Thursday morning, training with J. This morning was weirdly out of sync. Being such a creature of habit, and trying very hard to get my sleeping schedule locked down, my alarm goes off every day at 4 a.m. whether I need to get up then or not. Thursdays, since training appointments at 7 a.m. on Thursdays, I have dawdle time built in before it’s time to leave. Typically I get up, dress for the gym, test my blood sugar, then sit down at my computer with a glass of water to work until 5:30, at which time I shut down whatever work-work I am doing, make my protein shake, fill my water bottle, and am out the door at 6:20.
Except this morning, I shut down the work-work at 5:30, made my shake, filled my bottle, looked down at my shoes … and realized I had 2 different shoes on. Dressing in the dark, retaining my older, worn pair of an earlier version of the shoe I’m present wearing – easy mistake to make. So I have 2 different shoes on. I slam down my shake and rush back to change into a matching pair of shoes, which I am just certain is making me very late. I gather my things, tell M I’m leaving, and get out the door without looking at the time. Hyper responsible self is in full on panic mode, just sure I’m going to have barely 5 minutes to warm up before it’s time to start our session or worse – be late. It’s only when I get to the gym and glance at the time to see how much warm-up I have when I realize it’s barely 6:25; I have time for an entire List before training.
Well s–t. Okay, change in plans. Briefer warm-up, run through dumbbell matrix as warmer warm-up today. Very occasionally my deviations from The Schedule result in my favor. Today was one of those good fortune days.
I still love most of the dumbbell matrix and am thinking it might benefit me to use it for warmer warm-up on training days. Some small adjustments in my departure time – i.e., less dawdling and staying all business with my dress, drink, go – and I could make it happen.
At our first training session of 2017, J has suggested/requested that I pursue my upper/lower splits Lists during my practices and leave the training sessions Lists for training for now. It was and is fine with me; much of what we have been learning, reviewing, and perfecting in training overlaps into the upper/lower splits Lists and I am trying my level best to incorporate the new tweaks into the older Lists. However, I do not feel as if I am falling behind or failing to progress in training sessions because I have not been practicing the specific items on my own time. I am still in the gym, still working, and honestly, it seems to be working fine for me. He is not complaining, nor hinting, suggesting, stating that I am slacking. All good in practice and List land.
My desire for consistency is primarily driven by improving my health. However, I find that the time in the gym, the solo practice gives my head a lot of room to roam and process. The deep sense of satisfaction that comes from moving weights to and for is not to be underestimated. While so many people described the trance and the endorphin rush, I do not perceive it that way. There is a sense of purpose in going through and checking off the exercises on the List and an ego-boosting sense of triumph knowing that where I am now is typically very far from when I started.
I am not a patient person. But my level of engagement with my exercise pursuits is teaching me something akin to patience. Movements I have been doing for 18 months have new tweaks and enhancements that 18 months ago would have had me privately berating myself for days and weeks afterward for not being capable enough to learn them sooner in this journey. That trainee has grown up and into her big girl capris (of which I just went on a major shopping spree of replacement). Old dog, new tweaks. Not precisely patience, but a sense of accomplishment and confidence that now is when I am supposed to have and to learn these new enhancements. At the edge of my current zen is a sense of disappointment and frustration that I am not getting ALL the little tweaks last week, but just a faint trace that lingers and reminds me how far I have come and how long and winding the road ahead. Rather than a place of fear and anxiety, I have very mild curiosity about what comes next. I put it that way – mild curiosity – because I am completely engrossed in the here and now. Adventure awaits! Having a trainer, trusting his professional judgment means I worry less and less about what my Lists look like and how much weight I am using. And it will still be there when it is time for the next teaching day and its accompanying discoveries.
What We Did
Today’s List is pretty much the same as what we did on Monday, but the order is different:
A1 Goblet Squat with Pulse (20 lb. DB)
A2 Seated Cable “Stretch” Row Wide Grip Bar
A3 DB Bench Press (20 lb. DBs)
B1 Cable or Band Low-High “Glute” Chop
B2 Close Grip Lat Pulldown
B3 1-arm DB Overhead Press (braced) (15 lb. DB)
C1 Reverse Lunges (15 lb. DBs)
C2 TALL Rope Straight-arm Pulldown with Split
C3 Split Stance (slight lean) Triceps Pressdown
C4 Overhand Rope Facepull
How It Felt
Today’s goblet squat with pulse was interesting – the pulse part. I am appreciating the squats lately and the intricacies of the form and mastering it more completely. The depth and the knee bend, what my feet are doing, am I pushing with the heels. You know, all that stuff J has said to me off and on throughout our entire training partnership. The pulse today was the latest and greatest wrinkle. Pulse by pressing the weight outward, but not too far, and definitely not letting the elbows straighten. Elbows concentration continues. With the pulse, press the weight forward until I feel it in the abs, and the elbows still have quite a bit of bend in them at the end of the pulse. Definitely going to be practicing these in the warmups tomorrow.
We were at the seated cable row machine doing seated cable “stretch” rows with the wide grip bar attached this time. Wide grip creates a different sort of stretch/contraction in the shoulders than with the narrow grip. With either grip on the seated cable row, the upper back arch and elevating the breastbone and spreading the chest is the big deal of the row part, then leaning forward and letting the shoulders round on the return. I have to remember to leave the knees bent more than I have been; my years of rowing machine rowing continue to be lessons and habits to unlearn.
The dumbbell bench press has new and intriguing things to learn and master. Tuck the shoulders, work the upper back arch, keep weights above the eyebrows. My obsession with shoulders is probably going to be with me forever. Work the arch, work the arch, work the arch – I hear this every single time I do a bench-related exercise anymore. I have learned that I carry my stress and tension in my shoulders, and now that I have learned about the shoulders back while lying down positioning, I am thinking about it with every single press, fly, and triceps extension on the bench. Working the upper back arch today, shoulders automatically fall into proper placement. Now I know for sure now since J did some quick video to show me what my shoulders are actually doing. I’m getting there. I may have to think shoulders down and back forever and ever, amen, but I learned this newest tweak and can feel the difference.
New reintroduction exercise of the day was the cable or band low-high “glute” chop – first, vastly prefer the cable. Second, this is another of those sneaky exercises that where you feel the work is this big surprise. Even better, or worse depending on my mood in the moment, I am still feeling those bad boys this many hours later. Like the evil cousin curtsey lunges, it feels like icepicks in my ass. This is a good thing, despite how is sounds. And feels.
Back to the close grip lat pulldown and working on my grip and not leaning back. This rendition of lat pulldown is tricky. Work the arch again. Press the breastbone upward toward the attachment as I am pulling downward. I kept bending my head forward and keeping it back and still worked much better. I still feel my lats, but anymore, just about everything results in some residual feeling in my lats. I don’t love lat pulldowns, but as I decided and accepted long ago, I cannot love everything.
But still crazy in love with the 1-arm dumbbell overhead press, no matter what style or stripe. Now that I figured out the scapular plane (and following my diagram about it), I am enjoying the focused discipline of pressing the weight upward without teetering off sideways. I do probably like the split stance version slightly more, if only because it feels more stable without the benefit of stabilizing brace.
Lunges are big of late. Reverse lunges are less desirable than their forward walking brethren, if only because I am suspicious of everything where I have to step backwards. But with the forward leaning anterior lunges taking center stage of late, this one says keep shoulders and weights back rather than forward. I am still working at the little lean forward on the return to starting position. Feels almost like a little hop without the hop. My fascination with lunges expands.
Working the tall rope straight-arm pulldown with split is ongoing. I work on the shoulders back and down, standing tall, pulling down. I get it. Mostly. I feel it. Mostly. I have to work on these, because I have no emotional or physical connection with these. Intellectually I understand what it is doing, what it is supposed to be doing, but mind feels pretty clinically disconnected from the actual exercise. Maybe I am distracted by the mini breakthroughs with the lunges.
Discovery of the day was the split stance (slight lean) triceps pressdown. While I am pretty sure I have had the slight lean part down, the split stance part today made me feel every bit of my triceps in ways that I have not in recent outings. I THINK I have been doing the slight lean forward, but maybe not. I do like the split stance, though; has kind of stablizing, badass feeling to it.
It might be awhile before I learn how to grasp the rope in the overhand way overhand rope facepull. But I do pretty well with the face pulls, and I freely admit preferring the sitting on the stability ball version of them. Of late we have been doing the standing versions, so it’s good to work at the shoulders down and behind the ears, standing tall with abs and glutes tight. Eventually this will feel more normal and natural. Eventually.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
Advisory: I am cheating and starting this recap on Wednesday night. Because I know tomorrow is Thursday and I know training will happen. But I have some advance thoughts on the topic that are not quite big enough for their own standalone post. So the kitchen sink thoughts start early.
In an earlier text exchange with an east coast friend, we were talking about managing expectations. I look forward to training days; Monday and Thursday morning sessions are highlights of my week. It has been this way for 18 months, so if there are expectations they are reasonable and well managed. There was a time when I was so excited about what I was learning I would return in the evening to either practice the new things or practice something else because my enthusiasm over even the most modest of achievements could not be contained. These days, I frequently still feel that way. Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of time in my daily schedule to devote to such pursuits. The allure of the thrill of learning and being successful with something new or review days and correcting something I already thought I knew continues.
My pal, he himself a devoted yoga enthusiast just returning from a broken ankle, expressed some very mild concern about the distasteful term – overtraining. Not because I sound tired or burned out or like I am running on fumes, but because January is typically quite crazy with work, he knows how many hours I am working/billing, and the fact that I had to push off a request for a project review for him to February tells him I have a lot going on right now. Between work, exercise, pursuing healthier eating (and the cooking/food prep that goes along with it), getting adequate sleep, and of course my writing here and elsewhere, am I really getting adequate rest and taking care of myself?
Obviously he had not read the earlier post yet. Or he had and was still concerned.
Truth is I find my time in the gym is me time. As physically demanding as it may be, it is also like a mental refresh, blowing out the cobwebs and unpacking a range of thoughts and ideas that have gotten pushed back or aside in the crush of my days. Moving the weighty weights to and fro is akin to refilling the depleted soul. Writing expands that process as well.
I rarely look at my working muscles before, during, or after my gym time, unless of course I have made a mistake and something aches or hurts in unusual, uncomfortable ways. So I have no idea if they look fluffier than when I started. I am trying to listen to body’s feedback about how things feel, which muscles are working, and sometimes I hear it, sometimes I don’t. It is an evolving process.
Same with the writing. Not just here, but in the correspondences I maintain, the instant messages and texts we exchange, the blogs I and forums I read and participate in with comments. Thinking is kind of my thing, something I hope to continue to improve upon with more time and more focused practice.
Overthinking? Overtraining? In my world, probably no such thing. Not anymore.
And we are into Thursday.
Body shaming – I truly regret such a practice exists, because the standard of beauty is personal and unique to each of us. Better health looks so much better on me. The size and shape of my limbs does not matter, but the ratio of fat to muscle on my body is something to be celebrated. My genetics will not allow me to be healthy and skin and bones, so how can or why should I be fighting that? Understanding this and the faulty thinking and opinions of others who judge me harshly or have essentially unfriended me or I them in real life has never been clearer yet more sadly confusing. For the most part, my give a damn is busted. Those who mean something to me, whose opinions I value are constructive, supportive, and offer productive opinions and ideas. My sadness at the separation and unfriending of long-term friends is real, but not crippling or impactful. Mostly I regret their narrow and short-sighted view, but this is not a problem with the way I think or my efforts. While it may have taken me awhile to come to terms with this, I get here eventually.
Along with body shaming, aging of late has been another perplexing issue. In truth, my personal opinion and thinking is that I have grown more attractive as I have aged, as if my outside appearance is now more aligned with the person I have always been inside. At least once a week I express my paranoia about injuries in the gym, which tends to slow me down and make the peppier pacing Lists even more challenging. I find it extremely inspiring and gratifying to see others my age and older pursuing exercise, a healthier option than the prescription medications available to help us age more gracefully. Truly, I feel like the work I am doing now will make life more comfortable longer as the years pass.
Today at work we were doing some advance preparation for a day-long meeting later this month. According to my profile, I am a conscientious and steady person, meaning I’m pretty damn reliable. Hyper-responsible anyone? Yep, that’s me. Now that I seem to have found my groove and calling with exercise, I am pursuing it for all I’m worth. More importantly, though, I like the weights so much more than any other type of cardio or team sports I have pursued to date. Team sports – never my thing. I always feel like the weak link and it sucks any motivation I might have to try and improve, be better, gets sapped by my self-consciousness and inferiority to the rest of the team.
Funny thing about having a trainer – J is not the first trainer I have hired, but honestly, he is the best and his understanding of my personality profile is helpful. Until someone asked me about it, it had honestly never occurred to me that the potential for spoon-feeding me exercise for his own long-term client benefit. The idea actually floored me, and then made me laugh, because if that were truly the case, I would likely still be the neurotic nutball who walked in to meet with him 18 months ago. Besides, once I began becoming so engrossed in the exercise, I actually increased my weekly training schedule and my progress advanced more quickly as well.
At the end of it all, though, training is fun. So. Much. Fun. Dazed, confused, and distracted this morning, training days, no matter how hard it seems to grasp the new concepts and techniques, it engages me completely and brain processes the challenges as big fun.
Walking out to my car most mornings, I am thinking about the next day, the next time I am in the gym, the next List I will pursue and what type of challenges it presents. Yoga does not engage me this way, although it does have challenges and comes with its own type of satisfaction. But I have done yoga off and on for a few years and never had it hold my attention or interest for much longer than a few weeks. I have met and made friends at yoga; I have gone to classes with friends, my daughter-in-law, and enjoyed it enormously … as a social event. Fitness? Not so much.
Cardio? I have not done cardio for any stretch save for a 30 day challenge last year. It was fine. I did 30 minutes of dedicated cardio for 30 days, but that was me, gambling. I won a pretty good stash of gift cards, too. No real interest in returning to that either.
Driving home from the office tonight I started thinking about the G word – goals. Maybe I should have something definitive I am working toward. Maybe it would be simpler or better somehow. Even something little, like 20 lbs. on the overhead presses.
And I could feel my shoulders tensing and the hairs on my arms standing up to dance. Creating a goal for me is the same thing as setting a deadline. Hyper responsible mode swings into place, and the practices I presently enjoy so much and pursue as “me time” become another item on my to-do list, another thing that I have to track and work at like a job.
Everything I have read about success with regular exercise is to find something I enjoy and pursue it. Thus far, I love the training sessions and the practice. I love the encouraging cocoon I have created with the other members I see and interact with regularly.
I have zero concerns about lifting weights or about getting too big, too bulky, too anything. If adding more muscle to my frame keeps my blood sugar in good control without medication, I can live very happily with that. I haven’t thought about my arms or the rest of me getting too big or too bulky in months.
As I said, better health looks good on me. The emerging muscle is just frosting on the better health cake.