Monday morning, training with J. If last week was sort of “meh” and ridden with malaise, today my intent came roaring back with “oh HELL YEAH!” type giddy-up and go sort of enthusiasm.
Even if I did not always feeling as if I am sidling along and inching forward with spare micro-measures of improvement sometimes, today would still be an eye-opening step forward. On something recent like floor chops, I feel more competent and proficient than I did when they first appeared back on the radar a few weeks ago.
Did I love this workout because I feel more successful with it or am I more successful because I feel greater affection toward it? If I’m honest about it – and I am always brutally, verbosely honest about gym stuff – it is definitely the former. When I look back at the List in its original form, it had dreaded things like floor sit-ups (or chops) and planks and plank-like things. Core stuff is
rarely never (thus far) included on my greatest hits.
Most of the time I recognize how far I have come on this exercise and fitness journey. Sometimes, though, it’s highlighted in neon lights and makes me want to happy dance through the gym crowing about my progress. While I am not the peppiest, highest-energy tribe member or even gym member, I do okay with what I do most days. And I love that I can recognize and speak my truth and not feel self-conscious or as if I am putting on airs or casting aspersions at others around me. For each of us, the journey is unique, with its own successes and setbacks, and it most definitely is not a race. Some days, though, I just feel like a bigger victory lap is in order.
This List – it’s been at least 5 months since our last review of it, and I probably have not touched in since early January. While most of the exercises appear on other Lists, the ordering and progression of things does make a difference to me. It keeps it fresh and not boring. The workload distribution is different every day, every List. And if I have to talk about feelings, it just makes me happy to have some variety and to return to things I had mentally and/or emotionally set aside as hard or too hard and find they are now not as difficult as I recall. Because I am stronger from all the other stuff I have learned and diligently practiced in between.
And sometimes still, I get overwhelmed with gratitude that I have come so far, that I can now do things that I distinctly remember feeling disappointed and borderline ashamed (at the time) that I was not quite up to snuff with when introduced. Maybe the teary emotionalism is that I am over the shame of set-backs and not-quite-there-yet moments with exercise. Plus I have come so far from from where I started, and my willingness to put in the time and energy to practicing on my own consistently and the rewards from that work still humble and amaze me. Not a natural athlete. Never been one to stick with exercise for more than a few months. June marks 2 years since my first training session with J, and I just crested 18 months of at least 6 days per week in the gym. This is not me throwing down challenges or setting a standard everyone should achieve, but my understanding of my own needs and ambitions has expanded as time has passed. Doing my best and feeling proud of my efforts – this is new ground for me. I have worked at least as hard at my mental game and self-talk and celebrate that as well.
What We Did
We are back in quad-plex land – 4 blocks of exercises, 4 exercises per block. And it was completely AWESOME!
1. Incline DB Press
2. Bench Alt Knee In/Step Out/Kick Back
3. Alternating Dumbbell Curls
4. Alt Otis + Chopper Sit Ups
1. Flat Bench Chest Flyes
2. Bench Step Throughs w/ rib dip
3. DB Alt. Hammer Curls
4. DB “Reach Up” Crunch off bench
1. 1-arm DB Snatch
2. 1-arm DB Lateral Throws
3. Band Horizontal Hip Rotations (aka “Choppers”)
4. Mini-band Standing Contralateral Knee to Elbow Crunch
1. 1-arm Overhead Shoulder Press
2. Dual Band Reverse Flyes
3. Kettlebell Swing to Chest Level
4. DB Plank “Renegade Rows” off bench
How It Felt
While we have done the incline dumbbell press repeatedly through the months, today we did a couple of things differently. First, threw out the rep count books – for everything – and second, we amped up the weights on each set. We started with a 20 lb. set of dumbbells and along I went through 20 or so, then we went to a set of 25 lb. dumbbells, still fine, and finally finished with the 30 lb. set. Surprisingly, I went through the 30s without much issue at all. Possibly because they are first exercise of the day, but more likely because I am stronger than last I had 30s in my hands for the presses. I have been working hard at my upper back arch and my elbow bend on the press up. No small cakes to me, 30 lb. dumbbells.
The bench alternating knee in/step out/kick back are planks on steroids. J added the knee in to these today, and it adds a new layer. Trying to remember the knee is after doing the step out/kick back cadence for awhile is another matter entirely; I have been doing the other combination so long it is branded into my head. But no matter – I will learn and remember. For the most part, this went really well. I love my “rib tuck” cue and want to use it for practically everything, but for planks and pushups and such, it is a must. Not so secretly, I’m delighted that I could do the knee in part of this exercise, when I remembered to add it into the sequence. It feels as if I have passed some grand new marker in ab work today. Yay me!
Whatever I think about alternating dumbbell curls, I know they are effective. I know I can feel them working my arms. Where I am thinking am I standing up straight, are my abs tight, ribs tucked down, shoulders back, elbows close to the body and staying in place. Am I thinking about my biceps and arms? Not really, other than pretensioning the muscle in advance of the curl, feeling out the weight. The rest of it is all about form. I know how to bend my elbow, but someday I may want or be capable with weightier weights. In my mind, it seems better to ensure I learn and maintain good form, because it will become harder when the weights are heavier. Far better for me to learn the best habits now rather than later.
Yesterday was kind of my light and fluffy day, doing a couple of sets of floor/stability ball core warmup and my beloved dumbbell matrix. But I also included my more recent floor chop series – which is the alternating chopper sit ups combined with Otis ups. J updated this list today with that combo, and I am much more competent and powerful with these. I can feel my obliques. I could curl upper body up without too much difficulty. Still have my feet secured under the bench, but I have yet to try it without that particular security blanket. For right now, I’m so happy to be just capable of doing a series of these without dying on the floor after every series. I am even making some slo-mo progress on the slow lower of upper torso back to the floor.
I am pretty sure we started out this block with the flat bench chest press, but by the second round J redirected and we went to flat bench chest flyes. I am nearly constant in my thoughts about the upper back arch anymore when we do bench-related presses and such, and with these chest flyes, I can most definitely feel the difference between when I am in proper position with the arch and above-the-eye position of the dumbbells when pressing up and more than a little out of sorts when not quite arched enough or letting the dumbbells drift. There is no bad or cautionary feeling so much as the muscle tension across the chest is just less or not really there at all. Hard to explain, but so much of what J has taught me is about the feels of each exercise, so much so that on my own I make minute adjustments to get back to ensure I am hitting the shape accurately.
It has been awhile since we have gone through the bench step throughs with the rib dip. Before, it was step throughs with hip dip, but to protect my lower back we went with a more accurate rib dip. Supporting myself on the bench with straight arms, this is essentially another plank position, rib-tucked exercise, only this time take left leg stepping through to the right side with a small left elbow bend to dip rib toward the floor. This one really works the abs and obliques, keeping the abs tight and ribs tucked down. Definitely a slo-mo version today, getting reacquainted after several months hiatus, and took a little break in the middle of the set after 3 or 4 or 5 (sorry – was no counting and know the rep count was not terrifically high).
Along side the bicep curls, the dumbbell alternating hammer curls follow the same pattern and prescription. Focus on form and pretensioning the muscle. Except I like the hammer curls slightly more than the regular curls for reasons as yet unknown. But again, I am an exercise geek about this stuff. I like the focus on form. Someday these will challenge me in other, new ways. I will be ready.
Potential new favorite ab exercise: the dumbbell “reach up” crunch off bench. With a pair of 12 lb. dumbbells in my hands and arms elevated straight overhead with feet up on the end of the bench, the small crunching up motion of elevating shoulders off the bench is strangely satisfying. This is not a big crunch, like the floor chops, but a small and deliberate movement that I can feel all the way down the length of my core. We have done these off a stability ball without weights, but it’s more crunch up via rocking motion. Still effective, yet not quite impactful in my mind. Sometimes the exercise is not so much what body is doing as much as what mind is learning about body doing the various movements.
While I remain convinced my 1-arm dumbbell snatch technique needs some work, trainer J with the critical trainer eye says they are progressing and had no corrections or adjustments for me today. I am working on the butt back, weight on heels part of the squat and the more explosive upward snatch part. It is difficult to pinpoint what I perceive is the problem with my form might be, but I do not feel completely confident. However, I did a set with a 12 lb. dumbbell and then a set with a 15 lb. dumbbell without pain or suffering. Mostly likely I need more practice with these, more than the once per week from the huffy-puffy List. I anticipate there will be some enhancements sometime in the future. But for now, all is well. More practice.
I still love the 1-arm dumbbell lateral throws. It’s been awhile, kind of remind me of the dumbbell snatches only staying stationary. Stay in the general vicinity of the scapular plane, don’t straighten the elbow completely, and try not to head/shoulder/upper body bob up and down with the throws. These make me feel like I have amazing shoulders.
The band horizontal hip rotations (aka “choppers”) are improving with practice and repetition. With the cable machines, it feels different, harder somehow. Probably there is a very specific, science-based reason for that. But for me, I prefer to think it might just be the return of my beloved green band and how it feels like an old friend. I understand the shape and the feels and why it works, and there should be little difference between the cables and the bands but mind perceives what mind perceives. Ah well. For now, we shall enjoy the feels of this rendition of horizontal choppers.
The mini-band standing contralateral knee to elbow crunch more like contralateral rib tuck to knee, because the elbow is supposed to stay out tucked behind the head. With the band around the foot makes elevating the knee more difficult and ensure that I have to hold on to stay upright. Tucking with the rib rather than trying to touch the knee with the elbow never brings the knee even close to the elbow. But the supreme rib tuck down crunch thing does make the exercise feels a lot more powerful and effective.
I always enjoy the 1-arm overhead shoulder press. With this List, it was about this time that I realized that I am someday going to have these even more bodacious and amazing shoulders. For right now, at this spot in my journey, I get a little rush watching the weight go up overhead and see the arm muscles working.
This is the first time we have done dual band reverse flyes with the new TRX box frame set-up, but they still feel the same. Again, we have done these more recently on the cable machine, and it does feel differently to me. Better, worse? Not really – mostly just different. When the bands are right – back to my green bands – I can choke up enough to get the resistance I need without feeling like it might be too much to stretch my arms all the way outward. If I use the heavier ones, they feel too like too much resistance from the start and I end up feeling like I am having to try too hard, work to hard, possibly hurt myself trying for the complete range of movement. I cannot even express how gratifying it is to now have an opinion on the subject, to know that I can tell the difference between the red band and the green band and how it makes me feel when hunting how the exercise should make me feel.
While it is my perception that everyone in the gym can do a kettlebell swing to chest level except me, I have been practicing and I am improving. Working hard to remember it’s all about the hips, keeping glutes and abs tight, protect the lower back. Again, like so many things that feel like they need more practice, I break my sets up into more 2 (or more) mini sets to ensure I get my full rep count done. Since we were not technically counting reps today, I went for 2 sets of 10 with the 12 kg kettle bell. Like these better than other things, but while these may not be scaling heights of my favorites list anytime soon, it is gratifying to be improving and getting stronger
My big major triumph of the day was the dumbbell plank “renegade rows” off bench. I did not think I could do these; we had tried these once before off the floor, with a pair of 5 lb. dumbbells and I could not budge those bad boys. Now we were trying them off the bench, with a pair of 12 lb. dumbbells as handholds, and I was fully prepared to be disappointed – and again, maybe a teensy bit shamed for not being capable after such an amazing session. Instead, I got situated, rib tucked into my plank position, and pulled up that first weight like I was standing on both feet doing a 1-arm row. It was exhilarating. To my credit I have not obsessed over my inability several months ago, but I am savoring – SAVORING – my victory over them off the bench today. Yep, did a few reps and then took a pause, went back to to it and did a few more reps. Like my arch nemesis the pushup, my arms and upper body does not feel quite strong enough to do these in a continuous set, but I’ll get there. For today, I will relish my surprise, then delight, then absolute elation over how it felt to lift that weight and pull it back into a row.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
While I was writing my key takeaways section one of my bosses walked into my office to ask me a question. I had a tissue in my hand and was blowing my nose, and he thought I was crying. Bosses are not good with emotions in the workplace, unless its passion related to the work itself. Tears? I have had them tell me on more than one occasion that I earn my salary if I can deal with crying staff members, meaning women. I have yet had a male ever get so angry he burst into tears, whereas with women it happens more often than we might like.
So I answered his work-related question and neither of us said anything about the teary expression. I did not sound upset, because I wasn’t upset, and I matter-of-factly told him that I was emotional about training this morning because of some big-feeling breakthroughs with various exercises. We joked about the idea of me crying because J yelled at me, because the idea is so ludicrous it’s beyond the expanse of my pretty broad imagination. As I said to the partner, it is the same as the idea of them yelling at me – professionally they are all such emotional control freaks the apocalypse might truly be upon us if they lost it so completely.
It was opportunity and opening for an all-around good conversation. Last week, from the suggestion box the partners had brought up the idea of a “biggest loser” type contest here in the office. Considering the circumstances and employees of our firm, I was understandably horrified by the idea, because of the present 25 employees here, only 4 of us are visibly carrying any extra weight and all 4 of us are women. Did they seriously want to encourage something like this with that sort of imbalance? While they and perhaps a couple of other staffers might want to add some muscle or drop a few pounds, I’d vastly prefer we do it by getting on a more formal health and wellness sponsorship program than our present subsidizing everyone’s gym membership or lifestyle-altering dues program.
What was curious – he said that he thinks our firm as a whole is a pretty healthy group and that I (and the other ladies in my walking clatch) are hard-working healthy. I found that a huge compliment – hard-working healthy (says the woman who was thrilled out of her mind when J described me as a “tank” in the gym). Not sure about the other ladies, but a regular source of conversation on our jaunts is lifestyle, healthy eating, all sorts of things fitness and exercise. All of the ladies in the firm are at least 20 years younger than I am and thinking about the future and the potential of having children of their own someday.
What I like about the present staff and environment at work – it is supportive without being suffocating. My crew and I talk about our weaknesses – chocolate, cheesecake, chips, soda, etc., etc., etc. – and our strengths – regular exercise, regular salad consumption, just saying no to most of the crap that appears in our breakroom. We are a pretty well rounded group anymore, and I like that. Junk food Tuesday comes every month, and while I am usually not there (I work from home on Tuesdays), there are plenty of other opportunities to enjoy a cheeseburger on the firm.
Balance, elusive balance in all things. In work, the people I interact with most are a joy to me. They are smart, caring, funny, with all sorts of interesting perspective that differs from my own. Again, the age gap plays into that, yet at the same time, I am curious and I am interested in what interests them. In some ways I relate to my coworkers and business associates as I do my own children, who are in the similar age range. Since I treat my kids with respect and affection, this feels is accurate and appropriate for me. I strive to treat everyone in my realm with respect, until they demonstrate that respect is not earned.
So it occurred to me today that I do not always treat myself with the same level of respect and compassion. Why am I, or why was I once, so relentlessly hard on myself?
My progress with confidence and self-talk is pretty well documented here. I have made great strides with being kinder to myself, staying positive, and appreciating my own efforts. Comparing myself and my progress to others around me has proven to be a ridiculously fruitless, irrelevant exercise. Measuring my progress on a timeline or with preconceived expectations is toxic for me, so I stopped that long ago. I also strive to limit my expectations and hopes to getting myself into the gym to work at something as routinely and as frequently as I can make happen. I eliminated the word “fail” and all its derivatives from any thoughts or speech about my efforts. Setbacks, disappointments, faltering happen; failure is not only not an option, it is no longer even a thing for me when it comes to my better health quest.
Today, I am all about my forward strides, including the headspace where I am dwelling.
Gratitude has become such a stretched out, overblown, unrealistic concept anymore. Like so many good and empowering (yet another overused and therefore overvalued term) concepts, it has become part of the current age hype of feeling good and somehow releasing us from real responsibility for ourselves and our actions and choices as long as people are happy. I recognize that I am making a very broad-brush generalization here, yet I am unapologetic for it. The expectation of entitlement has cheapened a lot of things, and being grateful for modern healthcare and the opportunities of higher education (as examples) means it becomes a right by existence versus something we must participate in and work at and work for the genuine benefits.
In my thoughts of late, I find that people are disingenuous and insincere in their expressions of gratitude. Thanks for offering such rich healthcare benefits, but my portion of the premium is too rich and should be subsidized further. Thanks to modern medicine for creating such superior drugs for chronic conditions like diabetes, so that means I can now eat all the sugar and carbohydrates I want and adjust with an injection 3 times daily until something else fails and I need a new kidney or other costly medical procedures rather than watching my diet and getting some form of regular exercise, at which time I will be angry for having to lose a limb or endure a risky procedure to prolong my miserable life by a few years.
This is on my mind because of my own better health situation. I am working hard to take control of my overall health. For most of my adult life doctors have said diet and exercise are important to improve my overall health.
None of us know how long our lives will extend, and for a long, long time I thought my little tiny life mattered less and did not truly impact anyone. Boy, denial is a powerful drug. In truth, my tiny little life matters a great deal and impacts a lot of folk. And I should know this from my own experiences with family and friends who have passed. M, for example, would be a devoted caretaker, but is that what I want for him? To be wheeling me around or attending to my bedside for our twilight years? Or would I rather be saving my health tokens now by improving my diet and learning to exercise so the long-term benefits maybe extend my vibrancy and make the twilight years shorter and less burdensome?
Obviously I’m accruing and hoarding my health tokens like gold ingots in the safe. Every single day is a choice about going to the gym and completing a List to the best of my ability (or at least trying) or staying home and feeling … something. I would not classify it as guilt so much as regret for lost opportunities. I rarely do that anymore; I have a much clearer understanding of a rest day and its importance. But I also know that rest days can be just light days doing Lists I find more enjoyable or practicing things that give me grief. I love that I don’t go to the gym out of a sense of guilt; I go because sometimes it feels like a guilty pleasure.
So for more than just my better health quest, I have turned my gym time into me-centric time, where I get to do precisely what I want to do and pursue activities that benefit me directly and primarily. Selfish? Hardly. When I was spending a lot of money on prescription drugs to control my diabetes, that was selfish. In some ways a lot more convenient and definitely easier, but still extraordinarily selfish. But since I cannot go back and alter my personal history, I can take better care of myself now in hopes of better tomorrows.
I want to be sensible about taking care of myself and staying the course on my better health quest. Every session where I feel energized and successful is another encouragement stone that paves the path for this journey.
Every session, even when I feel flat and underwhelmed with my own effort, is a step up. Days like today, when I feel powerful and successful in my efforts, the person I was when I started is seems such a distant memory. The scaredy-cat woman with so much anxiety and filled with self-loathing – I know she cannot be completely annihilated or done away with completely. But her path led somewhere unexpected, a place of safety and peace.
And with some kind of badass in training ensuring that status quo remains in place, our life continues, an enduring adventure. Anymore, I will not accept anything less.