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.
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.