Monday morning, training with J. I do love starting the week this way. Sets a nice, positive, productive tone for the week. It is raining again, cold and dark when I arrive at the gym, but I chose the title today based on the cats. Twilight comes and there is this tangible excitement about them. They pace and prance and swish their big fluffy tails, looking forward to the night. I feel the same sort of excited restlessness warming up for training days.
Before exercise, I had never really given much thought to the ways my back arches. Now I am learning a lot about the thoracic (upper spine) and lumbar (lower spine). Shoulders (down and back or shrugged up) and back arch are on my latest list of things to think about when mind is quiet.
My left shoulder has far more flexibility than my right. I am left handed, but a couple of tumbles while hiking a few years back left me with some cautious stiffness in my right shoulder. Plus the amount of mousing and such that comes with the type of work I do – I guess it’s no surprise. Still, it was kind of surprising for J to comment on it a couple of different occasions, so it must be noticeable. Pondering it off and on throughout the day, I find it not especially surprising or disturbing to me. If anything, it is another data point to consider when I am working at shoulder-related exercises. I will be paying more attention to the right arm, right shoulder form to ensure it is being all it can be. So easy to be lazy and unaware and take the path of least resistance. I vastly prefer to understand body and it’s quirks.
Yet again, let me reaffirm my exercise nerdiness. While I know the exercises on this List pretty well, talking it over with J, him demonstrating, me going through a set, J demonstrating again, me going through another set – them weeds are deep rooted and vast. For a long time I thought I wanted to learn good habits so I would advance to some new level. Now I’m not sure such a ladder truly exists for me. Perhaps my objective is to perfect my form to protect myself from injury and advance from there to somewhere with either heavier weights or peppier pacing or both. Either way, I like the details. I like the knowing about what I am doing, what is supposed to be working, what I should be feeling. I am starting to really understand that I need to see the shape of the movement in some detailed pattern in order to get to the point of moving body in the correct ways with good and proper form. I like that I now have a broader range of weights on various exercises, that I am not necessarily limited to an upper range of 12 or 15 lbs. I don’t care if I drop down to little or no weight, but it is a thrill knowing there is a higher ceiling than when I first learned.
I have a new trick to stretch out my shoulders and spine to loosen up and better work my arch. Today we tried a set of incline dumbbell chest presses, did a front and back band pull apart with the green band (I’m sure there is a formal name for them, but it’s escaping me right now) and then tried it again. Arch was much easier to shift into and maintain after that. That was exciting. For someone with as many shrug-related issues as I have, anything that helps get me into the correct position is a big giant bonus.
I would really love to have a candid word with the equipment buyers at my gym. Seriously, we have small stability balls for the more petite among us, and big giant stability balls for the taller among us. Medium for the rest of us? Not sure where they went, but my latest theory is they have been abducted by aliens.
It was an awesome, AWESOME deep dish session with lots and lots of technical stuff that has not crept into our discussions previously. My fitness hobby continues to expand, my interest in learning and understanding the science has me reading more and more and seeking out new sources and following things J will mention in passing. I do not always understand it, but I find the learning and trying to educate myself reassuring. Instead of getting into a panic over what I don’t know or the urgency of marketing, I can relax that anything not covered today, next week, or even next year is either something that does not fit my interest profile at this time or I may not yet be ready to attempt. And that’s fine. My pace, and my progress, are both more than I imagined possible. Now, maybe the sky is not my limit, but Mount Everest certainly seems reasonable.
What We Did
Today was actually upper body superset review day, and I have updated it with my own descriptions for now. On the List:
A1 Bent Over DB Row
A2 Incline DB Chest Press / Single Arm Incline DB Chest Press
Cross Bench DB Pullover
B2 DB Chest Flyes
1-arm Split Stance Seated DB Overhead Press
C2 Bent Over DB Reverse Flyes
Lying Down Triceps DB Extensions on the Stability Ball
Concentration Bicep Curls on the Stability Ball
How It Felt
I love rows, especially the way J has been cueing and enhancing them lately. It feels more active and engaged. While the bent over dumbbell rows are not my number 1 favorite, I do like them a lot and feel as if I am capable with them.
We really worked at the arch today on the incline dumbbell chest press and I feel like some amazing progress was made in both my capability and my understanding of how it is supposed to be working and where I should be feeling the muscles working. Then J switched it up to a single arm incline dumbbell press, which is the first time in over a year this has even appeared on a List. I feel surprisingly great about these, and I say “surprisingly” because I’m typically a little more wigged about newish stuff. But we went from a 15, to a 20, and ended with a 25 lb. dumbbell without incident, so I feel really good about these. I not only got the general principle of the single arm press, I feel like my competency with them was successful.
Since we were focused on the arch today, we did away with the cross bench for the dumbbell pullover and just laid on the bench itself as I originally learned it. The positioning on this is not difficult, but I typically forget until I go through the first couple reps and am banging the weight on the bench’s legs. Head slightly off the bench works better, which usually mean hanging ponytail off the bench is perfect, and it moves the weight far enough away to not bang and clang. This was the first exercise where J noted my right shoulder being less flexible than my left, and very gently reminded me to try and flare that right elbow more each and every set. Good he brings it up, because I can feel the difference when I move more deliberately as prescribed.
Not quite arch nemesis material and most definitely not the bane of my gym existence, but the dumbbell chest fly remains a challenge. Perhaps its status on the “exercises to never do at the gym” lists is what intimidates. Or they are just hard. I am really glad we worked on these as much as we did today, because mind blows them up into this big giant complicated process, possibly quite rightly so. Bottom line, though: when I am doing them right and working the arch, these are far smoother and more effective than when I am fighting with myself over details. Work the arch, slowly lower the arms, t-rex arms pushing back up. Keep the weights above the eyes is my new big thing to watch.
Today’s version of the seated dumbbell overhead press makes it easier to maintain good posture and eventually a peppier pacing. The thoracic arch was in place yet again, and the weight up directly above the shoulder without locking out the elbow up top. Anymore, I am always looking at my arm to ensure it’s in the scapular plane to protect my shoulder. Something hypnotic about watching the weight go up, come down, go up, come down.
Like their brethren the dumbbell chest fly, the bent over dumbbell reverse flyes are hard. Really hard. I find myself vacillating about where I feel this, where I am trying to feel it, and what I need to be doing differently to ensure it hits in the right spot. Deep bend at the waist so I am nearly parallel to the floor, stretch arms out from the shoulder without locking elbows and feel the at the back of the shoulders. I know how it feels when I hit the target, and I know how it feels when I am off target. Now to just go at a pace so I hit target more often than not.
After mostly making peace and being extended olive branches of friendship by the instability ball, the latest batch of new ones seem both tiny and laden with hostile intent and I don’t trust them. But we are making it work. Today we did triceps dumbbell extensions on the stability ball, and for the most part it worked out. At least I did not fall off. What I liked: the arch is sort of built in by the way I have to lay across the stability ball to support the head and shoulders. The weeble-wobble was present, though, and it will take some practice to find the balance. More than that, though, I’m not precisely sure my lower body was positioned correctly. Where I envisioned more an abs tight and sort of reverse planked positioning, it felt sort of awkwardly balance my my entire back wrapped around the ball I was lying across. Practice is the only cure for this, because I was so focused on not falling off the ball I was doing anything in my power to stay stable.
Finally, we did bicep curls on the stability ball. Again, the weeble-wobble was present, but it is far easier to stay upright once seated on the ball. J confused me a bit on these – I thought he had some slick way of doing double concentration curls while seated. Turned out I misunderstood – he said and mimicked bicep curls, I heard concentration curls. All good, although I still ponder the person with the limb structure to do dual concentration curls. Curls have been slowly growing on me through the months, but still far from the favorites list. And the favorites list is pretty damn long, too, so competition cannot be that fierce.
Practices Between Now and Monday
Back to legs and lower body tomorrow and ridiculously excited about it. Saturday I went through the latest legs List and am eager to give it another run. Wednesday will likely be a dumbbell matrix and abs day.
I am closing in on a successful 10 rep run with the pushups, so I do try to fit at least a set in daily as part of my warm-up. Seems to me they need to be retired from arch nemesis status after this much time.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
Very occasionally, I wonder what I am doing in the gym. I mean, big picture, long term, end of time. And the answer I come up with is simply: learning and honing my skills.
When I began my better health quest, I thought I would exercise, eat healthy, and the end result would be a svelter, sleeker me. I’d lose weight. I’d look more mainstream fit. The experience would be magical and inspirational for me.
Thus far, 20-something months into it, such lofty ideas have not materialized into reality, because my thinking about such lofty ideas has altered. Instead of weight loss, I have had scale loss, in that I ditched the scale completely and rely more on how my clothes fit as a measure of my success. Mainstream fit is a marketing innovation used to enslave me and separate me from hard-earned money in pursuit of unrealistic promises and dreams. As far as magical and inspirational, my present-day reality is far richer and more profound than the shallow dreams of being more a person who attracts positive attention and attractive in appearance. I am a good person, with many positive and attractive attributes that are not necessarily captured in the mirror or a photograph.
In my gym, majority of the folks are average people pursuing their individual goals and objectives. There are some really, really pretty folks, with admirable bodies and lovely faces. I feel no jealousy or aspiration to be like them, to be fit like them, to be pretty like them. Bodies and bone structure comes in all shapes and sizes, and there are real limits to how much change I can achieve without drastic, surgical intervention. Fat loss, weight loss, strength and muscle building are governed by so much more than simply lifting some predefined amounts of weight for a predetermined amount of reps for so many sets and voila! less fat and more muscled me emerges. I no longer grow frustrated that I am not making faster progress, because my preconceived hopes and dreams were completely unrealistic. Changing my views and measures of progress to something more practical for me was smart and allowed for more realistic and sustainable progress.
The negative girl imprisoned inside my head believes I am a fat girl uncomfortable inside her own skin and powerless – powerless! – to be anything different. In reality I am a lot more vibrant and powerful than I give myself credit, and just lately here, I give myself A LOT of credit.
Many times, M being the endurance monster athlete he is has inadvertently hurt my feelings. When going out with his friends or people he is working with, there’s a certain amount of vetting involved in who is invited. Because there is responsibility there that few are willing to voice honestly or accept. If someone cannot keep up, they become a drag on the rest because someone has to babysit and ensure the less fit newbie makes it back safely. That and his tale of a running group leader telling an overweight woman she was too fat to run with them. While both situations sound terribly harsh, rude, and downright mean to my ears, to M it is a personal liability issue. If he takes non-runner me to a 20 mile mountain run, he is responsible to ensure I make it through, which means he cannot run at his pace. If he is an irresponsible person, he just abandons me and hopes I make it to the finish in the mountain, on unmarked terrain I do not know. But because I would be significantly slower, he is also stuck waiting for me to finish. Or go back and rescue me from where I have fallen down and am slowly limping along and hoping I am not lost. As far as his former running group leader, that woman was not ready to be running with people who routinely ran 5 or 10 or 15 miles per day and would lag behind the group and ultimately slow them down. What I heard was “too fat” and it hurt and overwhelmed all my sensibilities and hearing. From my perspective, people are being rejected based on their body composition; from his perspective, they need to train more, train harder, and come back when they have more ability to keep up with the group.
From my more stable platform of new assurance within the gym, I have a much clearer understanding of his perspective as well as others who push back against the promotion of unhealthy lifestyle habits, including embracing obesity under the guise of body acceptance. Not all of us can have physiological conditions that make and keep us fat. Poor lifestyle choices – I own mine. I also own the struggles to break bad habits and create new, better, heathier ones. It is hard, painful, and in some ways shameful work. It was embarrassing to have to ask for help, to hire a trainer/coach to help me help myself. It’s also a luxury, I know. But if I am locked in battle with my money or my life, hopefully I have the good sense to choose my life.
The discussions with J today reminds me that being fat is not an easy road no matter what the reason. Accepting our bodies is one thing. Trying to do our best and make smart choices in caring for our long-term health and our bodies is equally important. My methods are not the only way, but for me it is the best way.
A good friend of mine started with a crossfit gym 18 months ago and is facing rotator cuff surgery now. She was once much heavier, and what she sees is having lost 60 lbs. in 18 months and not the toll the crossfit is having on her body. After 2 previous shoulder injuries, after being told by her orthopedist she should find some other fitness endeavor, next week she is scheduled for surgery and likely not doing any exercise for another several weeks, if not months. She admits being addicted to results on the scale, the smaller size clothes, the praise from her family, her friends, her crossfit peers. She also allows that perhaps those factors had her ignoring professional advice until now and facing a serious surgery to repair an injury that need not have happened.
I shudder thinking about it. I do not feel morally superior for being uninjured after this much time, but I am also know that being clear-headed about my objectives and keeping my overall health first and foremost has guided my decisions and choices on how to proceed. While every journey is different and unique, the one that leads me to a surgeon’s table is not the right one for me, no matter how significant the weight loss I might have enjoyed. It is simply not worth it to me.
My point is – I have picked my battles carefully. Dropping weight would be nice, actually pretty damn fabulous. But what am I willing to give up to make it happen? What am I willing to risk for that? Apparently not much, or not enough, and I am doing very well with this reasoning and rationale. Exercise is one component of better health, and for me it was the most challenging piece to implement. Now that I have found a groove, I’m not giving it up. Protecting it, and myself, is worth reshaping my shape in a slower fashion.
J was showing me X-rays of an overweight person versus a normal weight person this morning; it was startling. Not just the layers of fat – that’s to be expected – but the way the bones were shaped and bowed and bent in the heavier person. While it would not have been enough to scare me straight at the beginning of this journey, it is quite fascinating and enlightening to review now. Someday soon I may identify more closely with the normal weight person, but for right now, I see myself in the heavier person’s X-ray. It is one of the thoughts that keeps me so immersed and engaged in this learning journey.
Maybe inside a fit woman has been waiting to emerge. The thought makes me smile. I am daring to imagine that fit woman inside and working hard to make her happen.