Monday morning training with J. While it was technically a huffy-puffy List review and revision, it was long enough ago that it kind of felt more like a regular List review yet with more emphasis on individual exercise skills updates and enhancements.
It does not seem to matter if I have been doing an exercise 20 months or 20 seconds, there is always something to tweak or new to learn. Personally, I find this exciting and keeps my interest in the journey fresh and focused.
My fatigue fog is dissipating. While not discouraged or feeling poorly about my better health pursuit, shaving sleep and shorting myself on time, patience, and ultimately best effort in practices has contributed to my overall malaise with the exercise.
While my nemesis stable is alive and well, so is my favorites List as well. There are some basics that feel so far out of reach for self-assured competency (looking at you, every push-up method known to man), and still others that make me know time, patience, and consistent practice will eventually cure. I have haunting memories of trying to do sit-ups in junior high and being mortified at how impossible they were for me. I am working steadily toward erasing those memories and replacing them with new ones of me being able to do a whole set comfortably. Someday soon – it will happen.
Something I like about me – I am okay stepping backward and taking apart an exercise I have been doing and learning its pieces and parts to make myself improve. Sometimes the big picture fluidity eludes me and J has to go back to basics and break things down into building blocks so I can improve and advance to some other level.
What We Did
Huffy-puffy go-go-go pacing for 3 sets of each block:
Dumbbell Bulgarian split squats (body weight only)
1-arm dumbbell row (25 lb. DB)
Plank off bench with step-outs, kickbacks, knee-in
Alternating dumbbell step-back to RDL hinge (15 lb. DBs)
Dumbbell chest press (20 lb. DBs)
Alternating Otis-up/chopper sit-ups
Alternating lateral lunges with bicep curl (15 lb. DBs)
Dumbbell pullovers (25 lb. DB)
Dumbbell triceps extensions (10 lb. DBs)
How It Felt
Maybe I am the one-off weirdo in the exercise and fitness world that actually likes Bulgarian split squats. Or perhaps I have not crested the part that makes them so deplorable. Or option 3 is that it took me so long to feel decently skilled at them that I am mistaking my gratitude for developing the strength and agility for actual enjoyment. Whatever. Right now they are not that bad or terribly unpleasant; they have safely been released back into the wild from the nemesis stable. I like the part where foot slides itself into proper position much of the time without me having to stop, restart, test repeatedly over and over again. Lately we have been doing bodyweight, but this next 10 days or so I will get the 5 lb. dumbbells off the rack and experiment and test my new-found skill. Worst outcome I will allow is that the teeter-totter balance effect returns and I have to try a lot harder to get back to where I am right now. There are much worse outcomes.
From there we went to 1-arm dumbbell rows on the bench. Kind of feels like I’m almost hugging the incline bench with my knee supported and my elbow resting on the incline slant, and I am somewhat undecided whether I like it better that way or with my arm stretched out to get the bend angle right. Rows of all stripes are enjoyable. In the realm of huffy-puffy Lists, the weight is generally manageable for a higher (for me, more than 8) rep set. We have done these in various configurations, this incline bench shape the latest. After doing these in their various forms, I always walk away feeling pleased with myself for the effort and like I have some sort of bodacious shoulders in the workshop under construction.
The planks off the bench with step out/up/knee in remain a challenge. Find myself moving along thinking rib tuck! Rib Tuck! RIB tuck, damnit! Which is what I always think when doing planks or anything plank-based. But it occurred to me this morning that in my mind chant should be amended to tighten glutes/rib tuck/tighten glutes. I do not seem to have the habit of doing both simultaneously and can feel varying degrees of engagement of the wrong spots (low back) or lack of engagement (abs). When I get my focus dialed in on the tightening glutes and abs (rib tuck), my efforts are far more successful and fatiguing. That said, I do like these more than your standard plank, because it gives mind something to do besides count the seconds and come up with all the weenie-whining reasons why time passes too slowly, all of which revolve around how much I hate planks because they are so difficult.
Of the bigger ah-ha moments today relates to the alternating dumbbell step-back to RDL hinge movement. Today J suggested I try turning the rear foot more inward and see how that felt. When he said it, my mind’s knee-jerk was it would not make much difference or would feel wrong. However, made a significant difference in how the muscles fired and actually felt more natural to me. Whoda thunk? Seriously, I spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about what my feet are doing while going through my Lists every day, because every time J has made an adjustment, correction, or suggestion about foot placement, it has made some kind of difference for me. By the end of the third set, I was still having to consciously think about that inward turn when stepping back. However, I could immediately tell the difference when it was straight and forward-pointing as well.
Not a whole lot of new stuff to report about dumbbell chest presses – still love them, still focused on arching back, and feeling a bit as if I am slacking on this – but my chest muscles this many hours later say I did reasonable work this morning. Between the arch, ensuring elbow does not unbend completely at the top, and keeping weights above the eyes makes these an enduring challenge and a favorite. Because we are using higher-rep weights, these go pretty smoothly for the full range for the huffy-puffy experience.
Working really, really hard at not hating floor sit-ups, a battle I am actually winning. Ever since I saw a really fit man in the gym doing sit-ups (at a really brisk pace) with his feet secured under a piece of equipment, I have felt infinitely better about using the bench this way. Besides, for the first time in my entire life I feel like I am succeeding and doing these correctly, if not terribly efficiently and at a good, steady clip. Today we reviewed alternating the Otis-ups/chopper sit-ups. For the most part, I have the shape and movement pretty well down, but it has been a bit of a trial and error process. I have gone from somehow arching/twisting lower back up to rounding shoulders and sort of curling up to our present rendition of straight up pulling with abs for the Otis-ups, then following the same pattern with the chop-turn at the top and leading with the opposite arm (right arm across to the left, left arm in the air, and vice versa). No low back ache (at all) today, but definitely feeling like I have been doing something with my core. So happy about that.
I have had an ongoing hate-intensely dislike relationship with lateral lunges. Cannot truly explain why, except they are hard and I’m ridiculously clumsy and feel off-balance stepping sideways. So what do I do? Avoid them like the walking dead. If they appear on a List, I do the bare minimum. Or less. Because I despise them that much. Today, maybe there is hope for reconciliation. Today’s bigger ah-ha moment came with deconstruction and an innocuous (for everyone else) foot placement adjustment became total game changers for me. J, still recovering from his walking pneumonia and unable to exercise much himself, enthusiastically demonstrated the lateral lunge with bicep curl for me. My heart sank a little, because the day had been going so very well up to that point. But I was wearing my big-girl leggings and pulled them up and stepped up to the plate. We went through a few, with some encouraging coaching about butt back first, then knee bend and into the lunge. As is typical, I struggled. But then he suggested I try turning my foot outward more, then butt back, then knee bend with the lunge part lean forward, weights over the knee. It was like I was standing in pouring rain, then clouds parted and the sun came out – suddenly I got it. Epiphany moment! The foot placement made my knee and hip align more correctly, leading with the butt back and into the knee bend/lunge part suddenly made these make sense. Coming back up to center, bicep curls were fine. Repeat on the other side, and it still worked. I feel clunky and mechanical right now, but there is genuine hope of making friends eventually. Of all the various types of lunges I have learned, these have been the worst. Maybe now they will not be so bad, and with some practice I will become more fluid with them. Again, foot placement – whoda thunk?
Love me some dumbbell pullovers, they of the whole body work to make the exercise work. I know I am pulling the weight overhead with arms and working my shoulders, but I feel it in my glutes, abs, whole body lying on the bench during and after the set is concluded. We went back to a 25 lb. dumbbell today, because this was a huffy-puffy List and was all about the max reps and working the heart, but since I learned about the pretensioning the rest of the body to maximize the work, it feels like a lighter weight and I feel capable of significantly more reps. While I go through these on a List a few times each week, I marvel at the way my shoulders actually flex and move now in their range of motion. Another of those realizations that continue to surprise and delight me.
Since successfully learning and not having to convince myself that doing dumbbell triceps extensions lying on the gym floor is no big deal, I now have mixed feelings about them when I go through the regular on-the-bench version. They feel a little different on the bench, like here is more room for error, but hey me, we’ve been successfully going through these for almost 2 years without mishap. Probably it’s the lovely of the satisfying little thud of the weight on the floor or the effort expended pressing the small of the back flat to the ground, because I find maxing out a set of these on the bench to leave me feeling like a job well done. It’s truly the little things that make me think about it, and next opportunity I get, I will try a set on the floor for comparison purposes. My curious mind wants to know about these things.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
In the almost two years we have been working together, the pendulum of how I view myself as a client has completely swung. In the beginning I saw myself as the special needs client, the sole tribe member who needed extra help with everything and did not progress satisfactorily and was constantly on the bubble of being fired from the tribe. Negative girl’s expert hand at work.
Warming up this morning I was pondering that I am a ridiculously easy-going tribe member and that J’s job might be more interesting if everyone had more interest in the minutia of the exercise and training process. Then I was a little ashamed of my big giant ego swelling and attempting to smother everyone else in its hot air enormity, because we are all very different in how we learn and what we hope to achieve from the training and learning process.
More than my curiosity and interest in what I am learning and how my body’s pieces and parts are supposed to work, I don’t care much at all what we do each session. We can learn new things, or start the process of learning new things. We can review older Lists. We can go throguh a get down in the weeds and examine the soil type review of individual exercises and critique the living daylights out of it. Honestly, I don’t care much at all what happens to be on the agenda. And if by some wild hair I have a burning question or ongoing trauma drama with something, I speak up and we will go through it. Very give and take. J wants to take a week or weeks off from writing new training plans it will be fine. Because there is always an enhancement or improvement to discern going through and reviewing a List all over again.
This is week 2 of 3 where we train together in a single session due to illness and vacation plans. My creature-of-habit-ness craves structure and repetitive patterns, so I am really into List on Monday, review List on Thursday pattern we have established. When it is only a single training session week, skills review works fine for me. Always I learn something from the time we spend working, and its value is not limited to just learning how to lift a weight. Our ranging conversations expose me different ideas and the exposure helps with my mental focus during my time on my own working through a List. I see Bulgarian split squats and my mind will go through not only the cues for this but the general gist of everything else we talked about. Frequently it is what we did over the weekend, or something we are reading, what’s going on in my world, what’s going on in his.
Family, friendships, relationships of all stripes are important to me to varying degrees. The closer I am to someone, the more inroads and interest I develop in what interests them. J, being a philosophy major in college, is a knowledge junkie, a quality I value and appreciate about him. It’s not limited to exercise and fitness or philosophy-related topics; he is an equal opportunity learner and seems to have a diverse interest in examining and making decisions about the various perspectives on nearly everything. So our conversations are very free-ranging, and I take his recommendations seriously about what he is reading and pronouncing as worthwhile of pursuit. Unfortunately I do not have the amount of time or energy to pursue knowledge on the same level, and our interests are interactions with others are diverse as well, but I do listen to his suggestions and use what time I have available to investigate further. Sometimes things stick and become part of my own repertoire – the couple of fitness pros on Facebook are direct introductions from J’s comments and likes and because they seem like sensible people who exhibit common sense that makes sense to me.
My point here, we’re not always talking exercise; to other members walking by, it may look like we’re standing around shooting the breeze. Not that I care a whit. But it struck me today how if the cueing has evolved into its own soundtrack, the rest of our conversation is the background music that accompanies it. It makes retention of what I am supposed to be doing and how do it more productive.
Over and over I stress the importance of how personal and unique our individual better health journeys. In spite of that, I still periodically cross paths in my own life with people who have no comprehension of how difficult it is to learn the fine little details that enhance and improve things I already know pretty well. And that’s okay. Some of my friends are immersed in either cardio-based pursuits or Crossfit, both of which seem so far removed from my daily gym experience. We are different; I can deal with that and slowly, eventually, kicking and screaming they will as well.
Tiny details are huge in my better health quest and always have been. Telling the vast majority of my friends about the details of turning my foot in on an RDL hinge or out on a lateral lunge – sometimes I feel as if I am speaking in tongues to them. Mostly it’s okay; I can accept that we are different in our pursuits. The upside of our differences: it has forced me out of my own comfort zone of close friends and to expand my circles beyond was is neat and comfortable and safe. I am socially awkward and feel inept in personal interactions so much of the time, and it is this that makes that makes me feel unsure and on so many fronts.
But the fronts I found so scary when I started are not the same things that give me anxiety and feel like the ground beneath my feet is uncertain right now. Things is, my limbs are stronger, my balance more confident, and if the earth moves beneath my feet, I am better prepared and equipped to cope with those surprises. Every day my world feels a little more solid, the ground a little firmer, my whole body stronger and my balance truer.
It matters less and less to me that close friends do not get my “wow!” factor with a tweak of the foot and the deconstruction and smoothing the pieces and parts to string it all back together. I don’t need their affirmations or understanding of what rocks aspects of my better health quest world – we can still be friends. I love that I get my own wow! factor and can appreciate the quirks of my method of learning and retaining details.
Progress is not just working on shedding fat and growing pretty muscles. But it sure helps make the better health quest come together.