I am a shoe horse, meaning I have a lot of shoes. Most of them I wear fairly regularly as well, particularly my gym shoes. And because I wear them fairly regularly, I tend to wear them out fairly quickly as well.

In the last 2 years, I have gone through 2 pairs of Merrell’s and 2 pairs of New Balance. The New Balance have been bitter disappointments in how poorly they hold up – I got far more mileage and wear out of the Merrell’s. The tricky thing is – on the outside they look fine. I have tried new insoles but when they go, they go. I did have some wear left on the Merrell’s, until today when pair 1 of 2 blew about blew out my toe joint, a sure sign a shoe is done. Hopefully the other pair will allow me to limp along until the next victim experiment arrives from Zappos.

For someone who enjoys shopping as much as I tend to, I am hating the gym shoe replacement process. It does seem as if I am reinventing the wheel and trying desperately to find a new brand, new shoe every time I need a replacement pair, which is now happening 2 or 3 times per year. M, who goes is breaking in a new pair of running shoes every month when he is hitting his typical high mileage, had gotten me into the habit of buying in bulk when there is a particular shoe he likes and I can find it on sale or on clearance. Using that standard, I feel like I am escalated to a new plateau.

However, I would likely not be having nearly as many issues if I were not wearing dress shoes (heels and flats) most days for work. Unfortunately I cannot quite bring myself to wear the built-for-comfort Dansko or other clog-like comfortable shoes. Summer is coming, though, and with it the freedom of sandals and toes freed to wiggle around in the open air rather than being squished into semi-sensible business pumps.

I know – me and my first world problems. Unfortunately the bigger sporting goods stores near me do not carry the shoe types I want to try on, and even my son, working in a running shoe boutique, does not carry what I am seeking either.

Oh well. I should be fine until Monday. If I get desperate I can always revert back to my running shoe boats for the few days until I get the replacements. But I think my secondary pair will be fine for the several days until I get the replacements squared away.

#exercise, #fitness, #gym, #shoes

PT-26: Basics, beyond, and back again

Thursday morning, training with J. And it was glorious. And I’m sure there are folks out there reading that wishing I would come up with other adjectives to describe our sessions, or that I would talk smack and be realistic about how hard, painful, and whatever other negative word people use about exercise. Funny, I was once one of them, and yet I cannot come up with a harsh word to say about training days. Progress.

Key Takeaways

I still love, Love, LOVE review days. J confessed this morning that he never knows what to expect with review days, whether there will be little or nothing to talk about or if there will be significant corrections and/or enhancements. Me, I don’t care much one way or the other, except maybe the less corrective action days might be boring for him to watch me go through the List of the day almost flawlessly. I must admit, the idea of that makes me laugh. The idea of us having nothing to talk about makes me laugh even harder.

One of the biggest lessons from these many months of training, every body, every person has different skills and abilities. “Almost flawless” for me with an exercise might be less desirable form for someone stronger, more experienced with exercise, or more flexible. If comparison is the thief of joy, it is also a source of depression and despair and an inferiority complex for me. I do observe other members, and I like seeing what they do, how they are doing it, the expressions on their faces. The best are those who concentrate so fiercely, or who smile as if they are having a lot of fun in the process. Either way, it makes me feel encouraged. While I do not have the trainer eye (thankfully), I now understand enough to wonder when I see someone doing something different or that J has specifically cautioned me against or is working to train me away from. There is no sneering in my head about how wrong they are and how they should hire J to teach them correctly, because I have no idea how it feels to their particular body. Always I hope they are not going to hurt themselves.

But I do not feel inferior or superior or as if I am somehow losing or gaining in the process. On the drive home, I posited that my better health adventure, the exercise leg of it, is akin to tunneling the through the thickest part of the biggest glacier using an ice cream scoop. It takes a long time to make much discernable progress. However, as my pile of perfectly shaped snowballs will attest, I am doing something and I am making progress, even if it seems like I have barely made a dent in this big giant project. All the thoughts of what I would do with that pile of snowballs, who would be unsafe from my aim and whether or not I would have some catapulting device to extend my range – well, let us just say I am grinning enormously imagining the havoc I would wreak on a few select folks and leave it at that.

Practice continues the big dividing line between me improving and me wondering why I am not improving. This week I was had a practice with the huffy-puffy of last week, and for the most part all went well. It IS huffy-puffy kind of work, and even my fancy-smancy FitBit watch agrees there is a big difference in heart rates from trying for the peppier pacing. From review week, to trying on my own, I am better at it. In my mind there is always room for improvement, whether it is better form, weightier-weight, or simply focusing and going for higher intensity (aka: more oomph in the huffy-puffy), yet I feel great about my effort. This is so foreign to me, still new enough to make me stop and realize how far I have come from the exercise-hating negative girl who wanted to die of embarrassment every session.

What We Did

Review of Monday’s huffy-puffy List revisit and all sorts of new enhancements:

A1  Front Squat to Overhead Press
A2  Bent-over DB Row
A3  Alternating chopper sit-ups, Otis ups (all together)

B1  DB Walking Lunges
B2  Bench Pushups w/ DB Handle Assists
B3  Squat to ball slams

C1  Kettlebell swings
C2  Bench Triceps Dips
C3  Lateral lunges with bicep curl

How It Felt

We added a mini band below the knees to make the front squat to overhead press more challenging and it works. I tend to break Lists up into what I know best (and therefore find easier) to what is most challenging. This particular exercise falls into the first category, but it still requires focus to ensure I am feeling muscle engagement. I particularly like these for the hypnotic effects of the down-up-down-up rhythm that comes from doing movements I know separately really well.

New favorite thing: bent-over dumbbell row. Because today J introduced me to the new trick of resting the top of my forehead on the bench. I know, sounds kind of weird, but surprisingly, shockingly effective. Who knew so much of my energy was expended on this exercise in holding my upper body in place while pulling the weights? When he first mentioned this, we were standing near the bench, which was in its flat position. All I could think at first was far I would have to bend at the waist to rest my forehead on it. Then he adjusted it to the incline position and demonstrated what he meant. Could be another of those life-changing tweaks, and it was even better when I put my towel over the end.

As a corollary to that, we tried a set of the bent over reverse flys with the forehead supported on the bench. I found this immediately cured my head-bobbing problem. Without the bench, I have this tendency to want to raise my head and upper body as I am pulling the weights upward. The counter balance of pressing my forehead against the bench keeps me from bobbing and allows me to feel the work in my back and shoulders.

J combined the alternating chopper sit-ups with the Otis ups, so this went left-right-Otis up. Still not loving them, but discovered that moving my feet closer to the glutes made them so much more productive. Still not a lot of stamina with these, still need to secure my feet under the bench or something, but I understand how these are supposed to work with the tall spine coming up and the slow and controlled descent back to the mat. Do I like them? Not much at all, actually. But I will persevere. Today we were at 5 of these bad boys, and I am determined to be up to 8 of these by this time next week. May take more time and throw a wrench in the peppy pacing, but I will be working on both my technique and mileage, probably even outside this huffy-puffy List.

If pride is a sin, I am so going to burn for this one. The dumbbell walking lunges – I am ridiculously proud of how far I have come doing these. Monday we went from lunge, stop in the middle, lunge to lunge, lunge, lunge. From my initial lunge anxiety to this? I am so pleased. Occurred to me today that the mini band forward walks have helped enormously, and even with the critical trainer eye from J, he could find very little to correct about my form and technique. I could do better keeping my shoulders back, which I knew from the way the weights sometimes swing. But not bad. And yeah, 12 hours later I am still feeling those lunges in my legs.

The bench pushups with dumbbell handle assists continue to vex me, but I am up to 10 consecutive. However, I am still working on these. Today’s big trick was looking at my set-up in the mirror, to ensure shoulders are over the weights on the bench, and flaring the elbows to get more emphasis on the chest muscles. That, plus the rib tuck reminder and staying more plank position, it is enough to ensure I get back to my practice of 10 pushups per day.

While I intellectually understand how to do the squat to ball slams, actually implementing it is not so simple. This is one of those exercises that I see all sorts of folks doing all around me in the gym, yet I struggle. This is another of those break it down into simple pieces and parts, master each, and then put them all together into one smooth sequence. So much easier in my head than in reality. However, I figured out today that the slam part should be happening later to get the ball landed where I want it, and I also figured out that I want to be enroute back to the squat when I do throw it down. But putting all that together – harder than it reads. At least today I have a better picture of the shape of it and how it’s supposed look and to feel. Additional practice is required, but I will learn and master them.

There is this big giant disconnect with kettlebell swings. I mean, I see people doing them everywhere in the gym. The thin and fit members, the heavier and seemingly less fit members, the older members. Probably if I looked in the childcare there would be small people doing kettlebell swings. From my casual observations, these did not look all that difficult. From my personal experience, these are damn technical and there is a lot more to them than meets the naked eye. I was pretty thrilled to realize today that the stamped number on the side of the turquoise kettlebell we are using was actually kilograms, so it is more like 25 lbs. rather than the 12 I thought I was swinging. But with my efforts, it is always something – lock the knees, press forward with the hips, rib tuck/turtle back. Kettlebell is supposed to “float” to the top with the hip press and with a rib tuck/turtle back. So first I did pretty well with the locking the knees, but was pulling more with the arms and not pressing forward with the hips for the floating effect. Then I did better with the locked knees and the hips pressing forward, but the rib tuck/turtle back got lost. Each set I would do 8 to 10 reps, stop for correction/instruction, then try again for another 8 to 10 reps. As I said, for me, these are technically advanced. I am getting there, but definitely want to work more on my “float” technique and my rib tuck/turtle back, all the while keeping glutes and abs tight to protect the lower back. Geez, what was I thinking that these looked easy?

Another favorite on this List is the bench triceps dips. Still imperfect in form and execution, but learning a lot and with more practice will certainly be feeling far more confident. There is a machine version of these on another List, but the shape feels different. Today’s big bonus takeaway is work the thoracic arch – shoulders back and chest up and forward while dipping down. I also get the feet positioning better – a little further outward but not yet with the legs completely stretched out. Big key on this for me is to not use the hips for the dip part, to lower and raise using the arms and triceps. With all the tricep exercises I know, each has its own rhythm and shape and idiosyncrasies. These feel far less complex, or somehow more familiar than other things on this List.

Lateral lunges, how I loathe thee. All of them. There is something about stepping side-to-side that makes it really hard for me to feel completely comfortable and confident. That said, however, there is some subtle nuances to these that let me know I know more than I realize. Today J was watching and reminded me of the difference between a reaching lateral lunge and a regular lateral lunge. The reaching is more lean forward, rounded back, forward reach, whereas a regular lateral lunge is butt back, back more straight and upright as if in a squat, dumbbells resting on either side of the knee. I understand the differences, and I can implement them. These are meant to be the regular lateral lunges, then stop at the top with, bicep curl, repeat on the other side. It has been awhile since the difference has come up in training, because I think the vast majority of later lunges of late have either been reaching lunges or choice between lateral lunges and lateral reaching lunges. Looking forward to getting back to this List and working on this brand of lateral lunge.

Practices Between Now and Monday

I am planning a rerun through this List tomorrow to cement my new-found tricks, corrections, and enhancements. While the kettlebell swings and squat to ball slams before the teaching fades too far in memory. Plus the alternating chopper sit-ups and Otis ups; new productive things to replicate and see if I can improve over my 5 reps. Besides, the little professor inside my head is chomping at the bit to get back and try again, and I would have been joining my friend K for practice tonight had M and I not made plans to Costco shop for produce tonight.

Saturday is a toss up between last week’s huffy puffy and a lower body List downstairs. Sunday for sure is upper body, because I slacked off yesterday and did not get as much done as I had hoped. But oh well; I will get my practices in for the week.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

In conversations, J and I have randomly discussed the mental health benefits of exercise. While I have my periodic funks that just come with the cycles of life and its issues, I am not especially prone to depression. Since buckling down, settling down into a regular schedule of sleep, exercise, better eating habits, I feel there is some fresh insulation surrounding me from the harder days that come with life and living. The good stuff seems better, richer, far more meaningful; the hard stuff less painful, bitter, and emotionally paralyzing . My ability to bounce back and roll with the punches has improved.

Every session, I wonder how why and how it continues to be so much fun. I wonder why others in the tribe are not as jazzed as I am about training, or about coming to the gym and getting to practice what they learn. This morning something was said about the depth of my exercise library, about how being beyond basics, and it started me diving down the rabbit hole of exercise and the evolving journey. Especially interesting to me because so much of what I do, what is on my Lists, is very much about basics. Squats, lunges, presses, rows, push-ups – these are all still on my Lists and things I do week after week after week. That said, there seems to be bazillions of variations available, and I have learned that mastering the basics is critical before trying to advance. Because I trust J’s judgment about my readiness or capability, I never worry about learning new stuff I might see others doing in the gym. I absolutely believe he introduces me to things based on my ability to succeed.

My desk is wood so I can say this because I have wood available to superstitiously knock upon: my getting this far in the gym without injury is remarkable. Very early on in the process, prior to my getting more serious about my consistency, I had a dalliance with plantar fasciitis. It was from being on vacation, hiking in the wrong shoes and stepping on one too many rocks and roots. It kinda/sorta sidelined me for a couple of weeks, but really hard to tell because I was showing up for sessions and not doing much else in between, so how sidelined could I truly be at the point? For me the plantar fasciitis was merely a reasonable excuse to indulge my gym crazy.

Since then, though – I have given this a lot of thought. I show up nearly every day, I go through a List, and I have learned to listen to both the cues running through my head and the feedback from body about what I am doing in the moment. Plenty of times when I am not feeling it the way I believe I should be feeling it, or something hurts and needs to be investigated. After months and months and months of drills on the basics, I now have an intuitive reaction when something is going wrong. Maybe I’m not leaning enough, or maybe the rib tuck is untucked, or maybe the arch is not quite there yet, or maybe I just need to set the weight down and go through the pieces and parts and feel what body is trying to communicate without the distraction of weights in my hands.

Prime example today: once upon a time, I truly believed a kettlebell swing was a basic movement. Then J finally taught me how to do one and I realized either everyone else took to them more quickly than I have or they may be doing various things wrong. It is certainly not up to me to judge anyone else’s form and technique. What I do know is that I may be on slo-mo with this one for awhile to come, because for me it’s a lot more technical that it appears and has a lot of little moving pieces and parts that I have to master before I will feel confident and capable with this exercise.

But everyone around me in all shapes and sizes are doing KB swings, and from my perch they look fairly simple. Now I know they are far more challenging for me than a lot of other things, and J was right 18 months ago when he said it would be “awhile” before he taught me how to do them. If I were impatient and insisted he probably would have acquiesced and gone ahead and done so long before this, but I trust his judgment and there was a lot of other stuff to fill my practice hours. I worked at the same foundational basics for almost 5 months before we advanced to something new (dumbbell Lists A and B) and then worked at those for another 4 or 5 months as well. Looking back, I occasionally still run that old List just for fun. Where I was using 10 and 15 lb. dumbbells this time last year I am now using 20, 25, and 30 lb. dumbbells, so there has been progress. But each of those “basic” exercises still appear regularly on my Lists now.

Every now and again, something sparks old thoughts and ideas and wonderings from way back when. I was not quite bored with the old Lists when we moved on to other things, but I recognize the transitional period between coming in to meet with J once a week and coming in to meet with J once (then twice) per week and practicing on my own every other day of the week. I got better, improved my skill, yet was afraid to try weightier weights on my own. Sometimes I am still anxious about trying weightier weights on my own and will wait to run through it with J before trying on my own. And doing the same 2 Lists over and over did become sort of boring after awhile.

Now I have lots and lots of Lists, yet I tend to return to the same 3 or 4 all the time. I do upper, or I do lower, or I do huffy-puffy, and my choices are always influenced by equipment and space availability. That natural selection process works out fine for me. On Wednesday nights, when I go into the gym to practice with friend K, I mostly don’t care what we do, because I have already done something that morning and enjoy her company and hearing about her experiences with her Lists.

Thinking basics and exercise library, I recognize how far I have come in listening to and trusting information body is communicating. Yeah, I still hear the “Feed me a cookie! Ice cream! Junk food!” but I also know when something is not quite right or if the humming in my mind is truly the sign of all being well and not me trying to block out the icky sounds coming from someone else nearby.

I am really glad to have spent so much time learning and mastering the basics. Thinking back on it, the many, many hours of practice made the task of becoming someone who exercises regularly a lot more productive. J is a fantastic trainer and teacher, but in truth I had to do the heavy lifting and make myself put in the time it took to make good form happen.

Today, I am really glad my tribe sister made the comment. While I need few reminders of how far I have come or how far out in front of me the road ahead stretches, none of that matters if I the foundational basics that are now automatic enough to almost seem second nature to me. As I learned again today, having such a strong understanding, confidence, and yes, ability with the basics allows me grasp and (eventually) learn the subtle nuances of other exercises that are beyond basics.

I would not be here right now if I had not worked so hard to get mind and body in sync to let me learn how to exercise productively.

“Productive” is my new word with regard to exercise. The word “easy” is not one that I use when it comes to my Lists. When I make a change and something seems to work better, it’s not easier, it’s productive. Where I once thought never was me with regard to improvement and learning, I now think in terms of yet – I am not there yet.

Adjustments to my eating habits and pursuing a consistent exercise regimen are critical to my better health quest. But I remember today why my improved mindset is cornerstone of anything and everything I do to improve my health. With me, for me, changing my outlook and mindset from one of all my shortcomings to all my present (and future) accomplishments is key to stepping up my game.

I love the person I am becoming. I love that I get up and go to the gym at least 6 days per week. I was realizing today how many hours I have logged working at the basics and beyond. How many squats, lunges, rows, presses, and pulling exercises have I done this week alone? This month? This year so far? Throughout 2016?

Put that way, it’s a lot of hours. I asked M about it – did he think I spent a lot or maybe too many hours pursuing my better health objectives? M, being a “happy wife, happy life” kind of guy, knows the right answer and is genuine about it. Anymore, the exercise makes me happy and brings balance, so no, not at all. And it is true – M will never complain about how much time I spend in the gym practicing or in training sessions. None of us know how many years we have left, how much time. What M and I both know, though, is that every hour I log in practice and training and making better, healthier food choices allows me a lot more freedom to pursue activities we both enjoy.

That means almost everything to me, because I love my husband, family, friends and want a whole lot more time and adventure with them. And I want it to be on my terms. In good health and with more energy than being a diabetic invalid would provide me.

Days like today, I recognize that my ego is also stoked by having an exceptionally excellent session where I learn new things and they start to gel for me. My technique is still evolving with the kettlebell swings and the squat to ball slams (who would ever think that slamming a ball onto the ground would turn out of be so complicated?) yet I am not beating myself up for not getting it or embarrassed about feeling less capable. Nope, I am more fascinated by the technicalities of both exercises and almost the science behind the release point of the ball for slamming. I watch J demonstrate and as always, he makes it look so easy. Someday it will be easier for me, because I know how to squat, I know how to raise the ball overhead, and I will get the rhythm down of when to release the ball so the slam lands where I want it. Practice will carry me over the finish line in good time.

And for me, that is the key thing: practice, practice, practice. It took some time to figure out how to work my Lists, to remember the cues, to “feel” the exercises and the muscles working. I do not always get it right, but even breaking me of poor habits acquired through practice on my own seems easier now than it was when I first began.

As I said to J this morning, progress happens in mysterious ways. It is not always measurable with scales, tape measures, pounds or kilograms lifted, reps and sets completed. I do not even measure it by hours spent in practice much of the time. The fact that I rarely feel discouraged about anything I am doing in the gym or within the confines of my better health quest is an excellent choice I make every single day. It has been awhile since I have defined myself by what I cannot do and applied myself toward perfecting my skills with everything I can.

Mind now trends in a positive direction, with better word choices and self talk when it comes to challenges and pathways to improvement. Progress? You betcha!

#diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #family, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health, #motivation, #positivity

PT-25.1: Huff the magic dragon

Monday morning, training with J. And I am ridiculously excited and brimming over with enthusiasm for the latest and greatest in PHA (peripheral heart action) workouts. Or as I refer to them: the huffy-puffy routines. Partly because it was a teaching day, partly because I am like a puppy (or a newborn calf, if I am to continue with my leaner cow analogy of yesterday’s post) about exercise stuff and feel something akin to rolling around on the ground with excitement about the next big thing.

Key Takeaways

We are reviewing, improving, enhancing huffy-puffy Lists. So much fun.

While I say this a lot, it is worth repeating: my state of mental health is so vastly improved. After so many years of shredding myself over every perceived “should” in my life or setback that may have occurred, I have become extremely laissez faire about fitness and exercise. Teaching days, while fun, would result in this internal struggle of “I am so shit-worthless because I cannot do [insert anything here].” Teaching days today are like “oh goody!” and how do I break it down into tiny enough bits and pieces to learn and then figure out how to use each piece to put it together at a whole.

I am no longer embarrassed or ashamed of requiring review, or requiring adjustment or correction to my technique. Typically for me, pain of any sort is an big giant red flag that I heed. If something hurts, I stop. If something hurts sharply, I cannot stop quickly enough. But I am a curious Jane; I will put down the weight, break down the steps, and go through them slowly until I figure out what I am doing and where I am going wrong. If it seems really troubling, I make a mental note to ask J next session. Or I pick up the phone and text about the problem. But that happens less than and less frequently as the months have passed; my ability to problem solve is improving.

There will come a time when I figure out the huffy-puffy pacing and am more capable of conducting myself for the whole hour plus in pursuit of Lists. I am pretty pleased with my progress in this regard and the ways the road stretches out in front of me. At least my lungs no longer hurt anymore afterward, and I do believe this is because I am improving and not because I am failing to work hard enough.

Working hard enough – big score for me is recognizing that I am the decider on this. My body, my health, my decision on how hard (or not) to press forward and to try. For the most part, I feel as if I have found a good balance with this. I go to the gym consistently, I rotate and go through my Lists, I improve in form, technique, strength, competency, proficiency. Kind of a big deal for me, to judge myself as good enough and trying hard enough. Not every day is perfect, and not every day is my very best effort. But I don’t have time to waste a time playing at fitness, and my curiosity and interest in the subject expands by leaps and bounds every day that passes. I am energized by my exercise and fitness pursuits and inspired to keep going every day, to keep trying to perfect my form and become better at this stuff. In my books, I am working plenty hard.

On Friday, J made the final payment on his student loan debt, rendering him 100% debt free. Yay J! But he made an interesting analogy about getting out of debt and improving health through more exercise. The debt itself is the correctable health issue with better choices, the regular exercise a payment toward the debt principle, and the interest is the ongoing accumulation of poor lifestyle choices. Buckling down and making regular payments toward the debt (exercising consistently) reduces the interest accruing (continued compromised health) toward the actual debt (correctable health). Debt free, in this analogy, would be improved management of the compromised health condition. Now, instead of making debt payments, you pay yourself first by continuing the exercise to maintain good control and management of a lifestyle-related health condition. While not the most perfect analogy, the accountant in me loves this and completely understands the objectives of why I keep going on my better health quest.

What We Did

A1  Front Squat to Overhead Press
A2  Bent-over DB Row
A3  Alternating chopper sit-ups
A4  Otis ups

B1  DB Walking Lunges
B2  Bench Pushups w/ DB Handle Assists
B3  Squat to ball slams

C1  Kettlebell swings
C2  Bench Triceps Dips
C3  Lateral lunges with bicep curl

How it Felt

It has been awhile since we trained with this List, and it certainly showed in the front squat to overhead press. Nothing terrible, except squats usually have the dumbbells held at the sides, this one starts with them held at the shoulders. No harm, no foul – I managed to get my mind back in line and was pretty quickly back into the rhythm and routine with the hip crease of the squat to the tall-tall shrug at the top of the overhead press. I remain mildly obsessed with squat form and how low do I go and is tailbone tucking (no, not even close). But all good. Worse things in life and in training than forgetting how to start an exercise. If I remembered everything perfectly there would be no need for review sessions, and I love review days.

Still love the bent-over dumbbell rows. With a pair of 20 lb. dumbbells no less. For the most part I have a pretty good grasp of these, except maybe the rounding down of back at the bottom – not 100% sure I was doing that before we got started. But by the time I walked away from these today, I was definitely doing better on the back form with these. Pull from the shoulder, and I am trying very hard to ensure I am pulling around and back. The tiny pause at the top is so miniscule that you don’t even have to blink to miss it, but I am thinking about it every time I do these and trying very hard to make myself implement it. Unsuccessfully for the most part, but I will get there.

Last week sometime I mentioned in passing that I should pay more attention to my abs List. Over the weekend, I shared a meme with J about a woman crying, sobbing, breaking up with her trainer after one sit-up. Today, the alternating chopper sit-ups return. Coincidence? I think not. Not the end of the world, because these things are good for me. Just because I am presently not very good at them is irrelevant. Like everything in this realm, with focused practice comes measurable improvement, and if I were smart, I would be doing these a few times per week until I feel more proficient. On the one hand I am plenty smart, but in reality, I have only so much time per day to spend at the gym pursuing a List. Maybe these will levitate to the fill-in List when I have extra time.

Whoever Otis was, I feel he should be kind be chastised for unleashing Otis ups on the world. Abs need work, I knew, but dang – these and the chopper sit-ups make me realize they really need work. While J indicated these should be done with weights in the hands, today was a teaching session and I was just learning and trying to get the essential shape down and went through the sets without added weight. They are still hard. Doing 5 of them per set and I kept thinking these are hard. Not forever kind of difficult, but oh man, I wish these were easier right now. But I am kinda/sorta enjoying the challenge. I like to think know I have opportunities to strengthen my core and become better at these.

How far I have come with the walking lunges. My habit up until today has been step forward, lunge, stand up straight, do next leg. Today, J suggested eliminating the pause in the middle and to just step forward, lunge left leg, go directly to step forward, lunge right leg, all the way down the 15 yard blue grass patch. And it was fine. No weeble-wobble, which is what developed the habit of pausing in the middle, to ensure I could recapture my balance and set-up for the next one. While we did one set of the 15 yard length, I might test drive these again with and out and back 15 yard length to see how it feels. I am beyond happy about this new turn of events. Lunge anxiety was a real thing; not so much anymore.

My continuing arch nemesis: pushups. Today’s rendition was the bench pushups with dumbbell handle assists, and I give myself modest credit for doing better. However, I also know the improvement is so modest due to very little attention and practice on my part. The world is not going to end, J is not going fire me as a client because I have not advanced past 10 consecutive pushups and even then they are not full-on, lowering myself as much as possible. Mostly it is mind presenting the reality of not just inconsistent practice so much as no practice at all with this exercise of late. That is a fair assessment, and nothing for me to feel guilty about or begin torturing myself with anxiety over. Writing about it here, I highlight my acceptance of lack of progress due to lack of practice. Simple. What is most important to me is prioritized higher in my time management calendar. It is not that mastering push-ups does not remain a priority so much as there have been so many other things that have my attention and are therefore consuming more of my time. But J took a pic of me going through these this morning, so I share with you:


3/27/2017 – I have triceps!

First new item on the List was a squat to ball slam. This is a variation of sorts on the medicine ball chop from a lower body List. What I learned: these are complicated. I got the squat part down, got to the ball overhead part pretty well, but the ball slam part – practice, practice, practice! Seriously, it’s not that complicated to throw the ball down hard – at least it seems like it should not be that complicated – but it kept landing way out in front of me rather than sort of between my feet. By the end of multiple sets of 5, or 6, or 8 attempts at throwing down correctly, I was showing improvement. Like everything complicated, though, it’s a matter of breaking down the steps and mastering them one by one, which in this case is the slam and return to starting squat position. Still, the reigning emotion coursing through my veins? Excitement. I can kinda/sorta/mostly visualize the shape of this exercise, and while my focus is presently on the slam portion, I know there is more to do with the whole up/slam/down. Once I get better at the shape, I will focus on the feels. That’s for Thursday, though, when we go through this again.

After a few months absence, we are back with kettlebell swings. Now, I see others doing these all over the gym. Within the first half dozen sessions with J, we had a conversation about kettlebell swings. I did not understand them and found myself frequently idly wondering if anyone had ever lost control and had a KB swinging through the air and across the gym. While he was kind enough (way back when) to do a quick demonstration of proper form and technique, J told me then it would likely be “awhile” before these would be included in the List rotation. And it was more than a year before he introduced me to them, and they have been spotty since that time. With all that said, it may as well be a brand new exercise for me. I understand the general shape, but they are far more technical than they appear. So we went through several “batches” of these today over the course of 3 sets. Key points for me are keeping knees locked out and hips forward drive the swing, not arms. While he did not say it, my mind says “invisible arms” with the hip thrust and tight glutes to keep it out of the low back. Have a fairly good handle on these. I think. But for this week, I will go through them with J again on Thursday. In the meantime, I will be thinking about it.

While I cannot precisely put my finger on it, I have a new love affair going with the bench triceps dips. Saw someone else doing these recently with their legs straight out in front of them and thought that looked really hard and asked J about it. He said it is technically correct, but for me, knees bent is better for (because of too much temptation to fall out of proper form). But dang – I can feel these bad boys! Keep those shoulders pinned back, go slowly, and feel the burn in those triceps. Love it.

From the dumbbell matrix, we have the lateral lunges with bicep curl. Still not a huge fan of lateral lunges, but working on improving my technique and form if I cannot improve their likeability. Go through the lunge left, bicep curl at top, lunge right. There is a particular rhythm to these; I just have to keep on trying to feel it and not get distracted by the potential for sidestep tipping over.

Practices Between Now and Thursday

Since this is huffy-puffy week, my plan is to pursue last week’s huffy-puffy List tomorrow and an upper body List on Wednesday. There are new things from last week I want and need to practice and cement in my mind. Plus I am reawakened to the possibilities and workload potential of mini bands, so I will incorporate those into a my warm-up.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Switched things up today and provided the meat-and-potatoes of the recap and saving the kitchen sink thoughts for later. Because I was so very excited and eager to jot thoughts on that aspect of the day. I will be back soon with the second half of this recap.

Of late, I have been keeping an eye on Pinterest for good thoughts to share at the end of these recaps. This one encompasses my thought very nicely:


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

Me and my cow

I have great affection for cows and have all sorts of stuff around the house reflecting that. At the same time, I also have the unfortunate tendency to see myself and body shape/make-up in a negative light and use cow as a reference point. While I never ask pointed questions like “does this make my butt look big?” I have been known to use blanket self-depreciating statements like “I look like a big giant cow in this.”

In other words, self-reflective comments about cows are rarely not positive.

M knows this about me, but occasionally he is very clever in turning things around. While not a big complimenter, he does acknowledge my hard work in the gym and my slow efforts of reshaping my shape.

Last week, I had one of those moments when I realize that things are different now. What I said? “M, I can feel my ribs now!” Not as in breathing in, I have ribs. But as in, I have a itch on the back of my ribcage, and scratching it, I can feel the bones and in the mirror I can see the outline starting to take more defined. Before, there was a thicker layer of fat that sort of squished beneath my fingertips. I’m not exactly sure when or how long it has been shrinking away, but it is much thinner now.

So with this background and context, M says this to me yesterday: “If I still think of myself as a cow, the leanest parts are shining through.”

There you have it: M believes I am a leaner cow. Yep, leaner cow here.

I was and am hugely flattered. Not every woman would be, of course, but context is everything. And I just love cows. Or the look and idea of cows. They do smell kind of awful.


#compliments, #diet, #exercise, #fitness, #happy, #health, #marriage, #positivity

PT-24: Celebrating life

Thursday morning, training with J. Part 2 of our first huffy-puffy review week, and it was glorious. I am actually posting this on Friday, because I had an unusual day yesterday and simply let myself off the hook of personal deadlines in light of that. Majority of it was written and ready to go with a few small updates.

On a very personal note, this was the most difficult day of the year for me. Not sure if I have shared it on this blog, my daughter and oldest child died at age 12  on March 23, 1996, was the day we said our final goodbyes as she was wheeled off to the operating room to become an organ donor. While her birthday was on March 17 – another challenging day – this one is typically the most difficult day of each of the last 21 years. I make the best of it. I try hard to stay in the present, focused and intent on what is happening to me right now, but my mind flashes back to that day on its own. Some years are harder than others, but every year I recognize how fortunate and how blessed I am for all I have in this life right now. Including my better health journey and every small step I take toward getting stronger and fitter. In my heart, celebrating the life I have built is the only way to overcome the sorrow of loss. For those of us left behind, life does indeed continue.

Key Takeaways

There are some universal cues and techniques that apply to most exercises, or that I seem to want to try and apply to exercise. The pretensioning of muscles before contraction is nothing new, but the pre-pretensioning at the end of the stretch and maintaining that through the work is fairly new. While he mostly brings it up on things like chest press and 1-arm row, in my mind it applies to just about everything. I am striving to be mindful and add it to the cue scripts that run through my head.

Routinely while I am writing these recaps or anything else on this blog, I am thinking about exercise and running the steps in my head and frequently going through the motions in my office or wherever I happen to be while writing. (Thankfully I rarely do coffee shop blogging.) It is a visual aid thing, to help me get the shape or iron out issues with remembering the steps. Often it is like an update to the cue scripts that run inside my head. But when it is time for training sessions or practices on my own, the extra work and attention to small details tends to pay off. I have better retention and body’s muscle memory is starting to snap back into place. Kind of reassuring that my habits are not just part of what makes me a one-off weirdo about this stuff.

Huffy puffy pacing tends to take care of itself. If I know it’s huffy puffy, mind tends to automatically shift into peppy pacing mode and want to get into the rest-free zone for each block. Not sure I am 100% successful, but at least I am not having to think “hurry, hurry, don’t stop, don’t stop” through the whole List.

Excitement over new stuff is like Christmas day, even if I am not especially excited about the new item. Found that my enthusiasm for the snatch and the overhead triceps extension has not faded nor has my determination to practice and improve my overall skills. Then again, I feel that way 98% of the time about all my Lists. There is always something I like less than other things, but the overall process keeps me focused and engaged. I can still remember how much I looked forward to teaching days, when just about the whole List was new, but there is much to be said for refining my technique and striving to perfect my form on things I already know.

What We Did

A1 Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
A2 1-arm DB Row
A3 Plank off Bench w/: step-outs to kick-backs

B1 2-DB Romanian Deadlift
B2 Flat DB Chest Press
B3 Stability Ball Passes

C1 1-arm DB Snatch
C2 Lying Longwise Dumbbell Pullover
C3 Seated Overhead DB Triceps Extensions
C4 Band Horizontal Choppers (skipped for time today)

How It Felt

I never thought of seeing myself saying this, but there is distant potential for the dumbbell Bulgarian split squat to be elevated to the very lowest section of my favorites List. Maybe. I am very pleased that the “light on the rear foot” cue seems to be working for me and that I am able to get deeper into these without a lot new or additional stress and anxiety or work on my part. At least that is how it feels when going through it. I still have the weeble-wobbles, fall out of position and have to redo my set-up to continue to the end of my range, but I am also confident that with some focused practice I will overcome that. I am also sure the addition of dumbbells in both hands – little professor living inside my head has to make the programming adjustment for the extra weight and its impact on overall balance. It is so hard to describe how ridiculously excited I get when I finally feel like I have overcome some nagging problem with an exercise.

While my love affair with 1-arm dumbbell rows continues, I felt a little tired, a little flat, and as if my form particularly sloppy this morning. The 30 lb weight is an adjustment – this is my first week and only second outing with that as my new standard – but truth is my focus was not quite as sharp either. The cue script running inside my head says to not straighten arm at the bottom of the stretch yet at the same time to push the shoulder down and to maximum stretch. Kind of tricky to manage until body learns this new way.

For the plank off bench with step-outs to kick-backs, additional practice and work are required on these as well. Mind tells me serious practiced is needed on these, if only because I do not do enough focused ab work to be able to feel them kicking hard enough … until a few hours later when I am feeling my stomach and wondering if it’s the ball pass or these giving me that “wow! I have abs!” feeling. More important to me, though, is the way the lats feel as if they are working hand in hand with the planks.

New tweaks and deeper details about the hows and whys of making Romanian deadlifts better. Working on my latest and greatest universal rule about the pretension just before the end of the stretch, I am finding a new cadence to going through these. My overall fatigue was such that I lose sight of how far the stretch and therefore the the “when” of the pretension. Today I found myself wanting to bend my knees slightly this morning at the bottom and asked J about it. I know knees are not supposed to bend, and J explained to me that body is not being lazy so much as efficient and going for the longer stretch. We then tried it without weights, so I could feel how the stretch goes away the minute I bend my knees even a little bit. Point made, another coin drops. Super bonus points from that little tidbit of information? I now have the right sense of the when for starting my pre-pretensioning on the RDL and have a much better feeling for the cadence.

My obsession with the thoracic arch continues on the flat bench dumbbell chest press. Not much new to report on these, except I am continuing to think about the arch in my initial set-up and the latest pretensioning cue for the press up. With my pretending my arms are invisible to ensure I am pressing through my shoulders and tightening the upper/high chest muscles – I almost feel like the new age trainee with the woo-woo cueing.

We did the stability ball passes on the bench today, because it is more convenient. Plus J theorized that my scooch issue was related more to too much enthusiasm on the pass part and slowing it down would probably alleviate the issue. So that’s what we tried and of course it works, because J is very wise. More than that, though, I figured out that on the bench I get a different, better kind of stretch with the extra room to lower the ball with my limbs. While I still don’t love these (and console myself that I cannot love everything), and they remind me that i should pursue my abs List once a week rather than the once a month – maybe – I have been doing lately.

In the last couple of days, I have found myself more than once running through these in my head and at least the upright row portion of the 1-arm dumbbell snatch. It is new; I can be obsessive about trying to understand what is new and seems like a challenge. Pays off in a lot of ways, because I felt a little more in control and like I understand what I should be doing with these. Not yet perfectly fluid and smooth, but closer than I was on Monday. A few focused practices with this List and I will not have steaming coming out my ears from having to concentrate so hard on what my arm is supposed to be doing.

The lying longwise dumbbell pullover – have to remember to try and keep elbows flared at the furthest extension. We have been over this before, but for some reason there has been some static in my mind about what to do and when I should be watching for the elbow flare. I know there is a tendency to want to bring them inward all the time, but my attention is now directed and focused on the end rather than the beginning or the middle, when it seems easier to remember the flare. Small details that do make a difference. It is just not as easy to lay down on something and figure it outside the gym.

We did the seated overhead dumbbell triceps extension with the same 25 lb. dumbbell I used for the pullovers. First set it was fine, but second set I had to lighten it for the last half of the set. Fatigue was part of it, but also an eye on the clock, needing to finish up, and wanting to finish strongly and not a half-set of reps. For the most part I think I have the shape and technique of these down with a fair amount of weight-less run throughs at odd moments throughout the days. Now I just need to keep working, keep practicing to build my endurance with the weight.

We skipped the band horizontal choppers because while spoiled, I am not entitled and do not pout on Thursday’s when friend C is present for her appointment at 8 a.m. Perfectly content letting go of these today.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Allergies suck. If I were sick more frequently, or if I had sinus issues more routinely, I probably would bitch less about my few days of symptoms and being high on allergy medicine. Honestly, I only take this stuff when absolutely necessary and then coming down off of it is like extreme caffeine withdrawal.

And while this may sound like I am whining, mostly I feel very mildly impacted by my lack of regular sleep for almost a week. Had I been more my usual level of rest, I could possibly feel less fatigued and 115% successful versus my present 102% successful. Not the end of the world; it was still fun, answered niggling questions, and makes me feel good about my overall efforts. Even if I felt a little tired and as if form might be sloppy for a hot second or set.

Yesterday driving to work, I had this epiphany about J and his ability with demonstrating exercise. It’s not just that he’s good at his job, or that he himself has been a gym-going guy for at least 50% of his 28 years, or even that he is a avid student in his field. That whole muscle memory thing has infected his whole body. I mean, he does this stuff himself and has for a long time. He doesn’t need to break it down into individual steps and then set the cue script in his head that plays like a metronome. Even I, in my relative exercise infancy, have several things that I just do automatically when the exercise appears on the List.

So it is not so much or not JUST that he is more knowledgeable, has more experience, is younger, bulkier, stronger, and fitter, it is also that his exercise library is bigger. Because of more knowledge and experience.

For whatever reason, that makes me feel enormously better. I do not exactly feel like the the dunce in the tribe, yet I know the way I break things down and sometimes have to master the individual pieces of an exercise one by one does feel overly complicated. But oh well. Injury remains a Very Big Deal for me, and if I have to learn and practice parts of a more complicated movement until I can do it fluidly that what I will continue to do.

But my epiphany made me laugh, and telling friend J about it this morning made him shake his head and wonder how such a smart woman can be such a doofus about some things. Natural talent, I assure him.

Since friend J is my back-up reality check on all things exercise. I was quizzing him about squats this morning as well. I had met up with friend K at the gym last night and we got into a discussion about squat, form, and the tricky things that can happen with exercise. K has been having pain in her hip that actually came from her back and all started doing squats. So we were comparing form and trying to figure out the how and the why of her muscle tweak. This comparison was educational in so many ways, and part of why it is great for me to meet and get to know others in the tribe who are still learning and . But by the end of the evening, I was questioning my own form and technique with the various versions of squats that I have learned through the progression of months.

So I was asking friend J about it, if he had any thoughts about squats that maybe I don’t know? Question was vague, I know, and I was not actually expressing myself very well. What I got in reply was that unless “the kid” (trainer J) is correcting or telling me that something needs to be altered, I am doing fine and need not be borrowing trouble on this or anything else in my library.

We have come a long way, baby.

Brought it up with trainer J as well, because it was on my mind and is one of those curiosities that may linger. He said essentially the same thing, although he was very kind and said that my form is good and when in doubt, trust myself and my body’s feedback. And only a little more surprising to me, I actually do most of the time. I remind myself almost daily that my body is unique and its pieces and parts have an infinite number of different characteristics and capabilities from everyone else I will meet. My mileage is going to vary.

All the things we do, I love that there is depth and breadth and always so much more to learn. Scapular plane, thoracic arch, pretensioning at the junction between stretch and contraction – these are all things that have or continue to haunt my thoughts and may evolve into a universal cue. Shoulders back and tucked. Pretensioning, then pre-pretensioning. Extending the stretch to wring every last drop of productivity out of a movement. I am learning and creating new habits and methods. And I remind myself if it were easy trainer J would have a different sort of job.

#better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #faith, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health, #positivity, #progress

Being fat

Last night while preparing to fall asleep I was browsing random blogs categorized under obesity. It is an interest, and I am curious about what others are thinking and writing about. No secret that I prefer the more personal stories of life’s journey – the ups and down, the successes and setbacks. What I found are many people sharing their shame about the extra weight, the eating plans that others are trying, stories of gastric bypass and lap band surgeries. On the other end of the spectrum, there were a few who openly express their contempt for those who are heavy and impatience with the obese population members’ excuses or explanation for their extra weight. And somewhere a little to the side of both were those who were quite strident in their insistence upon fat acceptance.

The differing perspective is always enlightening even if it does make me vaguely uncomfortable for a lot of different reasons.

For those sharing their shame, I feel sympathy. I do not believe anyone wants to be or to stay morbidly obese or even overweight for an extended part of their life. The extra weight we carry can erect so many barriers and add challenges to our lives that seem insurmountable. Yet at the same time, I know how difficult it is to change the habits that led to weight gain to being overweight and into obesity.

As for those sharing their contempt of fat people, I mostly wince. In my mind their bias is about the same as those who have strong feelings about government assistance programs for individuals and families; the bias is understandable to a degree. With regard to fat bias, either they are quite naturally blessed with good genetics that makes maintaining their weight a non-issue or they have learned the discipline of healthy diet and exercise habits. Like many former smokers who are now extremely vocal in their anti-smoking stance, I know many who have lost and maintained significant weight loss. Sometimes compassion gets ground out with the passionate insistence upon the rightness of the message.

The fat acceptance movement, I think I almost wince more. Maybe because I’m horridly conventional? I understand that there are lot of pieces and parts to why people are the way they are – it is truly why I think of my efforts in this regard as an overall “better health” quest versus weight loss or diet or anything else. Focusing on being fat or overweight or obese tends to place the focus on physical appearance and cosmetic aspects of the weight range when, in my personal view, it should be about weight as a component of general health.

Most people will tell you they possess an obesity bias because of general health concerns, but I think if we are really honest our culture says that thin is more physically beautiful and appealing.

Professionally, I am a manager who hires and fires people; it comes with my particular job description within the firm that employs me. I am first stop on an incoming candidate’s interview experience, and yes, through the years I have spoken to many, many people who ranged from a few extra pounds on their frame to morbidly obese. As a human being, it is something I notice and am aware of my own bias in this regard. No, I do not act upon it, but I am aware of it. When I was transitioning from my former firm to expanding my side gigs into a full-time self-supporting business I was thinking about it every time I met with someone new. Did I look all right? Was my clothing choice professional enough despite my size (to be fair – at that time I was somewhere in the size 16 range, now in 12/14 depending on the article of clothing)? Do I look frumpy? Or worse – do I look too old? This is not a new consideration. Being middle aged (55) and not a small woman under best circumstances, I am well aware that it could be the smallest detail that decides whether or not I am successful with a prospective client.

So I am not completely oblivious to or in denial about the cosmetic and positive physical appearance outcomes of dropping weight. But if I focus on that as a goal, guaranteed I will be depressed and consoling myself with Very Bad Food – think cookies and milk or soda and chips, junk food several times per week. Essentially crap food that will only contribute to my return to medication to control diabetes, and frankly, I like my freedom from prescription pills and insulin and needles too much to want to return to that path.

Better health is my blanket description for my objectives. I forced myself to hire trainer J and go to our sessions, and then I forced myself to get myself into the gym when I really would have preferred to stay home and sleep a lot longer. Transforming my thinking seems to come before trying for anything further, and I feel very successful in turning my mindset from exercise hater to exercise enthusiast, so much so that I actually follow a couple of expert coaches and faithfully read what they post and try to stay current with their Facebook live posts and videos. Not that I understand all of it, but let me just say it’s uber cool when I recognize an exercise on one of MY Lists that is being demonstrated by some major buff person. Exercise geekery at it finest.

Food? I am trial and error in my eating habits. Sometimes I eat very well, very healthy, and sometimes I don’t. Life happens, and I am better than perfect in my imperfections. Thing is, I can fall off the healthy eating habits wagon and climb right back on again. Every day is a new opportunity to correct prior missteps. I am not quite as committed to it as I am to my fitness routine, but I am drifting back to my same meals day after day after day routines. The process is working for me right now. I can press the gas at any time to try and move things a little faster.

At the end of my latest exploration into blogs dealing with obesity and related issues, I find my humanity remains intact. I have genuine sympathy for those dealing with weight-related issues that keeps them trapped in painful cycle of overeating and hating themselves or hating themselves and overeating. While I can understand those who are tired of the complaints and wishing the obese of the world would simply eat a lot more rabbit food and quit whining (or worse), they make me uncomfortable. Because like poverty, violence, abuse, the obesity epidemic is a complicated problem that will not be resolved by preaching “eat less, move more.” The fat acceptance – I have to accept that I agree to disagree and hope those promoting that viewpoint recognize that legitimizing being overweight is not the same as working to alleviate it. In my view, we may as well just give up and accept it as a non-issue that should not ever be addressed as a life-threatening condition or illness.

I have no idea what it’s like to be slender or thin; it is not really my body type. Even within my proper weight range, I am going to be a curvy person with a sturdy bone structure. But while not thin or slender and carrying more weight on my frame than I should, I am the healthiest version of me I have been in years. Yet on a BMI scale, I qualify as obese.

Hence one of my many reasons for not paying much attention to the scale. How I feel, what my quarterly bloodwork shows – those are my indicators for my better health quest. Those are what tell me I am succeeding where I have faltered and failed so many other times.

But while I think and feel I must be Jane Average when it comes to health, fitness, weight loss, better health topics, I feel a bit like an outlier with my narrow sampling techniques. In this case, though, it is best for me to be this type of outlier. Otherwise I would feel like a the complete and utter failure that I most certainly am not.

While I routinely sample other perspectives to broaden my own understanding, I as often as not find validation for my own journey and the approach I have chosen. It’s not flashy. It’s far from glamorous. And it sure as Hell is not fast or easy. But it is what works for me; your mileage may vary.

#diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #food, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health, #obesity

PT-23.2: And I remember why I train

Monday morning, training with J. We are starting our review and enhancement of the huffy-puffy versions of Lists right now, so it was a partial review, partial teaching sort of morning.

The way days and work have been running lately, I get half the recap posted on Monday and the other half on Tuesday. Despite references to “today” as if it were still Monday, it is actually Tuesday when I am finishing and posting this section.

Key Takeaways

Huffy puffy – goodness, how could I forget we were venturing back into the land of huffy puffy? But it is glorious, because I am not thinking so much huffy puffy pacing during the course of work so much as I am about each individual exercise on the List and making it better. Plenty of huffy puffy breathing going on even without focus on the pacing.

While I always prefer to feel confident about what we are doing – like I am mostly there on the basic premise and J is not having to reinvent the wheel – new stuff is like a heady new drug slamming into my system. I like the way it sinks into my mind with the individual steps that build one by one into something new and exciting. I am evolving into such a fitness nerd.

I have so much fun in training sessions. I mean, seriously, it’s a highlight of my weeks. Trying to explain this to friend J yesterday, about how it is almost a stimulating intellectual discussion of how body works. Not any body, not most bodies, my particular body in a given set of circumstances. And I have become so comfortable with the limitations that I have to work with right now, limitations that could be forever things or are perhaps boundaries that dissolve as I become more skilled or stronger. I no longer feel handicapped or special needs or incapable in negative ways. Because I try to do all I can do, and sometimes it works, sometimes not yet, occasionally it’s a probably not ever.

The training partnership is a bit of a mysterious thing, and it has more depth than I would have suspected or expected when I first embarked on this journey. There is an element of trust that J is being straight with me, that he is not going to lead me down a path of undesirable consequences. It is the undefinable quality that has allowed me to embrace a willingness to try new things without anxiety or fear. Thinking about it as I started this section of the recap, I realize it has been a long, long time since even a flicker of concern about how I might look to the outside world in my efforts. In the earliest days of gym crazy feelings, appearance was a huge handicap on the road to success. I have literally forgotten what it’s like to wonder what other people might be thinking about what I am doing or how my efforts appear to their eyes. Concerns about being fat, awkward, unattractive, insincere in my efforts, or even whether or not I belong in the gym – all that negativity is a distant speck in my rearview. And I must say, it is a both a liberating and powerful reflection. I am free to try new things J is trying to teach me and to not immediately succeed. I am free to practice, stop, run through it again more slowly, break it down into pieces and parts, or file it away for future sessions to ask more questions. Concern about what other people think is not something that occurs to me anymore.

On the tail of that train of thought, if I am not competing or caring about the opinions of others, I have no need to be insecure about my progress. Staying focused and working hard at learning and improving form and technique are measures in and of themselves. Being happy, content, satisfied with my progress, even when it is not measured by conventional standards of goals met or metrics surpassed, is worth more to me than any amount of weight lost or strength gained. I have fallen in love with the process of exercise in and of itself, and that good feeling is not at all based on any physical gains I achieve from it. That’s something kind of special for someone who began hating exercise in all its forms.

Mental and emotional balance aside, I am doing so much better with my physical balance as well. I still struggle with 1-legged everything, but I do better with it now. Outside the gym, I do not trip nearly as much. Far from perfectly graceful, I am no longer the clumsy ox at my starting point. Part of that is my better physical ability, part of it is my overall confidence. All are big benefits of working at the process in a consistent way.

What We Did

A1 Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
A2 1-arm DB Row
A3 Plank off Bench w/: step-outs to kick-backs

B1 2-DB Romanian Deadlift
B2 Flat DB Chest Press
B3 Stability Ball Passes

C1 1-arm DB Snatch
C2 Lying Longwise Dumbbell Pullover
C3 Seated Overhead DB Triceps Extensions
C4 Band Horizontal Choppers

How It Felt

While I still don’t love the dumbbell Bulgarian split squat – with or without the dumbbells – going through them today was like learning a whole new exercise. J has been coaxing and coaching me to go lower, to get the lead leg almost parallel to the floor kind of lower, and finally today I believe the cueing has gelled enough that I am finally getting with the program. I have been proficient, even competent, but focusing on the rear/elevated leg and letting it relax and be light as it bends and I drop down seems to transform it for me. Suddenly lead leg, when I am driving upward again is from the heel rather than the whole foot. Rib tuck is staying in place. I am feeling the lead leg muscles work more fully. While not easier – not doing them at all is the only thing that would make these easier – it suddenly makes a lot more sense to me. Cha-ching! Coin drop moments today.

I do love the 1-arm dumbbell row. I have spent so much time working at these, thinking about whether I am pulling through my shoulder or using my arm – sounds strange, I know, but that’s always first and foremost in my mind. There is this trance-like state once I get started of pull weight, lower weight, pull weight, lower weight that is very soothing to my nervous system. We used a 30 lb. dumbbell and I did fine, other than remembering to not straighten elbow completely at the bottom. I marvel that I have gotten strong enough to wield a 30 lb. dumbbell with relative ease. My forced graduation to the big boys room, where they keep the 35 lb. dumbbells, may happen sooner than I expect. Because no way am I hauling a pair of those bad boys up and down the stairs because I’m too much of a scaredy cat to claim my own bench in that area.

For the plank off bench with step-outs to kick-backs, we started with mini bands around the ankles and then switched to a more lat focused by gripping the bench more tightly. Makes the rib tuck more pronounced, and until we got to the bench gripping aspect of it, I would not have believed how much a difference in made in the hip mobility/flexibility aspect of it. Legs do not step out that far to the sides or kick back up as high as they do when lats and back are not held in a tight formation. The feeling in the abs is different, stronger, and I like that very much. Still not a big plank fan, but I like this newest tweak.

Romanian deadlifts – how far I have come. I love looking back through the many months to getting started, remembering how strange the hinge felt, quizzing J via text exactly how this was supposed to work. That was with the tiniest of kettle bells – the baby bell, as I still refer to it. Today I was using a pair of 30 lb. dumbbells to perform the RDLs, and I enjoyed the sensation. New thing to these (and maybe other exercises) – pretension before standing up straight, but start that pretension just before reaching bottom of the bend. It went much more smoothly once I figured out the timing of the pretensioning.

The new method of pretensioning was very much on my mind with the flat dumbbell chest press. That and the upper back arch – my latest exercise obsession. I have a better understanding now of the pretension, when to start at the end of the lowering the weight and before the upward press and not straightening elbows to lockout. We did the first set with a pair of 30 lb. dumbbells, first time ever, and it went surprisingly well. I was super proud of myself, and after that 8 rep set (all I could manage), the 25 lb. set we dropped down to felt like a nearly perfect weight for the 12 to 15 rep range. I have come a long way since the very early days.

We tried the stability ball passes on the bench and for the most part it works well. Except I seem to have a scooch problem – the reach up to pass the ball from hands to feet seems to scooch me down the bench just a bit. I will try it again sometime, but for today we moved off and onto a mat on the floor. These are not horrible, bad, or terrible. Mostly they are a reminder that I need to get busy pursuing my abs List more frequently. (Written as if I am on the couch eating bonbons with great swathes of my time.)

Learned a new exercise today – the 1-arm dumbbell snatch. Before J had taught me the snatch-like exercise that included a front raise rather than this version with something more like an upright row. So we go from a squat to the upright row to the dumbbell overhead. Watching J demonstrate this with a 25 lb. dumbbell in hand and then have him tell me that he usually does these with a 50 or 60 lb. dumbbell … hmmm, a wow! moment. After J demonstrates with fluidity and grace, I feel like chaos robot in comparison. But onward – it’s new and I cannot expect to be even close to as good right out of the gate. Right now for me, this is a series of steps – squat, upright row, lift dumbbell overhead, bend arm to bring weight back to shoulder, drop back to squat – lather, rinse, repeat. J it looks like one fluid, explosive movement. For the most part I have the series of steps down. Once I retrain mind to upright row rather than front raise, I will be golden. Until that happens, I will be patient and not berate myself when I revert to autopilot and front raise instead.

The lying longwise dumbbell pullover is one of those exercises that I just go until my arms give out. Maybe it’s 8 reps, maybe it 22 (a record high). But not so much that they are easy so much as familiar and I am aware of how sneaky the build of fatigue on my arms and shoulders. That is part of the challenge for me anymore – see how many reps it takes before I burn out each set.

Second new exercise of the day was the seated overhead dumbbell triceps extension. With a 25 lb. dumbbell. Pretty amazing, once J showed me how to hold the darn thing before hoisting it over my head. Visions of it falling directly on top of my head danced briefly through my mind while trying to figure it out. But once I overcame that obstacle, it worked surprisingly well. I have watched others in the gym do this, and I could feel it working both the triceps and flexing the additional flexibility and strength in my shoulders. Only drawback: ponytail maintenance. Must remember to either braid ponytail or tuck it in the stretchy to keep it from becoming a tangled mess.

Band horizontal choppers are okay, but I like them on the cable machine better. I can still feel my obliques, though, so I guess I am doing a lot right.

Practices Between Now and Thursday

Today was lower body day, my favorite lower body List. I just got a new set of mini bands that are insanely more powerful that I remember the others being like. Since we are doing huffy puffy on Monday and Thursday, I will be pursuing body part splits the rest of the week.

Wednesday will be upper body of some sort, possibly the FreeMotion machine if it’s available. With the new pretensioning stuff fresh in my mind, I am eager to apply it to other body parts as well.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Find them here. My final thought from the day:


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