward so I could feel the lower body muscles without the ache in my lower back from staying too upright. Today I rib tucked and made myself keep upper body stiff and still. I felt glutes and lower leg working, but no lower back pain.
Little cues and corrections like this have changed my outlook and exercise life. And the consistent exercise – there is nothing in my life this has not impacted. Those big and little impacts cannot be measured, only felt physically and emotionally.
From the start of this journey, I have repeatedly stressed that the things I do really, deeply care about cannot be measured on scales or with rep counts. I like that I’m more confident. I love feeling the sparks of joy when I finish a set that was really hard for me, whether it was bodyweight or something measurable in my hands. I walk into and out of the gym with a genuine smile, anticipation on the way in, satisfaction on the way out. I like that I have advanced or moved beyond some of these in form and manner of performance. I understand and accept the struggles on some of this stuff continues and has less to do with my willingness to try hard than with my body’s strengths and weaknesses, my brain’s ability to process and let go of long-held fears and anxieties. This journey is not one with a start, middle, and end; it’s a process that will extend across the rest of my life.
I stress these points over and over and over again because I had a hard time at first finding traction with them. I had a really hard time finding traction with most everything other than weight loss or dress sizes dropped. Many I know, probably even a few reading this, have the same struggle. Nothing special or extraordinary about me in this effort, unless we count forcing myself to do the work necessary.
When I started, I had M, I had trainer J, I have a few close friends who exercise regularly to help me get up and go into the storm of better health. They are my support system. Then I started blogging about my better health efforts. I feel fortunate to get this far, this deep into my journey and still be clear-eyed, hopeful, yet realistic enough to understand that it will not always be rainbows and unicorns.
Days like today, I get a report card that lets me understand how the work has impacted me. Now I kind of wonder what I will be doing this time next year.