PT-28.1: A waypoint on the road to gym badassery

Thursday morning, and yay, it’s review day. I love review day. I love teaching day. Again, I love all training days. While this is technically a huffy-puffy List, the emphasis was not on pacing so much as it was form and technique. But there was still plenty of huffy and puffy in the mix.

Key Takeaways

Every single day I see people doing things in the gym that are big giant mysteries to me. They lift bigger, heavier weights. They use big boy machines with weight plates. They are doing jumping across the floor like leaping lizards, that they planking and moving dumbbells, they are hanging upside down or by their elbows. While curious, wondering why they are doing the things they are doing and the benefits of them, my thoughts are about that shallow – I wonder what that does for them. My skills and experience are increasing to the point that I had a mystery resolved today. It’s enormously satisfying to be have understanding of what it feels like – at least as challenging as I had always imagined – and to be introductory steps successful at it.

Some exercises are just complicated for me, not because I am incapable of doing them but because the steps in my mind do not always streamline rationally. Like the way the bones are strung together in some logical sequence, so do the cues about what to pretension and what should light up like a Christmas tree. Trainer J and I recently had a discussion about internal cues versus external cues. Having “grown up” under his tutelage and become accustomed to his style of internal cueing, the feels make a lot more sense to me. Maybe I don’t always get the pretension of the areas the first 10 (or 20 or 30) times we go through it, but there is consistency in the feels. Variations or tweaks change the feels, whereas externally it may look pretty much the same as what we did before. Thrilled out of my mind to “get that” whole cueing thing. Makes me feel like a real fitness trainee who actually listens and learns new things inside and out.

While I mostly do not care much at all what weights I am utilizing, even I must admit to a big giant rush actually using a 40 lb. dumbbell today, a first in my very junior career with weights. It did not hurt me, and I could probably replicate my execution on my own. Monday I did something to the palm of my hand picking up the 35 lb. dumbbell, but until actually titting down to write this recap I had forgotten all about it (the ache was gone by Tuesday morning). No such issues today; I did learn to be more careful when hoisting the weightier weights into proper position.

There are benefits to being obsessed with aspects of form. Still working, working, working at my upper arch on presses, but closer, closer, closer every single week. I am particularly obsessed with the arch, because it is so universal and is part of so many exercises on so many Lists. There are some days where it seems better and I enjoy more success, others where I wonder if I ever learned the arch in the first place. This could be true of everyone.

I had the epiphany today that just because a List is labeled PHA (or huffy-puffy in Janelle-speak) does not mean I have to peppy up the pacing. J is not following me around on practice days and marking up a report card, so I can go at slower speed to gain some confidence about the new and new-ish exercises I am doing. My rule-following manner and the way J teaches the List – peppy pacing is always better, but mastery and control over form and doing it correctly always takes precedence. Basically day 1, rule 1 of training now applied to yet another area and section of Lists. Besides, it’s not like J is following me around the gym and marking off points because I’m not blowing through a huffy-puffy quickly enough.

Considering and thinking about a lot of things lately, and I have made the executive decision that bad-assery in the gym is an attitude as well as state of mind. Super doubtful of ever being the biggest, buffest, fittest woman in the gym, but perhaps I can become one of the more educated people learning the exercise craft. I will be delighted with that.

What We Did

A1  Rope High-Low Chop
A2  Rope Horizontal Chop
A3  Rope Low-High Chop

B1  Heavier Goblet Squat (40 lb. dumbbell – GASP!)
B2  Incline DB Press
B3  Seated Stretch Row

C1  Lat Pulldown
C2  Alternating Dumbbell Shoulder Press
C3  45 Degree Hyperextension (technique tweaked for glutes/hams)
C3  Goblet Reverse and Forward Lunge

How It Felt

I have been contemplating chops since Monday. The rope high-low chop review included some new cues and techniques. We have tried the dive bomb foot, which mostly works for the basic shape of the exercise. Today J had me focusing on the farthest from the cable hip hinge while pressing down on the rope toward the foot. Ding-ding-ding! Hamstrings and glutes, we have a winner. Then he had me switch to super-duper rib tuck to press the rope down toward the foot, and this time, it was the oblique lighting up like the casino jackpot. Interestingly, J described the pretensioning of the calf, hamstring, glute, and oblique, and how as I went through the exercise they would sort of fire like dominos falling in sequence. The most difficult thing for me was not the feels of it all, but getting mind glommed onto the idea of pretensioning the whole string of limbs in sequence. I never underestimate the mind-body connection, but I also have to train mind and body to work together on some of the newer, complicated things. Getting pieces of leg, glutes, obliques all together now? It’s complicated.

The rope horizontal chop is less complicated for the most part. No thinking through foot positioning, and mostly stay within the shoulder radius. Pretension the obliques and push the rope straight across. Of the three chop styles, these are, hands-down, the most graspable.

Getting better with the rope low-high chop? Maybe. Getting a better grip on the lateral lunge portion, and I get the press the rope in front of me rather than straight up to over the shoulder. Again, it’s putting it all together and making it work. Intellectually and emotionally, I understand the only thing that is going to make me feel better is practice. Whether it is with the cable machine or with the bands, I must work on my form and technique. And in truth, practice is my thing. While I may (or may not) go through this List again this week, I will get to it in practices. I may have to go slo-mo on my slo-mo to get it right, but I have every confidence improvement awaits.

Perhaps somewhere in the future is a “heaviest” goblet squat, but for today let me just say my heavier goblet squat with a 40 lb. dumbbell is a bonus supercharger for the rest of my day and probably week. As this is review day and J had no new constructive advice for me, I will take the ongoing reminders to pretensions the glutes and abs to rise up and ensure the abs are tight to protect the low back against the heavier weight as a win. We went over again how to hold the weight close to the chest with arms tucked in and lats tight throughout the whole movement, and I feel nothing unusual in my low back. It is kind of amazing to me, but the weight does not feel that heavy in my hands once I get it situated and following the cues. And while the heavier weight is a thrill, I am very pleased with the way my right leg stayed where it was supposed to be and there was no weeble-wobble.

One of my key takeaways is that I am obsessed with arch on presses, and today, it does feel like I am closer than I was to getting this right. Today again was incline dumbbell press, and I am improving with the T-Rex arms and keeping elbows bent on the upward press. Trying my best to exaggerate the arch and press the chest upward while tucking those shoulders down, pretensioning the chest muscles and press upward, slow, slow, slow down – the soundtrack in my head is pretty detailed and has various layers. For as long as we have been doing these things, it feels as if I am inching toward better and better. Funny how different the weights look when they are pressed overhead, yet combined with the feels of the press I can usually tell if I am in the ballpark of right place, right timing.

Today felt like progress on the seated stretch row. After Monday, I surmised that my problem was not so much the rowing part as the stretching part and relaxing shoulders forward while not bending elbows completely and not doing too much lean forward. It’s a tricky balance. While just a few weeks ago I was joking with trainer J about his stinginess with compliments (compared to another trainer who was pretty freeflowing with them and his client), I think there were several nice comments about my performance on this exercise this morning. It is meaningful, of course, simply because they are kind of unusual. Yet, not really. It’s nice to know things look good, that I have nothing new to be corrected or adjusted on, and I heard them but did not really take them all that personally. Which sounds terribly ungracious and unlike me. Hard to explain, but our training partnership is not about praise or pleasing J that this old dog is learning new tricks. To my mind and way of thinking, it is more gratifying that my understanding of exercise as a process is expanding enough to feel a healthy balance that comes with the instant gratification of my trainer saying “yes, you are doing it right” while we are working together and the even bigger boost knowing that I will improve and be capable of continuing to perform the exercise correctly again and again on my own. Perhaps I am projecting, but it seems to me a satisfying aspect for a trainer/teacher/coach is to know the trainee is grasping the concepts well enough to replicate the movement in her own solo practice and that their success motivates them to want to try to perfect their technique. That’s progress I feel.

There are exercises that even when I am doing them right I wonder if maybe I was doing them more wrong than I thought. However, as time passes the concepts of right and wrong fade (unless something hurts), particularly when there seems to be infinite ways to move or exercise or strengthen the same muscle or muscle group. Such is the case with the lat pulldown. We used a shorter bar with handles on the end today (versus the big long bar on Monday), and it feels different. Neither good nor bad, just different, and because of hand placement and then watching J’s shoulder blades move as he demonstrated different hand positioning, I have a better understanding of why it feels different. Who knew? While I am making strides in listening to body, it is not overly chatty and not yet big into the nitty-gritty details. But my big ah-ha moment today is the pulling down, chest up, get those shoulders back … and elbows come in close to and behind rib case almost behind the back. Again, who knew? I have no idea what my elbows were doing on Monday, because I quite literally was not paying any attention to them at all, but today, today as soon as J mentioned it while demonstrating, I was like heat-seeking missile on the elbows in the mirror. And it makes this huge difference. I’m sitting at my desk typing this and thinking … I still feel those lat muscles back there, squeaking. Very satisfying outcome.

Love me some shoulder presses, but minor struggles with alternating dumbbell shoulder presses (and not just my happy fingers desire to type that as “alternative” rather than alternating – not sure what alternative dumbbell press would look like). The biggest issue today is the stationary dumbbell in my hand and how it creeps downward from where it’s position right near my ear. It must be watched or it wanders. For the most part, I do pretty well with these – arm presses straight up and weight is almost balanced over my head. Currently comfortably using 15 lb. dumbbells for these and am feeling no urgent need to increase weights, since there is nothing available between 15 and 20 lbs.

Today we were going to use our extra time to have fun learning how to do a barbell deadlift. Just for fun. But instead, the 45 degree stand caught J’s eye and he decided I was ready to try the 45 degree hyperextension (technique tweaked for glutes/hams) instead. Through the months I have seen lots of folks using these doing something on this thing and it always looks difficult, like you need to be fitter and stronger and just way more gym rat/bunny than I am to make it work. Well, come to find out we gym hamsters have our place with that as well. What stands out in my mind for these: rib tuck, rib tuck, rib tuck all the way through the movement. Allow the rib tuck to slip away, bad things may befall the low back. Plus the exercise is not as productive or effective. Second thing, pretension hamstrings and then tighten those glutes at the end. Do not rise up too far and stress the lower back. Having made that mistake a couple of times – rib tuck fell out, did not pretension and follow the feels from the hamstrings to the glutes – and do not want to return and make that mistake again. This is a big, huge, honking deal to me, because it’s not easy and provides newfound respect for just how challenging they look and feel. This goes on my List of things I want to try in tiny doses until I get mindset set and more disciplined about the rib tuck. Plus, my right foot was trying mild-to-wild twist outward and it tweaks my knee. Foot can be rehabilitated from its habit and trainable to behave – I am quite sure of it – but I have to stay conscious that I am doing it.

A single set of goblet reverse and forward lunges while we waited for the 45 degree stand to be available. Hams were burning before we started, so a little handicapped, but got through the set. I would like to become more fluid with these, so there is not the pause in the middle between the forward and the backward switch. Lunges are not as much of a challenge as they were once upon a time, but I am slowly improving with both balance and technique.

Practices Between Now and Monday

I am revising my resolve to save huffy-puffy practices for Saturday. Instead, I am going back to previous week’s reviewed huffy-puffy Lists and just slow them down as much as seems appropriate to make them work for me. There is part of me that really wants to get back to refining my kettlebell swings and the ball slams from last week. Plus the on-the-floor chops and the OTIS ups.

Then there is the prior week’s huffy puffy, with it’s Bulgarian split squats and not-quite-as-heavy goblet squats and heavier Sumo squats. There is a lot to review, and if I go slo-mo to refine and perfect form, so be it. Not every practice has to be all about intensity and push-push-pushing the heart rate up.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

In progress and published soon.


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