Monday morning, training with J. Today was another huffy and puffy learning session on the FreeMotion machine.
Sometimes it is not so much what we/I do in training sessions so much as how it feels that makes training and exercise so great. I like learning new things, but I have come to realize what I value about teaching days is the deeper, broader understanding of the why of it all. For every time J has to remind me to put my shoulders back, I remember why it is important and how much difference it makes in so many other things. The shrug impulse is well entrenched after so many years of typing and cutting myself a lot of slack for not overcoming a well instilled habit is more liberating than I ever expected. Not in the “woo hoo! I can keep my shoulders shrugged until J tells me to stop” sort of way, but in the habits become that way with lots of time and practice and may take that much and more to change.
When I was in high school, my tennis coach used to tell us the practice did not make perfect, only perfect practice made perfect. It was kind of deflating, because my practice efforts were devoted to becoming competent with hopes for proficient. The coach had told us from day 1 that most of his energy would be dedicated to the top seeds on the team, the girls capable of winning matches. Having never done anything competitive before in my entire life, it was quite shocking to my ears. Then as now, I tried very hard. Then and less like now, I lacked the mental fortitude or experience to know how to get tougher and stay the course when I was ready to throw in the towel. I showed up for practices, I tried and worked very hard to learn and to improve, but stuck on the outside with minimal coaching or feedback, the biggest lesson that season taught me was how to lose gracefully and graciously to sharper, stronger opponents.
I think of that frequently these days, because with proper coaching, I might have been a contender. Actually, I doubt that; there was so much I lacked back then that I now enjoy. To my parents, tennis was not even a hobby; if they were even aware that I was competing, tennis was just something I did that took away from my ability to do other, more productive things. Now I have M, chief cheerleader in my better health quest, and a whole tribe who regularly inquire about my endeavors in this area. Even my work colleagues and private clients have kind and positive words about my efforts.
Gym practice is a solo endeavor for the most part. Even others I observe with training partners, one is doing one thing, the other doing another, then they switch. I am living inside my head in my own practices, plotting or planning or slowing down and speeding up to assess the feedback from body. And I realize – it makes me really happy to be in the gym pursuing my List(s) of the day. I like the process, the evaluation, the feedback, the curiosity and that little professor in my mind seems to be paying attention even when I am caught up in what I plan to do next or what the balance of my day holds.
How shocking the thought is to me now, that I am happy to be there and pursuing List(s) of the day. I plan ahead, usually know what I will do once I arrive and changing my mind is primarily driven by equipment availability. The part of me that craves stability and order sings knowing we we do A1, A2, A3, etc. for X numbers of sets and then proceed to the next block. When we are done with the List, and depending on time available, maybe we will run through a set of arch nemesis, push-ups.
But anymore, even that, practicing arch nemesis exercise, I gain perspective. I am improving, albeit slowly. I can accept that and be satisfied, and happy, with positive progress.
What We Did
A1 Freemotion Squat Machine
A2 Floor Seated Dual Cable Lat Pull-downs
A3 Dual Cable Decline Chest Press
A4 Dual Cable Reverse Fly
A5 Dual Cable Straight-Arm Pull-downs
B2 Resist Rotation Presses (square stance)
C1 Glute Kickbacks or Donkey Kicks
C2 Long Rope Low-High Chops
C3 Dual Cable Bent-over Triceps Kickbacks
C4 Dual Cable Biceps Curl
How It Felt
Back to the Freemotion squat machine and a few sets of 20 or 30 or however many reps
we I did per set. Started in the usual “frog” stance (feet wider apart) like a goblet or sumo squat and then moved to a narrower stance like a power squat. Between uses, I forget how much I actually like this machine. The distribution of the weights, from hands to shoulders, makes it not so much easier as different enough to focus on what my glutes, leg, hips are doing and feeling and less on whether arms, hands, shoulders are tiring.
New to me today – floor seat cable lat pull-downs. Yep, doing these sitting on the floor. And it was fine, actually. I thought the actual getting on the floor would be more an issue, but it was not an issue at all – take FreeMotion machine handles, lean back, bend knees, somehow land gracefully on my bum without causing tremors in the entire building. from that angle on the floor, it feels different than sitting on a bench or on a stability ball. Lean forward with the arms extended overhead, push chest up and then shoulders back while pulling down, work the arch in the slight lean back. Feels somehow more powerful and controlled from the floor. Getting up off the floor – I lack J’s confidence and grace in being able to just hold onto the handles and hoist myself upward. Instead, took a couple of tries but figured out that looping my right wrist through one handle then grasping the other in my right hand and putting left hand on the floor and rising from that position worked surprisingly well.
We did a couple of versions of the dual cable decline chest press today, for feels and such. The normal version – where elbows are elevated and spread wide, and the second version – where elbows are closer to sides while pressing. The new and improve cue – chest up then shoulders back – applies here as well and made my shoulder shrugging less of an issue than usual. While it may seem a small change, it has had a positive impact on me already.
I am not sure what it is about dual cable reverse fly, or flys as a species of exercise, but I find them hugely challenging. Whether I am using the cable machine, the bands, waving dumbbells through the air, or laying down on the bench hoisting dumbbells in the air, I am always probing to figure out which muscles are impacted by the movement. And to be honest, I am not always successful in discerning what muscles or muscle groups are working. Nothing hurts – always an excellent sign – but frequently the areas I think I should be targeting are remarkably quiet and serene. Maybe more weight? Slower more listening to what squeaks and speaks? Possibly more arch? The little professor inside my head will continue her inquiries on Wednesday, when next we visit upper body exercises.
The dual cable straight-arm pull-downs are another beneficiary of the chest up, shoulders back cue. We have not done these on the FreeMotion in awhile, and it feels a little different. Mostly, though, I am pleased with my grasp of the new cue and finding less shrug creeping into my shoulders.
Squat-to-row is part of the warm-up List with the bands. Same movement and general feeling with the cable machine. The complexity of these is not lost on me – squat to hip hinge, tighten glutes and quads to rise, tighten abs, pull back in row, chest up and shoulders back, hands at ribcage. Yet I have now been at this long enough to do them without steam coming out my ears in concentration.
It has also been awhile since we have visited the resist rotation press (square stance), and I had forgotten its impacts and how it feels. We went through a couple of different foot positions, and for all the ways I do not always feel other exercises where it seems I should, I almost immediately got the difference between each different foot position on these. Despite how passive this exercise seems to be, it’s surprisingly effective. Hours later and I can still feel it in my obliques.
The step-press is like a single arm chest press with the step. This one in particular is where I feel the peppier, huffy and puffy pacing coming into play. The entirety of huffy and puffy pacing usually coalesces on the second set, because the first I getting the step and press motions smoothed out. By our third set today I had a much better handle on pacing and heart rate stepping up. Using the band warm-up more frequently will help condition me to the rhythm and pacing of the movement.
While there was a choice today between glute kickbacks or donkey kicks, I went immediately to the donkey kicks, primarily because they give me more issues than the glute kickbacks with the high forward leg start. Between the fluffy cuffies and the regular adherence to a couple of days of lower body work each week, I have grown more comfortable and confident. It shows.
Last week we did high-low and horizontal chops with the rope, today we do the long rope low-high chops. But first we tried it with a handle, and that was okay. The rope – so superior and easier to manage. These rotation things – it seems like it is all about the shape, and finding and perfecting my shape on these chop exercises is a challenging.
A newish exercise is the dual cable bent-over triceps kickbacks. These are effective – I can still feel my triceps this many hours later. After 3 sets of 12 to 15, I can feel they were worked and working.
From there we went directly to the dual cable biceps curls, which is a nice contrast after the triceps work. I have some modest, growing affection for curls these days, having now done enough of them to appreciate the new creases appearing in my arms. Definitely my arms are getting stronger, for everything except the pushups.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
Occurred to me on the drive home – I am so pleased and so proud of myself. After over 100 training sessions without missing or even requesting a reschedule (vacations don’t count, nor does any time J needs to move our session because of conflicts with his schedule), I think this may be the first time I have had that thought linger in my head. Not that we did anything new, powerful, awe-inspiring today. Maybe that’s the more significant point – the actual movements and exercises are not personal records every week or even something I track, but the fact that I get up, I go, and I do this week after week with a happy heart. Training days – I genuinely look forward to it. Not just because of the interaction – my goodness we do have a lot of fun and are working really hard – but because I learn something new every single session and I continue to improve.
One of the best compliments I receive from my trainer: You’ve been practicing [insert exercise here]. Today it was the cable donkey kicks, and honestly, it completely thrilled me out. While it is not in J’s job description to make my time in the gym a happy period, it has evolved into a surprising byproduct of our work together.
This weekend, I spent some time with a couple of friends who have become crossfit aficionados. It is not for me, not my style of training, but it seems to be working for them, so I can and will be supportive and encouraging for them to continue anything that makes them feel good about themselves and contributes to their overall health. In this, I wish to model the behavior I hope for from others toward me and my better health efforts (unfortunately, my experiences leave room for improvement).
But whereas these friends have spent days or weeks injured from some mishap in the gym, I have enjoyed an mostly injury-free journey thus far. This is critical for me, because pain would sap my enthusiasm very quickly. At the same time, their results and physique transformations are impressive. As we have discussed numerous times, at what cost? The injuries have not been minor gym-related tweaks, but strains and tweaks that required being on the bench for at least a couple of weeks to a couple of months. The nutrition and diet advice is far more stringent and “tracky” than I am willing to endure. And the downs then creep back ups from being injured and having to rest and recover would be demoralizing for me.
So I am far, far happier in my slow and steady progress, my working toward learning correct form and then perfecting well enough that it becomes a second-nature habit versus trying to go-go-go to the cheers and enthusiasm of others in the gym. Mentally and fatigue wise, I am not the tough girl in the tribe; I readily admit being happy to stop after a few reps and sometimes I lose count and call it good enough. And while I very much appreciate the kind words other members share with me about my efforts, the simple off-hand comment from my trainer mentioned above is more motivating for my continued efforts than all the rah-rah-rah I would ever receive in a class or a Crossfit environment. At the end of our discussions about form and function, it boils down to differences in temperament and what I need to get the exercise done versus what they require on their own journeys. Neither approach is more or less correct than the other; we are very different people with very different needs.
Glad I have settled that in my own head.
Surprisingly to me, such discussions tend to bother me less and less as time marches on. This comes up in discussions M has with his runner friends, particularly when it comes to nutrition and fueling ourselves. There is a vocal facet that is very strong on Paleo and the evil of carbohydrates, still another that is vegan and/or vegetarian. Me, I am all about eating in a more balanced way, meaning I eat carbs, including white potatoes and bread. I also eat more vegetables, more protein sources, more balance.
There are always going to be differences in exercise, in training, in diets and in nutrition. People are insanely passionate about their perspective, and it has been a long slog to get here, where I simply care much less about such differences of opinions between factions of people and they ways we choose to pursue optimal health. I do try to listen – much to be learned listening to other perspectives. But my own confidence in blazing my own trail has solidified and I am assured in my path. Makes listening with genuine interest and not being swayed or impacted by arguments or discussions.
I believe that is real progress.
January is nearly over, next training session is next month. Because I am a planner, I am already thinking about what happens next. For February, I am going to stick with the upper and lower body splits I have been pursuing – perfect practice and such. I will continue to try and press forward with my pacing, pep it up and work the heart rate, but we shall see.
I have been having such fun with the Lists this month, and I am making strides and improvements. Who knows where I shall be in another month with these Lists, but I am certainly looking forward to finding out. I am making slow and steady progress with the individual exercises and my ability to get through each of them. With the overlap, the benefits are broad and will help my form and technique improve with the PHA lists we are presently pursuing.
I am making progress, and I am getting fitter. In a myriad of big and little ways, it shows.