Monday morning, training with J, short-on-sleep edition. I did not get to bed until after midnight and slept an extra 35 minutes past the 4 a.m. alarm. Ugh. I hate when I do that to myself. The stress of being late for training haunts me, plus I do like a minimum 10 minute warm-up time.
Even functioning on 4 hours sleep, I am capable of doing a full series of a plexes. Well, almost. There are 4 exercises per block and 4 blocks, which even at peak efficiency takes some time. While List guidance suggests 2 to 4 sets of each, we split the difference and did 3 of the first 3 blocks and 1 of the final, partly because J needed to prep for a consultation at 8 (and it was already 7:20 when we finished) and partly because I was dying on the bench. While this was not a huffy-puffy-themed List, there was plenty of huffing and puffing and not enough breath to blow up a dandelion. Yep, feeling the fatigue today.
I will like this List so much better and will hopefully not be dying quite so early on a full night of sleep. Allergies are awful this year as well, and while I have not had the congestion crud J has been battling back for almost 2 weeks, my sinuses sweat and I am blowing my nose regularly. When I am trying valiantly to keep up, it is well beyond the realm of annoying.
Certain exercises vex me still (looking at you, low-to-high band chops). This is a minor attack of the shoulds, as in I should be a lot more proficient at these. There is some maturity in this process and how I view it, though, because my vexation is limited to a very small handful of exercises. Suddenly I realize that’s not just a something, that’s a lot of something significant. I
should will graciously accept the mindset win and resolve to continue to pursue the nemesis stable.
I confess to not always writing these recaps in linear order. Sometimes I am so ridiculously excited about an exercise on a List that I open my recap template, copy and paste the List of the day (if it’s available) into its section, and then skip straight to “what we did” and write about the object of my excitement. The things I feel less enthusiasm about, they get done last. And if it has been a particularly thoughtful day, I do kitchen sink thoughts. But anyway.
What We Did
The List from today’s session:
QUAD-PLEX 1 (3 sets today)
DB Bent Over Rows (20 lb. DBs)
Triceps DB Extensions (12 lb. DBs
2-DB 1-leg RDLs (12 lb. DBs)
Mini Band Lateral Walks w/ Goblet Holds (20 lb. DB)
QUAD-PLEX 2 (3 sets today)
Seated Standing Band Rows (extra stretch) (purple band)
Bench Triceps Dips
DB Alt. Front Raises w/ Contralateral Steps (8 lb. DBs)
Pushups off DBs on Bench
QUAD-PLEX 3 (3 sets today)
1-arm DB Rows (incline tripod) (30 lb. DB)
Band Triceps Kickbacks (w/ slight torso rotation) (green band)
Band Squat to Rows (red band)
Low-to-High Band Choppers (yellow band)
QUAD-PLEX 4 (only 1 set today from severe ass-kicking fatigue and time constraints)
Alt Band Archers
Bench Reverse Crunches
1-legged Hip Thrust (off bench)
How It Felt
Ever since J created/stated the new cue that the dumbbell bent over rows are like (extreme paraphrasing going on here – what he said, what I heard, and how it has bloomed in my mind are potentially 3 different things) an upside down bench fly in shape, I am thinking about spreading the rib cage while pulling the weights up and back with the shoulder, keeping chin tucked, and tailbone up, resulting in kind of the high back arch that I strive to achieve lying down on the bench. For the most part, I think I have these down pretty well. But (and isn’t there always a “but” in such statements?) I think there is room for improvement. I try to explore the different places and ways to pull the weight back – elbow bent more and weights higher toward the shoulder, elbows at some great angle degree and weights pulled back more toward hip – to see how it feels differently. In the moment of doing the actual work, such explorations tends to fall by the wayside fairly quickly and what has been practiced most – pulling toward the hip – takes over.
The triceps dumbbell extensions are another that I feel competent and proficient with, and I have this debate in my mind at least once a week about whether or not it is time to try a heavier weight. But not today apparently. Today I was happily plugging along with my 12 lb. dumbbells and getting through my sets with barely a huff or a puff. I also had reinforced today my reluctance to try heavier weights on my own. Maybe it is not a caution that will last forever, but for now, it seems prudent.
Today was the 2-dumbbell 1-legged Romanian deadlift, and I
console remind myself of the distance I have gone through to get this far. The weeble-wobble is still with me. And it’s a little – okay A LOT – frustrating sometimes. But I have to keep in mind that I have been among the clumsiest person in America most of my life and now rarely trip over the grout in the tile anymore. I think patience for building the skills to hold weights and deadlift hinge on one leg is warranted.
Intriguing new twist today from the test kitchen: the mini band lateral walks with dumbbell goblet holds. Sometimes J’s creativity spikes in the middle of our sessions, and today he dreamed up adding a 20 lb. dumbbell to a lateral walk to the mini bands across the room. Weird thing, the impact on the abs. I mean, at the time it felt like something going on, but in conjunction with other stuff we did today, I feel my abs. And my lats. And even my forearms from pressing my hands against the sides of the dumbbells. It doesn’t seem like it should impact abs, but it does. Plus it makes it easier to keep the upper body still and avoid that side-to-side sway. More time and study is needed with this. Plus, while the test kitchen is super fun, instant pudding, on-the-spot test kitchen is way more interesting. I do believe this was my first opportunity to observe the process of how it’s done up close and personal. (Yes, such a exercise geek.)
Instead of dragging the bench and doing seated bench rows, we opted for standing bench rows instead. Still plenty of stretch in that. Still lots of work going on even if it is not the breakneck pace of huffy-puffy on steroids. With the heavier/heaviest band, I need to force myself to keep shoulders back and chest up while pulling for the row. With my head a minor mess the last month, I find myself questioning my habits and motivations. It is so easy to stay in my comfort zone, with my lighter bands. Chatting with another friend earlier today, he reminds me this is why I have fabulous, knowledgeable coaching I trust. Left to my own devices, it’s unlikely I would have ever picked up anything heavier than an 8 lb. dumbbell.
And highly unlikely I would ever even know about much less attempt the bench triceps dips. These are on the vexation list, because while I know what I should be doing – keeping my shoulders back as well as bending elbows to lower and straighten elbows to raise – is not quite the same as actually doing it correctly. Getting those elbows working right while keeping shoulders tucked back behind the ears is hard. But if I have learned anything, it is that I am not a natural athlete and these skills take time to learn and then to
perfect improve and enhance.
The dumbbell alternating front raises with contralateral steps are part of the dumbbell matrix List, which I typically do with 5 lb. dumbbells. I felt each and every one of those extra 3 lbs. going through them this morning. Still, good feelings. I have grown accustomed to a certain tempo and pacing with the dumbbell matrix, and the extra weight changed the formula and dynamic for me. Better and best ways possible. But trying hard to stand up straight and keep the abs and glutes tight while going through these, and honestly, I think that’s part of the reason why the dynamic has changed as well. Or maybe my understanding of how it is all supposed to work is deepening. Good outcomes, either.
My arch nemesis, the pushup, returns today with the pushups off dumbbells on bench. Rib tucks, abs tight, trying so hard to bend my elbows and feel the pinch between my shoulder blades and the contraction across the upper chest. I struggle still with these, all of them, and in the back of my mind I was thinking about a couple or few mini sets are in order. Or getting back in the habit of doing as many as I can every single day at the end of my List of the day. While in my head I know there must be some improvement, they just still feel so darn hard.
Learned a neat new trick today for doing 1-arm dumbbell rows – the incline tripod, as J calls it. Essentially, instead of standing split stance leaning against the back of an incline bench or box, I put my knee on the seat of the incline bench and my hand on the back support area and row that way. It is a lot more stable-feeling, especially with the heavier dumbbell territory we’re meandering toward. Still my favorite row of the variations I have learned to date, although today that 30 lb. dumbbell felt overly heavy and my rep range was in the vicinity of 8 minimums. Then I realized we were on third block, not first or even second. Fatigue, my old friend. Makes me feel better that I was just getting tired and not officially backsliding.
It still amazes me how the tiniest of tweaks will wake up an exercise for me. Such is the case with the band triceps kickbacks today. We have done these many times before, and always they were fine, but nothing especially special or to write home about. Then today we added this slight rotation and voila! new depth of feeling in the tricep. Not sure exactly why, but the arm positioning change, while subtle, suddenly wakes up the area into something that feels like a lot more significant tricep work going on.
Band squat-to-rows combine the best of both worlds. Squats are squats no matter how many variations we go through, and the same is true of the rows. But I find myself going through them with basic squat and row cues running through my head. For the most part these are relatively routine. But the heavier band – it’s appropriate. I have grown too comfortable with the medium green one.
All versions of the low-to-high band choppers are complicated. I’m getting there with the basic shape, but with my uncoordinated distaste for the lateral lunge it is challenging. I will keep plugging away at these, with the lightest yellow band. Thinking about it now, I can see the way these are supposed to work. Implementing the shape and making it a reality, it is going to take patience and practice.
Big triumph of the day is the dumbbell pullover. After a really long time using a 25 lb. dumbbell on these, today I bumped it up to the 30 lb. dumbbell, primarily out of convenience. The 30 was right in front of me, along with a pair of 12s, and rather than walk the 10 feet to get a 25, I almost impulsively decided to try the heavier weight under J’s supervision. Handled it just fine, especially since our new thing is to tighten the lats and abs and pull the weight up over the head. I’m pleased that I took the risk and tried the weightier weight.
After a lengthy absence, the alternating band archer rows have returned. I love these and had forgotten how much I enjoy the simple rhythm of going through them. Probably if I were someone who danced or enjoyed dancing, I would not think this, but archer rows are about as close to dancing as I can potentially imagine.
It has been awhile since we have done bench reverse crunches. Between Otis ups and the other types of crunches, I had completely forgotten how to do the reverse version. Once I remembered to hang on to the top of the bench I was laying on, I did a lot better and remembered how to do these. And damn, they are effective.
There is something unpleasant about glute bridges and hip thrusts. The 1-legged hip thrust off the bench are particularly unpleasant and I have not missed them
much at all. On the other hand, it seems more and more important to me that my hips and bones be strong. Weight lifting is part of that, and learning to perform these and other unpleasantness, forcing myself to do these: it is so hard, but it is also why I tend to frame this and other things that I dislike as components of my better health quest. Put that way, trying to remove whatever ego or pride or sense of should from the equation, makes it easier to stay the course and try to get through the less desirables.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
Completely, totally irrelevant to today’s training session, but I am still semi-obsessed with the learning curve of the kettlebell swings. While typing this paragraph, I am listening to (and potentially should be watching closely) a tutorial on KB swing mistakes. Mostly I am aware of the mistakes he talks about – “squatty” swings where butt comes down rather than back and knees go forward (should be more of a hinge), back rounds rather than being neutral spine, and trying to drive the KB up with the momentum of hips forward rather than arms and upper body. But of course, anything like this has me immediately thinking of my own form and technique and wondering how many of these things I am doing when I try it on my own in practice. Which is why I probably should not listen to other experts correcting form because it plants seeds in my head that coach J may be yanking out by the roots and then applying Round Up to ensure the weeds are eradicated.
In my head, it does not seem like this much time has passed or that I am capable of doing what I am doing. I question it and everything else, frequently with this sense of awe. My sense of hope for the future, of a different outcome than what I anticipated when I began. Perhaps it was lack of faith in myself and my track record of not sticking with a program for an extended period of time.
My sense of the shoulds persists, although at a much lower volume and intensity. Exercise grows more complicated, in the nicest possible ways, and the workload I am capable of increases. I am still not so tough, not so disciplined, kind of wild and woolly in my rep and set counts. The friends I have made in the gym, the other tribe and members who I see and have seen pretty much daily over the last 2 years – it is inspiring and somehow comforting to know my better health quest is not unique or even uncommon. Our practices and pursuits may differ, but the faces I recognize and see so regularly are seeking what they are seeking. Just seeing others working at their own goals and objectives makes me feel better, part of something, that makes it make sense.
For every friend past and present that does not get what I am doing or why I am doing it, there are at least a large handful of complete strangers trying and working for something others in my life may never really understand. It saddens me, but day after day after day, it saddens me less and less and less. Because for those I care for and about, those I love most, those I like and respect, I trust their choices even when I disagree with them. None of use are precisely alike and agreeing to disagree is the mature thing to do in my book. I have always tried to be a good and honorable community member, and my failure to understand is part of that.
But I know it is all about choices and I cannot force anyone to continue to have a healthy interaction and relationship with me. And my definition of a healthy relationship is not one where someone questions or is critical, sarcastic, or negative about my endeavors and lifestyle choices. As I get healthier, my tolerance for their bullshit has decreased as well. It is hard to listen to complaints about issues and problems that may be controlled by better choices. It has always been an issue for me, listening to the same situations and cycles repeating itself over and over again is hard. I have had to do a lot to break my own self-destructive cycles, and it has not been walk in the park or anything resembling easy or a cakewalk. And I am not especially disciplined, or brave, or courageous in these endeavors. It is just my life, my choices, the same choices I have to make each and every day about a zillion different aspects of life and living.
Friendship and other relationships – we are human beings and it seems our tendency is to complicate every aspect of our lives. I suppose when our lives diverge and become so different that we have to put barriers over things we can talk about makes it difficult to continue as status quo.
Part of me feels like a snake shedding his skin, that I am walking away from relationships and things that make no sense and don’t work in my life anymore. The exercise –
maybe it burns fat, builds muscle, makes me stronger and feel better. All those things are good and amazing. More than anything else, it is slowly, surely rebuilding my self-respect, something I did not realize I lacked so acutely until the process of recovering it became more real for me.
I have no idea why anyone reads this blog, and my hope is you get something from my musings and the lessons I learn each and every week. I blog for me, to have a record of my progress with the pieces of myself that I reclaim with every session and every practice and every tiny step toward recovering the me I was meant to be. At almost 56, I am still learning about myself. I know my history all too well, know my experiences, yet who I am and will be a year, or 5, or 10, or 20 remains a mystery.
Exercise, my better health quest – it gives me options to unwrap the mysteries of who I will become. And for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone who professes to care for and about me disparages those efforts. But self-protection I also understand, and the need to distance and disconnect from the real voices that make me like disparage and like my emerging self even less.
These are not the thoughts I want tinging my training days. Or any other days in the rest of my life. So progress sometimes means stepping back and letting go of things once very important to me. Priorities matter, and mine have changed.
Taking care of me, my family, my tribe is always first and foremost. Selfish is a term bandied about routinely, and for much of my life I have tried very hard to avoid being painted with that brush. Nowadays, I embrace it. I am better taking care of me first, to make me strong enough to take care of others as well.
And anymore, those who cannot or will not understand selfish in this context really have no place in my life. There is not enough time left to waste waiting around for that maturity or understanding to develop.
It’s both sad and liberating at the same time.