Thursday morning and training with J. Another review day, and I love, Love, LOVE review days. There are so many opportunities to learn new things, to get deeper into the weeds of individual exercises. I learn something new at ever single training session, even if it is review day. There is huge value in just the reassurance that I am doing things correctly.
Improvement happens gradually, until one day I seem to wake up and be proficient and competent with an exercise I struggled with for what seems like eternity. Or improvement happens so slowly, so gradually I feel as if I may be completely handicapped and impaired in my efforts. In this situation, it is more important for me to keep trying, keep practicing on my own, and not become discouraged. There are shoulds laced into my thoughts about the ongoing challenges.
Consistency seems to be the word of the day today. There was nothing new today, but many little tweaks and minor adjustments to what I already know and know pretty well. I have always loved review days, because while J may be repeating himself and turning blue, I may have been focused on another takeaway and missed one or more key tweaks that matter and have value. It has been months since I have had the voices whispering discouragement in my head and trying to drown out J’s cues and corrections, but I have learned not to underestimate body’s muscle memory. Right or wrong, it may have learned a few things and defaults back to those things, despite what may need to be updated and changed as I have learned new ways. This is nothing new about this process or the way body works its work, but every now and again its default programming sneaks in and surprises me when I feel as if I am fully engaged and focused.
Once upon a time I would find this particular quirk to be a huge and negative thing preventing me from getting further along faster. Or maybe even further along period. Now it is merely another observable footnote in this rest-of-my-life journey. Reframing that perspective, that this better health quest is not a once-and-done project, has done so much to keep me getting up every morning and into the gym for practice on my own or to train with J. It is an ongoing adventure to learn new things, but review days, review days show me how far I have come and how exciting, how much further I will go with continued practice and honing my skills.
I was writing an email earlier today and the thought flittered through my mind – I really love the me I am evolving into – and it stopped me in my tracks. I blurted it out in the note, and while I wanted to soften the message with a bunch of walking-back reasons as to why I am not becoming some vain, narcissist asshat, I didn’t.
Funny, but I do not look back at my life and wish to have found this step decades earlier. Because I see my life as a woven tapestry, and to take out or remove a section of it completely changes the overall appearance of the fabric, the fine balance and blend of light and dark. I am who I am because of my experiences, the painful hardships as well as the joyous triumphs. When I step back and look at it as a big giant piece, the fabric is a beautiful, woven, unfinished piece of art. Focusing too long or too much on the darker, drearier sections means you lose sight of the brighter patches. There balance and a pattern to the bigger picture, and to fully understand the uneven nature of the weave requires the perspective of seeing the much bigger piece.
What that means for me in improving my exercise expertise, gaining more control and mastery over a healthier diet and eating, and just more capability in finding small kernels of truth in a big pile of health and wellness marketing materials – the better health quest is a 100 mile ultramarathon on horse trails and up and down mountain canyons, not the 100 yard dash down an indoor climate controlled track. There are going to be setbacks and frustrations along the way, because none of this stuff comes naturally or especially easily to me. I will keep trying and stay the course with practice and with training. I love review days, and I no longer feel like the village idiot because I need them and gain from each and every one of them.
What We Did
On the review day List today:
A1 Front Squat to Overhead Press (2 sets, 10 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps)
A2 Bent-over DB Row (2 sets, 15 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps)
A3 High-Low Chops (2 sets, green band, 12-15/side)
B1 DB Walking Lunges (2 sets, 10 lb. DBs, “there and back”)
B2 Bench Pushups w/ DB Handle Assists (2 sets, 8-12 reps)
B3 Band ABC Extensions (2 sets, pinkish bands, MAX)
C1 DB “Power” RDL (2 sets, 15 lb. DBs, 12-15 reps)
C2 Bench Triceps Dips (2 sets, 8-12 reps)
C3 Squat to Row (2 sets, green band, MAX)
How It Felt
It would seem that for as frequently as I do front squats and overhead presses, the compound front squat to overhead press would come more naturally than it seems. Today J demonstrated and explained in detail how to tell whether I am going deeply enough to to deeply on the front squat and the hip hinge tightness and what happens to the lower back (rounds forward as pelvis tilts) if you try to drop past the hip hinge’s tightest point. Funny that it has not come up before, how to know for sure deep or shallow and whether or not I was getting the most productivity from this movement. Now that I understand that part of the movement, I get the whole of it. The overhead pressing part I do pretty well with, although shoulders were a little sore from yesterday’s row-a-thon upstairs on the Freemotion machine. But all good, once I got the fluidity of the squat depth dialed in. And of course, whatever else I am doing with regard to front squats I will be thinking about the depth issue.
Say the word “row” to me and I am looking around the room for something to lean on for 1-arm version. But I actually really like the bent over row version as well. From last week I am now thinking about tailbone (up), the arch in the upper back, and the pull from the shoulders and spreading the ribcage apart. Watching J demonstrate these – I don’t think my rib cage is quite as flexible and spreads in the same way. Does not stop me from trying to engage it that way, but I may be more rib cage challenged. Between that and the downward extension without completely straightening elbows – a lot of steam coming out of my ears when performing this exercise. But I will continue to improve; I am feeling the tightness in the hamstrings and no aches in my lower back when done with these.
Last week when we were doing the high-low chops with the band, I had minor breakthrough on the shape of this exercise. Today we reviewed them again, and I got a little better at where to state and the shape I am seeking. Rotate resist against the band, but not too much before the rib tuck-dive bomb toward the inside of the foot. Reverse out of that is the same move backwards, unbend and slightly rotate back to center, lather, rinse, repeat. For a bunch of reasons, I find this move complicated and challenging. Complicated because rotate and then divebomb foot sounds easy in description and theory yet is not so easy in practice. Rotate, but not too much. Divebomb, but keep shoulders back and arms outstretched and oh, by the way, that band in your hands? It’s working against you and actively resisting obeying your will. I’m closer than I was on Wednesday, because every time I practice and follow J’s cues, adjustments, and corrections, I improve. Eventually, if history holds, I will improve to the point of being able to self-correct without having to stop him in the hallway or blow up his text with questions about the degrees of rotation and which side of the foot again am I divebombing. Since we train together twice a week, see each other to at least say hi in passing in the gym just about every day I am there, opportunities abound to ask and get questions answered. Also, I have plenty of substitutes available if it truly vexes me. Hopefully I get to the point where I can do these without overthinking it.
Okay, really big triumph of the day: dumbbell walking lunges. The urge to happy dance at my treadmill desk overwhelms me just thinking about it. Way back when, lunges of any sort gave me quaking anxiety inside. Balance and coordination were all exacerbated by the anxiety, and I certainly could not build the leg strength when I was tense and anxious and self-conscious about my attempts and how I fell over sideways more often than not. Things settled down and got better; I had some small successes and breakthroughs that improved my confidence and surpassed my anxiety. But lunges are and remain sure-fire huffy puffy exercises. The dumbbell walking lunges were on the nemesis list for a long time, but they were eclipsed by other things and not included as regularly on Lists as we have progressed forward to this point. Last week they reappeared as part of this overall total body cardio series we are presently pursuing, and I was pleasantly surprised at my improvement. Today, though, today this ugly duckling in the dumbbell walking lunge class has burst onto the swan pond and taken up long-term residency. Finally I got the whole package deal down, from the front leaning cue while stepping forward to the push through the lead leg heel to rise up while the rear leg acts as a kickstand and complete the movement. Finally I feel like I might look more like others I have seen and admired doing these throughout the gym who seem comfortable and fluent, just lunging along all over the place with dumbbells in hand or bar across their backs.
My lunge triumph and joy was so enormous that I was not even that irritated with myself over the reigning arch nemesis: the pushups. Ugh. We are lately working hard at the bench pushups with dumbbell handle assists. Periodically I wonder if pushups were banned from my life if I would be somehow terribly lopsided from lack of doing them. Since I do not like the pictures that pop into my head, I will continue to slog away at these bad boys. Honestly, I am still not sure if I am improving or not. But for the most part I work at getting shoulders in right position and down and back, rather than all scrunched up in the shruggy stance. Bad habits and the occupational hazard of being at the keyboard much of the day makes the unshrug a constant issue. I will keep working the pushups, because they are important and it will wound my pride to give up on them. Besides, I don’t want to be the only person I know who has been exercising consistently only to be felled by a pushup. Also today, we discussed the hand positioning and how closer together works the triceps and further apart works the chest muscles. That was fascinating. Now incorporating into my dumbbell matrix so I can become more proficient with both. Eventually.
We are back to the ABC extensions. Today was a little better, learning to do less resistance with the bands by having them slacky starting out and then stretching them high and overhead. Huffy puffy, the term seems to have been invented for these things. Again, another one of those that sound relatively simple in theory but are rather brutal in practice. Part of it is shoulders – the fatigue seems to build and burn quickly on these things. My max is akin to “OMG are we done yet?” after about 3 full reps of these. Not terrible, not even all that difficult, but exhausting and burns out my shoulders and muscles all the time.
I am still working on the dumbbell “power” Romanian deadlift and it’s coming along. What I learned this morning is that the way I originally learned how to do these is that focus is required or my default is the way I learned to hold the dumbbells when I learned how to do RDLs. Today I did better on the power pop-up thing, in keeping abs tight to prevent me from arching my lower back. Definitely can feel the difference in learning new shapes and such with lighter weights. I like these; they make me feel as if I know more precisely what it is I should be doing.
Bench triceps dips have potential for the favorites list. Like the bench pushups, we did different hand positioning, closer together and wider apart. Closer together works the triceps, farther apart seems like I feel it more in the back of the shoulder muscles. I think, anyway. I need to be on the bench and doing them to feeling the muscle groups to be sure.
Now that I have some new information on the front squat, I am obsessed with it and evaluating it again with the squat to row. Does the band make a difference? Not really. Of course, the hip hinge tightness feeling is now part of my checking in with what feet and heels are feeling like on the floor as well. The row is all about pulling with shoulders, keeping them behind the ears and unshrugged. I spend approximately 50% of my gym time thinking about shoulders and whether they are unshrugged, but oh well. I cannot give up my time behind the keyboard so I have to spend more time contemplating shoulders while exercising. Small price to pay.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
I find inspiration to be a very personal thing. Stuff that may move M or others I know leaves me wondering what the fuss is all about. Or worse, it inspires feelings of negativity or jealousy, as if I am somehow lessened or threatened or made inadequate by someone else’s actions or achievements, no matter how small in the big picture perspective. Such extreme and negative takes are rare anymore; thank goodness for the benefits of getting older and wiser and caring less about appearances and the standard measures of accomplishment.
Around the gym, I have met several of J’s other training clients, my brothers and sisters in the training tribe. I feel a particular sort of affinity with them, having the same type of personal coaching and learning experience and knowing how insightful and impactful it has been for me. My concern for the welfare and delight in their success is genuine, because whatever our journeys they brought us to the same space and guide to help us get to the next plateau. As the weeks and months have passed my feelings of inadequacy and comparison have faded; any competitive urge I might have felt trying to kindle is not part of my emotional palette, if such urges ever existed with me. The same is true for my feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. I have truly accept my journey is my own and my success will happen on its own timeline.
This acceptance and healthier, balanced approach and emotional range does not stop me from admiring other member’s form or grace with their lifting or movements that I myself am learning. Their objectives and desires for their own journeys are likely different than my own, but no less admirable or worth of pursuit. I want them to succeed on their own terms. Because of that silent cheering section within me (negative girl’s arch nemeisis – cheerleader girl) I notice their absences or a disconnect with my loose mental tracking of their training with J or presence in the gym. I ask after them, even if the extent of my knowledge is a brief introduction or passing in the hallway between sessions, and I always hope extended absence is a long vacation or change in schedule of when they train and practice. I love hearing the comeback trail stories if there has been any sort of setback.
As I was telling J this morning, I cannot bear the idea of injury sidelining me because I know how difficult it is to restart and reengage after stopping. I would much rather be the obsessed member who is in the gym daily than the slacker member who shows up once a week for training sessions and then couch surfs the rest of the time.
They say comparison is the thief of joy, and I certainly believe it. Probably my greatest strength is my consistency – I have a steady track record of working at it. Other areas – toughness or discipline – I’m rather random at best. It is far too easy for me to stop short of full sets and call it good. And while I am better at and about it, there is a big wide expanse there for improvement. But if I am there everyday and trying to bridge the gap, chances are good I am going to be successful forcing myself to finish minimum to full rep counts and set counts at least some of the time, possibly even most of the time.
Or so goes my logic.
If I compare my training sessions, practices, successes and shortcomings to others I know and admire, I lose. I lose big time. I will begin discounting myself and any pride in my accomplishments. I doubt my progress, abilities, my confidence erodes, and fear and anxiety take over once more. When that was life as I knew it, it was a good life; I had no idea that what I lacked or admired in others was also available for me in all aspects of my own life and times.
Better health success is more than just reshaping of muscles and muscle groups. It’s more than weight loss or even the reduction or elimination of medications to control chronic health conditions. It is a whole-life effort and process. The improvement in my mental health, my learning to truly implement the lessons from years of therapy and counseling have truly been battle tested. The social anxiety and developing the ability to block out distractions or bad manners and behaviors exhibited by others in a gym setting is a positive notch in my big girl pant’s belt.
J does not blow smoke in my direction, nor is he known for gratuitous compliments. His statement this morning that my consistency of practice being my greatest strength was hugely, hugely flattering, because it was not the easiest habit to develop and it requires effort on my part to maintain. But he’s right – I am never going to be the biggest, baddest, strongest woman in the tribe, because that is not an objective I have for this process. But I have developed a sense of self-respect that allows me to be perfectly happy despite not being the best at anything exercise-related in my own mind. My focus is on me and my own big and little successes first and foremost, and from there supporting and encouraging those around me in any method available to me.
However much an introvert I am, I have a basic need to be part of a community. Or perhaps it is work that makes me feel the impulse to be part of certain narrowly defined groups. I have a strong desire to be an active supporter of those people and things I admire and want to see succeed, or even the things that I despise and would like to see decimated. With my better health pursuit, my success is somewhat dependent upon the environment where I dwell. My village of supporters cannot possibly provide me all that I need on all fronts, and it would be so grossly selfish and unfair of me to have anything approaching that expectation. I started this blog because I selfishly wanted an outlet to talk about my better health quest to my own heart’s content and not have to apologize for going on and on and on about the minutiae of details and all the moving pieces and parts. But it relieves M, my kids, my friends, and yes, even my village from having to deal with me 24/7 on these topics.
If it helps someone else work on their own struggles, yay! Go me! Mostly, though, this blog is for me. I like writing it down because it helps me remember the cues and the ways things are supposed to work.
My time in the gym has become a positive force for good in my life much of the time, and it really takes only a single day of being off schedule to make me really appreciate my typical early morning routines. I have met some super nice people and many that just seeing them using the equipment and pursuing their own programs simply makes me smile.
I cannot remember the last time I wished for an invisibility cloak. Anymore, feels like my routine has had the effect of making me blend with the furnishings. In this instance, that is a Very Good Thing.