PT-36: Nuance, understanding, growth

This recap is being published on May 10, 2017, nearly a week after the actual training session of May 4, 2017. Last week was insanely busy and social with my birthday, and I am spending this week catching up.

Thursday morning, training with J. It’s my birthday – I’m officially 56 today – and I am in an exceptionally great mood and riding the good feeling wave of positivity about the next year and all it holds for me. Training days are always fun and add so much to a regular day. Training day on my birthday is better than cake, and anyone who knows me knows how much I love me some cake. And I don’t just say that because I cannot really eat cake; I say it because it’s what I say pretty much every week, almost every single training recap. As my friend and gym sister K said in the birthday card she gave me, I am flaunting my fabulosity.

Key Takeaways

If every I question my expanded ability after this much time, training, and practice, I need only look at these plexes for affirmation of my progress. When I first learned these, I allotted 2 hours for 2 sets. Now, if I am reasonably disciplined and focused in my effort, I should be able to get through warm-up and 3 sets of this List in 75 to 90 minutes. Add to that – I am using weightier weights as well and have new twists and techniques to make the heavier loads seem about the same as where I was before.

It occurred to me earlier that me and exercise is an imprecise, imperfect fit, and this phenomenon is not limited to me and my ability past, present, or future. Everyone struggles with something, everyone has their own learning curve. Even those who are athletically gifted or naturally talented have to learn their skills from someone or somehow. My black-and-white view of this type of activity has matured. While not everyone can do what I am presently doing (or wants to for that matter), everyone with the ability to move at least some of their limbs is capable of doing something. On either end of the spectrum there is a little sliver of those who cannot do anything and those who can do just about everything. In between, the rest of the real estate is occupied by regular people like me who try their best to learn to move in a healthy and productive manner.

What We Did

It was review day, so the List was same as Monday with a couple of minor modifications:

QUAD-PLEX 1 (3 sets today)
DB Bent Over Rows (20 lb. DBs)
Triceps DB Extensions (15 lb. DBs
2-DB 1-legged RDL (12 lb. DBs)
Mini Band Lateral Walks w/ Goblet Holds (20 lb. DB)

QUAD-PLEX 2 (3 sets today)
Seated 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 (2 sets today, because there was extra time available)
DB Pullovers
Alt Band Archers
Bench Reverse Crunches
1-legged Hip Thrust (off bench)

How It Felt

There is something very satisfying about rows in general, although lately the dumbbell bent over rows have been creeping into then List rotations more and more. I certainly don’t mind and really don’t care much what is on the List of the week, but every week, every List seems to have a row variation (or three) on it.  Possibly just because I feel confident with them and the confidence has not come without a fair amount freaking LOT of consistent practice. At various points in my history I had thoughts about not ever getting better or getting bored with these. Like so much in this realm, there is always something else to learn, some form-related tweak to master. And when I feel like all that has been conquered, it’s time to move up to a weightier weight. Circle of life.

Arms are kind of a big deal; I have actually lost friends over the size of my arms. The months have passed and I have learned all sorts of ways to work my triceps and biceps. The triceps dumbbell extensions are another steady staple, and with my more recent tighten abs and glutes pretensioning and tightening to pull the weights back up makes this feel like a new way of moving and isolating/working my triceps. I see signs that the work is making a difference for me.

For this review day, J switched out the 2-dumbbell 1-legged Romanian deadlift for the 2-dumbbell front reaching lunges. Since rear foot remains on the ground (rather than floating in the air behind me), balance was not an issue and the work is very much the same. I like these better, because it has the impact of making the whole day feel more successful.

The mini band lateral walks with goblet holds are practically a whole body cardio exercise. If the mini band walking is enough to work the lower body, adding the weight wakes up the abs. and the squeezing of the dumbbell in the goblet posture lights up the lats. Going through these certainly brings out the huffy puffy.

I try to treat the seated band rows as fraternal twin of the seated cable rows machine downstairs. Not sure I am completely successful, but the basic shape and motion feels similar. Shoulders back, pull with the shoulders (versus pulling with the arms) and going as quickly as possible.

Significant improvement with the bench triceps dips once J worked with me on the 90 degree angle of legs and hips/upper body and lowering myself with that shape. My what a complete difference that made. Kept my shoulders back and could feel the triceps working versus sort of using hips to brace the movement.

Working on my shoulders with the dumbbell alternating front raises with contralateral steps. Not a whole lot to say about these, except I feel like they help my balance. No weeble-wobbling on one leg, but right step sideways while raising left arm (with weight) in front of me feels like stretching mind’s capabilities with walking and chewing gum.

Making some progress on my arch nemesis, the pushups off dumbbells on the bench. I am making progress, but somewhere along the line between last Thursday and now (it’s the following TUESDAY), I have decided that I need to do a set of at least 10 pushups every single day. Because I know I can do it, and I know improvement will happen for me. But I forget. I get busy, or I’m chatting with gym pals, or I am exhausted from the other 3 sets and blocks of exercises I have done in a practice. But I am determined to not be the only person in the damn tribe who has been training with J for nearly 2 years and still needs a lot of coaching on a pushup. Not even an on-the-floor pushup either. I want to think this is a sad state of affairs, but I have to be realistic. My ability (or inability) to successfully do a pushup is unlikely to impact anyone else. And I’m probably not that sad either; I have lots and lots of other things I could be doing to build and strengthen the same muscles. Perspective can be a beautiful thing.

Big, giant affection fest for the 1-arm dumbbell rows with the incline tripod and weighty weight. While the bent over rows are elevating in my affections, these bad boys still have a pretty firm grip on my heart. With using the incline bench for support (knee on bench, hand on seat of inclined bench, hand on back of incline part, foot on floor completing the tripod effect), I get a lot more support and traction out of pulling with my shoulder.

Potentially the favorite triceps exercise in current rotation – the band triceps kickbacks with a slight torso rotation. For once it’s not just because they are easy for me and I feel confident with them. If anything, they feel a bit more complicated than others, with the set-up and not yet immediately recalling which way to slightly rotate the torso (trial and error is alive and well for me). But the feels – the feels are pretty damn amazing. I vary band coloring – sometimes the green one, sometimes the yellow one, sometimes the red one – and I keep going until the muscle burns up. The energy expenditure is (or at least feels) very different than when I am lying on the bench doing triceps extensions or sitting on the bench doing the overhead pullover things. Thinking about it, I really like the way mind engages with the bands and the muscle simultaneously. I marvel at the way it works with me.

The band squat to rows are a staple on my warm-up List and not something I typically pursue. Maybe I am a purist at heart and want to enjoy my squats and enjoy my rows individually and on their own? I am pretty competent with them and know that I should be using the heavier band (rather than my beloved medium green one), and for this List I probably will continue with the heavier one so I get more burn for my buck. They are just not something that inspires ridiculous excitement.

Potential new arch nemesis waiting in the wings with the low-to-high band choppers and their ilk. Possibly it is my confused inability to master a lateral lunge, but since that is part of the process of doing the low-to-high on these, it seems a natural extension that I might have some issues improving on these. More and more, I think it’s my stance – damn feet have tiny little minds of their own. For most choppers, I am reasonably sure about the footing with each, where the foot closest to the band/cable is positioned further behind the line of the band/cable and the other foot is closer to it. Mostly I have that part. Width of the stance, though, seems like it needs to be adjusted somewhat. Plus the pivot food seems to wander and the stance widen as we move along and requires some adjustment. Not the end of the world as I know it, but another thing I try to pay attention to in the moment.

Since we have increased the dumbbell weight (from 25 lbs. to 30 lbs.), I am loving the dumbbell pullovers. Along with the weightier weight, I learned how to tighten whole body – glutes, abs, chest muscles – to pull it up and over my head. Spreading the work out makes me perceive this as not as difficult or heavy in the less desirable of ways. It’s an invigorating type of challenge and took something was sort of ho-hum and made it so much better.

The alternating band archer rows are the tranquil moments rows. I like these, a lot, because they are different and relatively simple to pace and to manage. I can feel myself doing the work of pulling band, but for once I feel almost graceful with the step rather than off balance, clumsy, or awkward. It’s refreshing.

I did surprisingly well on the bench reverse crunches, hips elevating pretty well and high off the bench. J was telling me I’d soon be dragon flagging, which of course I’d never heard of and he demonstrated for me. Dragon flagging is not anywhere in the future I can envision right now – I will just continue pursuing good form and more reps per set on the reverse crunching for now – but these days I believe my potential for just about anything given enough time.

There was a time very early in my consistency pursuits where I did 1-legged hip thrusts off the bench every single day as a warm-up. I cannot recall liking them much at that time either, but after a long slumber and multitudes of Lists without them, I can see where my distaste would surge to the forefront again. Oh well; I cannot love everything. But I do see grounds for improvement and old cues coming back to mind that will make these more bearable until they are the tolerable end to a fun List. It will happen.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

The number one reason I try hard to start and finish my recap posts on training days or the day immediately after is simply to capture my thoughts while fresh. I do scribble notes, cues, things I want to remember about the day, but the writing/blogging experience is a lot more pleasurable and satisfying when the thoughts and ideas are fresh. As it is, nearly an entire week after the session, the thoughts are stale and unremarkable. Believe me, I have burned through quite a few exercise brain cells in the last 10 days.

What does come to mind is marketing.

Our gym, like others everywhere, has a presence on social media, TV, radio, etc. Because I do not listen to local radio stations or watch network TV, most of my exposure comes from my very small and light footprint on Facebook. Last week they were highlighting correspondence from another member about her experience working with another trainer at another club. While I am happy that her experience and results are positive, the way the letter was written has me questioning the realistic view of her results. For example, she cited signing up for 4 weeks with her trainer and preparing to sign up for another 4 week session and having dropped 3 or 4 (from a 16 to an 8) dress sizes from that. Each of us, our experiences are different. But if that is true for her, it’s not a normal or average experience for a training client.

It bothered me, and I had to break it down and examine my own feelings to figure out why it bothered me. Am I jealous because my experience is so different? Am I upset because she was able to do something so miraculous? Let me be clear: I am over the moon delighted with my results. My better health quest is a rousing success thus far and I really want to maintain it and could care less what the tags inside my clothes say.

Why it bothered me – I think I now have enough knowledge and experience to question the validity of what was presented. Marketing in fitness seems almost dangerous in its irresponsibility, selling dreams to those who want the simple solutions for complex problems of weight loss and lifestyle change. My journey is completely unsexy; getting off medication is not something that is measured on a scale or with the tape measure or with former big jeans that now pool around my ankles. I vastly prefer the before and after photos where the person has not lost any weight yet looks visibly trimmer and carrying less fat.

But as J says, that’s not sexy. Reality in fitness is rarely sexy. Reality for normal people leading normal lives – there is no 6 week transformation that does not involve surgery or crazy diets.

I have come to despise the marketing in the health and fitness realm. Where I once, naively, would be happy for people sporting svelte new bodies after a couple of months on small quantities of highly process prepackaged cardboard, I know enough of them who were back where they began with more weight on their frames after return to eating real food.

My own journey is not sexy and is pretty unexciting to watch as I plod along from List to List and learning new things, slowly layering in some additional muscle and burning away fat. Lifestyle change is a lot of hard work, sweat, tears, and occasionally blood. It’s going to bed early to get up to get to the gym. It’s giving up eating anything I want whenever I want and being sensible about healthy eating. Yeah, my time exercising is excessive to just about everyone, but so are my working hours. Now that I have this much time in my day devoted to my better health quest via exercise, I wonder what I used to do that gobbled up all that time and left me feeling so exhausted all the time.

Essentially, it’s about choices. I only wish that those selling products and services were more transparent and honest about what they are shilling. And that people desperate for easy answers would learn to accept that there are no shortcuts to losing weight and keeping it off, to getting fitter, to improving health. I, too, want to believe some of these miracle solutions actually might work, but the last couple of years have hardened and kept me rooted in the reality that lifestyle changes are hard and take commitment and consistency. And it irritates me the media shading on what lies within the realm of possibility, no matter how remote or unicorn-ish.


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