PT-11: What I value, what matters most

Monday morning, training with J. And it’s raining outside, hence my un-catchy title. Lately, my biggest issues with the recaps is the post titles.

While this is going up on Tuesday afternoon (because I am an idiot and working and forgot to hit publish around noon when I finished writing it), I was uninspired for a title at first. Then I spent a good portion of Monday working late and thinking about very bad outcomes and was inspired to change my mind.

No very bad outcomes occurred. Huge piles of chaos and hair on fire with work on various fronts has made finishing this post  a challenge. But it reminds me of what is most important to me. My family, friends, tribe, work, and the better health quest.

Key Takeaways

On Sunday, I warmed up with J doing the dumbbell matrix. It was … hmmm … lots of positive words to describe it, other than it was so much fun. It was enlightening, from a peppy pacing perspective. It was amazing, getting to watch my fab trainer in action and sweating his ass off simultaneously with me. I tried really hard to not fall too far behind and did okay. But when I pursue this List again this week, I’m definitely going to be paying attention to form first with pacing an immediate second.

Shoulders are tricky. There are so many tiny little muscles and muscle groups as well as the joint to work. It’s hard to remember how to get my arms and such into the proper position and moving in the right ways to do this without injury or fear of injury. There are several new enhancements and corrections for this section today.

I listen to the cueing. I try really hard to implement it. And if my favorites list compared to my nemesis list is the standard of measure for improvement, I am making so much progress. Newer cues and techniques are making big differences in my ability to move on with various exercises, and it is very exciting.

In fact, there is a new List in the making – universal cues that apply to lots and lots of exercises. It started with the rib tuck on the dreaded Bulgarian split squats and I now think about with all sorts of lunges and such. Then it crossed over into the chest up first, shoulders back second. A new favorite invisible arms. Into feet together, thighs squeezed tight causing/helping to keep glutes and abs tight. Game changers for me.

And is it any wonder I think trainer J is utterly brilliant. Now if I can just remember implement these new universal cues in the correct situations. Time, practice, discipline – I’ll get there.

What We Did

Kind of a longer review day. We reviewed the first 2 blocks of the dumbbell matrix before getting down to the actual List review. Our Lists today:

Simultaneous Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Simultaneous Shoulder Level Dumbbell Punches in Front
Simultaneous Dumbbell Cross Punching with Pivot at Shoulder Height
Simultaneous Dumbbell Bent Alt. Dumbbell Rows
Alternating Dumbbell Side Laterals with a Contralateral Front Stride
Alternating Dumbbell Front Raises with a Contralateral Side Stride

Bent Over Rear Delt Fly

A1  Dumbbell Chest Press 
A2  1-arm DB Row  
B1  Lat Pulldown Dual Cable, Alternating  
B2  Seated Dip
C1  Overhand “Floor” Rope Facepull 
C2  Horizontal Rope Chop with Press Out  
D1  Rope Triceps Pushdown 
D2  1-arm High Concentration Cable Curl

How It Felt

After going through the dumbbell matrix with me on Sunday, J and I went through a review on the first part before getting into the next review.

Simultaneous dumbbell shoulder press – focus on the scapular plane.

Simultaneous shoulder level dumbbell presses in front – do not fully extend arms or completely unbend elbows. In my version, dumbbells are held palms down, elbows are practically locking at the end. In the new and updated version, dumbbells are held in hammer position and elbows are not locking out. So much more pleasant especially as the fatigue comes on. Also, more active shoulder press forward with the punch.

Simultaneous dumbbell cross punching with pivot at shoulder height – another do not completely straighten or lock out elbow. Again in my version, palm is facedown. Cross body, shoulder toward the breastbone with the press without locking out the elbow. J demonstrated the holding the dumbbell in the hammer position, particularly as fatigue sets in.

Simultaneous dumbbell bent over alternating dumbbell rows – work the arch. Arms and elbows flared with arm bent at a 90 degree angle. Seems to me the invisible arm cue works with this (pull with the shoulder), it is better than the giant chicken wings moving up and down. In my head that’s what it looks like – giant chicken wings. Better to imagine them as being invisible. Sort of undignified, but what the hell. Important point here is I can feel them in the back of my shoulder.

Alternating dumbbell side laterals with a contralateral front stride – not a bad job with these and shrug up. Again leave a small bend in the elbow.

Alternating dumbbell front raises with a contralateral side stride – again, did pretty well with these and to leave a small bend in the elbow. For once, it is a shrug up, rather than an unshrug.

Bent over rear delt fly – these are an ongoing struggle. Not quite nemesis list material, but not as good or as easy as the side laterals or front raises. Emphasis on elbow bend and focus on scapular plane. I think I have been too close to the sides and know I have to work hard on not keeping elbows straight.

The dumbbell chest press this week is about improving the arch. And pretending  my arms do not exist. This invisible arms thing is a new cue that crosses all sorts of boundaries. When I use this, I most definitely feel the work more powerfully in my chest muscles.

I have not done 1-arm rows in a couple of weeks, but I have mostly conquered the shape. While these are not my favorites, I am listened to the cueing soundtrack in my head going through them. As long as J doesn’t make me go back to kneeling on the bench, I will be fine doing these.

There are a lot of things in the gym that I love, Love, LOVE. I have my favorites, and have this effusive overflow about them. So today it is the lat pulldown dual cable machine, both the regular dual pulldown and the alternating lat pulldown. I like the regular dual cable version, but I especially like the single arm pulldown with the shoulder. We do this upstairs on the FreeMotion machine, but it feels a little different on the actual machine downstairs.

Mostly getting the hang of the seated dip machine. There is the lean forward and the chest up first, shoulders back second, pretend I have no arms. Sitting in my chair right now looking at the shape in my head, pressing down on and being lifted up by the invisible handles at my desk while pretending I have invisible arms and feeling the stretch and contraction in the chest. There’s a lean and arch involved. More practice required.

Overhand “floor” rope facepulls are the latest rendition of face pulls.  We have done them standing, we have done them with bent knees, we have done them sitting on a stability ball, and now we are doing them sitting on the floor. If ever I figure out how the overhand portion works on the first try (and without asking J if this is the overhand version). 

Still working at the horizontal rope chop with press out. My challenges with this one is both the pivot and the holding the opposite arm in place close to the side. Vastly prefer the rope to the handle, but still working on the shape of the exercise and getting arms and legs into the proper positions. 

I have discovered that the shape of an exercise is huge for me. Maybe it’s a form thing. For me, though, how body and limbs look is as much how they feel. Latest cue with the rope triceps pushdown and the little knobs at the bottom are supposed to stay together and then halfway split at the bottom to feel a contraction in the triceps. Just lately we have been working with this new cue of putting feet together and squeezing thighs together, which like the invisible arms has A LOT of applications, just like the order of chest up first and shoulders back second.

It’s well documented that I am not a huge fan of curls. However, even I cannot deny the pretty bicep muscles I’m building. With the 1-arm high concentration cable curl, it is kind of hard to ignore the muscle because it is right there in front of my face. The new universal cues – as I have come to think of them – of chest forward first, shoulder back second, feet together, thighs squeezing together. Works really great on this exercise as well.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

In the earliest months of our training partnership, I crossed paths with J at the gym on a Sunday morning, one of the rare times I actually went to the gym to practice during that period. It was the second time I had been in the gym while he too was pursuing his workout, and he described it as “church” for him. In the moment I thought it an appropriate description for the time spent. But as the months have passed I  have come to realize it was a far more accurate statement than I realized at the time.

My practice and training time in the gym is sacred for me, something I protect on my calendar week after week after week. My discipline about sleep cycles and staying in the groove has been far better the last year, and even when work buries me under its massive weight I ensure I get to and spend some quality time in the gym. Some people see exercise as therapy, and I cannot disagree. The time spent trying to push myself to pursue and complete my List of the day and the headful of random thoughts that get processed in the time within those walls.

I never really understood the term “frenemy” until I began working out in the gym consistently. Now I have a bunch of different people who were once close friends are further from me emotionally. Proving there is balance in all things, my quest for better health has led me to discover better, stronger parts of myself. My need for mixed message, half-hearted support has passed. My affection for these friends has not faded so far from my heart and mind as to disappear completely, but it seems both cheap and ineffectual when lined up next to their desire to remain entrenched in their negative mindset and insecurity and fearful state of change. Or whatever it is that makes me the bad guy with the desire to pursue better health and excellence.

Once upon a time, people in my real-life world would suggest that gym trainers who viewed their clients as a deposit in their paycheck. It was upsetting to me on a few levels. There was the question of my own judgment – whether or not I am capable of judging the effectiveness of a trainer’s services, whether or not I can decide on the value of money I spend. Their doubts and ribbing about my efforts and small steps forward started to be less funny and more hurtful. The more time I spend in the gym, the better I feel. Near as I can tell I have not evolved into the snarky bitch from Hell because I exercise more and try to eat better.

I’ve been accused of changing, and from the ways it has been hurled at me in the past 2 years, it has not sounded good. Accusations of conceit and self-centeredness, caring less about others, becoming obsessed with appearances. The words were harmful and hurtful. They made me have doubts about who I am on the inside and set me back.

So frenemies have had to be distanced. For my emotional and mental well being.

That said, in their place I have found amazing new people who inspire and delight me. In a world where the space between us seems to grow greater with the expansion of social media, the genuine contacts I make and the relationships that have evolved and developed are that much more meaningful. People I have known in real life but are geographically distance enough to make seeing or communicating in person more challenging, email, text, blogging reprioritizes, refreshes, and strengthens those connections when a desire to lengthen and reinforce the relationship. From the blog, I have good fortune to “meet” and read and interact with others on a different way that is only as shallow as we choose to perceive it. While I write my blog posts primarily for me and for my benefit, I do not live in some self-contained vacuum or write a blog that is private.

I have a hopeful stripe that there are heads nodding in agreement when I vent my frustration over my ongoing struggles, smiles forming at my big and little victories. I routinely bitch, moan, complain to J about the fitness industry, the marketing, the flawless airbrushed standard that it is implied I too could purchase for myself and attain with not too much time. Sorry, but in my world there are mere mortals struggling with their diets and to make time and find the energy to be in the gym pursuing fitness. The beauty of life is not in its perfection but the imperfections that we embrace, accept, smooth over, reframe, or even abandon as not valued enough to retain.

What I value, what matters most – nothing is perfect or ideal. No one I know is always hopeful, always courageous, always presenting the best versions of themselves. It occurs to me I do not value, admire, or respect people for their ability to be more perfect than I am, but for how they cope with and overcome their less desirable qualities. Maybe it is just the capacity to try and keep trying when giving up is easier or would be better in the short term that attracts me. How we handle our flaws and shortcomings defines us more clearly than our talents and strengths.

What I get from training days and from practicing on my own time frequently has little to nothing to do with exercise or my better health quest. But just like I am so far from any sort of fitness pro or even a trainee with my specific goals, I do not talk much about weights, reps, sets, and other physically tangible aspects of exercise, I am probably as interested in and curious about the psychological changes a person must endure to make forward progress as I am the actual exercise process. I am generally pretty lean on the use of platitudes, because my better health quest is a messy process that cannot be encapsulated in a  meme or quote on Pinterest. Every individual – our mileage may vary.

I love training days. Love them. It’s not just the exercise; it’s the company, it’s the learning; it’s my partners in this particular journey as we all solider onward.

The day had a touch of the sads. There was a death in my kids’ extended family, my crossfit friend probably looking at surgery to repair her shoulder, and a close friend having an ongoing medical treatment. And I’m so scared. And when I’m scared, I eat crap, do stupid shit, and cry without reasonable explanation. But I didn’t cancel the session. After this much time and consistency with the exercise and going to the gym, it’s a habit. Mondays and Thursdays, it’s not just my hyper-responsible self commitment response. It is time that has a powerfully positive impact on my psyche.

It is also not just J, although we have way too much fun doing the work. It’s seeing the familiar faces, it’s saying hi to or chatting with my friends and hearing about their latest adventures on their individual journeys. The tiniest interactions, the smile, the wave, the greeting – it strengthens my resolve to what I perceive and project as their higher standard. It gives legs to my own resolve to keep going when I would falter and stop.

I am influenced by my environment and the energy that surrounds me. I am not yet to the point where I can shrug off or not be impacted by the feels radiating off others. Since I have not yet learned the skills, thickened my skin, or shut off that slice of my brain, I choose to seek out people who make me want to be uplifted and to be better. For me, I see a higher standard in others I associate with. They leave a breadcrumb trail for me to follow to aspire, and to rise to the next better level.

Because now, for the most part, I value me and my capabilities as much as I value others. I will make no more apologies for finally recognizing and appreciating that I bring something to the table, and I will not feel sorry for myself for failing to see it clearly sooner.

Here and now – that’s where I live. Who knows when the next big forward stride occurs, so I’ll keep working toward the next piece in the progress puzzle.

#emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #mental-health, #positivity