I love training days. Still. Especially now, after a few lumpy bumpy weeks with illness and vacation. But much of the tribe seems to be settling back in after the holiday weekend and vacations away, and of course J is back from both illness and his well-deserved time off. But we are back to noses to grindstone and getting back to work. I am ridiculously excited about the present day, while of course glad J and others had good times away and that J is completely recovered from the multi-week respiratory crud. Still going around in the gym, though, so hopefully it does not return for anyone else.
The more I learn, the more I realize there is so much more yet to learn. I have said this many times before, but with exercise and the better health quest, it is as if I am standing at the base of Mt. Everest and looking straight up without being able to even imagine what the summit is like. I know it’s there somewhere, but I am unlikely to reach it. Where that once would have filled me with a sense of “why bother?” and failure, now it’s is just something else to contemplate and file away into future potential thought files. Summit is not my objective, after all. Climbing, seeing what I see from each plateau, and staying present in my moments rather than dreaming of whatever else lies ahead. Having the summit as my destinations is like a goal to me – something that adds stress and pressure and drains and all joy from the process. Going forward, or sideways, or even backward on the journey is a better framework for my better health quest, because I do not wake up one day and voila! I have arrived at healthy. Healthy is here, healthy is now. Better version of healthy is tomorrow, or next week, next month, next year, five years down the road.
I know I don’t know everything in the gym. Hell, I am such a novice that barely knows anything and freely admit it. The construction and reasons why Lists are constructed the way they are constructed still mostly eludes me, although for the most part I can figure out which body part is working when, what kind of huffy-puffy response I’m seeking, and when something is not quite right and needs to be adjusted. These are things I know for me; I could not imagine tutoring or sharing what I know about me with anyone else. All good, because I have zero desire or inclination to challenge J for his crown in the gym. That said, I love my baseline knowledge level about me right now and how that base keeps elevating as the months pass.
The best advice about exercise I got from M and other friends who are or have been long-time fitness enthusiasts was to find an activity I like and pursue it consistently. I thought they were full of s–t – I hated sweat, I hated exercise, there was nothing I was ever going to like much less look forward to doing, it was all a big giant chore. Fast forward to now. Consistency is one of those things that I feel very boring about. Most days I get up, I go to the gym, I do something while there. Training days are always Very GREAT things, and the way I feel when there on my own and pursuing my Lists is what defines good practice, not so great practice. Sometimes I’m there and working for 2 hours, occasionally I can barely push myself for 30 minutes. But at least I’m there. I almost take that for granted. I should give myself a little more credit, as the last couple of weeks illustrated for me. While I have developed a sense of community that inspires me and makes me want to be there, I also do it because it feels abnormal not to exercise every single day anymore. I like me, feel better about myself after I have been through a sweat-fest of some sort where some muscles have moved and stretched and worked. Yoga is not doing it for me – not a flexie or bendy person – and for the effort I have to expend the payoff in feels is inadequate. As an accessory workout (new term I learned today), it’s fine and maybe, eventually will provide more satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. But it will never be something I can do most or even a few days per week.
Mind is going to undergo a bit of a reset with regard to rep ranges. Today we revisited heavier weight, shorter rep ranges, and where I am accustomed to 8 being my minimum on everything, the weightier weights have pushed it to the maximum. No sense of failure about it, more having to remember to stop at 8 even if I have potential to go to 12 or 15. Yep, me and my first world problems.
What We Did
With seminar discussion on a broad range of exercise and fitness-related topics, our List today is relatively brief. For each item we were going for a maximum of 8 reps (per side as applicable) and exploring increasing weight with each set to see where we are on the scale. Also, since this was an informal one-off type training day, there is no actual List for me to get the correct names of things, so I’m winging it and doing my best descriptive. At least I’m not using my personal nicknames for things; we did not do “pop tarts” yesterday, for example.
Squat machine (high set at 13 – maybe 130 lbs.)
Cable horizontal chops
Walking lunges (15 lb. DBs)
Planks off bench – arms bent/leg elevated and on elbows with step out, leg up, knee in
Chest press (sets with 20, 25, 30, and 35 lb. DBs)
Cable overhand face pulls
Cable overhead tricep extensions
How It Felt
I have a love-hate with the squat machine. Most of the time I like it well enough, and sometimes I actually do love it. But it feels different and like I’m trapped with this big giant collar-like structure. The times I hate it are when there is some baseline insecurity about what I’m doing, whether my form is correct under what feels like a lot of weight bearing down upon me. Probably I just need to ask more questions while I am involved with it, because my anxiety and dread about this machine is directly proportional to my concern about all I don’t know and could potentially being doing wrong. Problem is, I need to articulate said questions in the moment, or they escape me. Instead I am left thinking that it went really well with the increased volume of weight for 8 reps for the couple of sets, yet I am vaguely uncomfortable about it. Next time I will be hyper-vigilent about what I am feeling and ask if it’s right, wrong, or disaster is lurking. Probably not; probably it’s just me and my mind in overdrive and overthinking it.
Thursday night friend K and I were discussing chops using bands and cables – neither of us are super fans of these, and since I had been working at them earlier in the day, they were fresh in my mind. Frankly, the closest I usually come to really feeling these is the high-to-low version, if only because I have to serious tuck that rib to get the movement correctly. With the cable horizontal chops we did in training, I confess to not really feeling them, and I am 99.99% sure it is operator error. Or my obliques and core are mostly numb to the subtle nuances of exercise. It works best when I remember to tighten my abs and think of upper body as one twisting rotational unit versus pulling the cable with my arms and then following along with my core, but my focus is not always complete. I typically am not feeling it while in the motion, but sometimes I have some minor soreness the next day. Maybe the fat layer is obscuring all feeling in the area? I know something must be working, because I am starting to have more definable, positive curve in the area, but feels? Not quite there yet.
Walking lunges – I loathe you less, but hard to imagine a world where they crest onto a favorites list. Bumping up to 15 lb. dumbbells in each hand (from the 12 lb. pair I have been using for quite awhile) does make a difference, but so does the minor tweaking adjustment in form to sink the dragging behind leg more and stay ever so slightly more upright (I am quite sure J used other, more technical terms, but that’s the way mind interpreted and processed it). The experience with these is also colored by the aforementioned squat machine squats, with it’s largest ever (for me) volume of weight. Fatigue anyone?
We moved along to a new version of plank off the bench. Planks with a rear foot elevated and elbows slightly bent are a first for me and not quite as terrible as I was projecting. Maybe core is stronger than I realize. Maybe I was doing them wrong (highly unlikely with the laser-focused trainer eye engaged). Maybe my 20 to 30 second hold was actually only 2 or 3 seconds. Who knows? They were not terrible or awful, but planks leave idle mind to do the devil’s bidding and it tests the resilience of the locks on to negative girl’s cell door. Without even noticing I started thinking of all the ways I suck at planks, because I don’t always feel them working. As K articulated so perfectly – if we are doing all this work we want to feel something working. We also did a set of the now regular planks with the step out, leg up, knee in. At least with those legs are more active and moving about, requiring mind to pay attention and not wander.
Big excitement of the day was the flat bench chest press with the weightier weights. We went through several pairs of dumbbells – 20s, 25s, 30s – for 8 reps before arriving at the heaviest I have ever used for this exercise in the 35s. First set I went through 7 reps, second set my right arm started wobbling and threatening collapse on the way up from 6 – that was an interesting experience. But I was completely entranced by my ability to use the heavier weights. Of course I will not be trying those again on my own anytime soon, but I was thinking this morning that I might mosey upward into a 25 lb. standard for my warm up set and move along into the 30 lb. pair when doing the non-huffy puffy Lists. But I gotta say, it’s not the weights that have much of my attention and afterthought thinking – it’s the upper back arch while engaged and starting out with the weights overhead. I am finding it kind of tricky to lay on the bench, get the arch just so, and have weights up in the air all at the same time. It’s not impossible, but J has mentioned it since we were doing these with 10 lb. dumbbells, and I am trying to train myself to be mindful of it in my set-up. Remind myself this is a process and that I want a positive learning experience, not one where I’m squealing in pain and having to be placed on the injury bench.
On to the standing cable overhand facepull. I always smile at the name – facepull. It’s an accurate description, but still – facepull. Anyway, this is another of those shoulder exercises where I can tell my flexibility has increased through the months. When we started, I was continually perplexed by these, in that I could not understand how they were supposed to benefit me, yet I figured I was so grossly out of shape that they were invisibly benefitting me. I also did have the depth of understanding to even articulate a question about them. Now, I feel my shoulders and that contraction in my upper back between the shoulderblades. We have been doing the overhand version for awhile now and I think I have forgotten the other way to place my hands on the rope. Oh well; lots of training days left in the year if the other method appears on a List anytime soon.
And finally, the cable overhead triceps extensions. Not sure what I think about these, other than body should be straight yet leaned forward at a 45 degree angle. The actual work feels like work I enjoy, but I get distracted by my ponytail. I know – me and my first world problems. But thinking about this afterward, I can feel my triceps working, but also in the lats as well. Different than laying down on the bench with dumbbells in hand, yet the same sort of work-related feels.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
Before we actually go started with the weights today, J and I had a half hour educational seminar. I am super spoiled – first Thursday of the month, and friend C is away at a monthly volunteer commitment, so the hour-long appointment she typically occupies was free for me/us to run off the clock and into overtime.
We went over what we have done thus far in the last year or so of our List-making adventure: upper and lower splits, PHA-focused (aka huffy-puffy), and plexes that focus on particular body sections. Laid out on the whiteboard like that, I marvel at how much we have done, how many different exercises I have learned and the many ways I am able to exercise muscle groups using weights, bands, machines, etc.
Next we are heading into the land of push-pull exercises incorporating much of what I already know (rows, presses, squats, lunges, etc.) and advancing with weightier weights and a tighter rep range. We have done this before, bumped up the weights and shortened the rep range, but this already this feels different and new. Hence the seminar time. Plus, I’m an aspiring world-class exercise nerd; I completely dig this stuff.
We discussed the different exercises, the pushes and the pulls. Then there was the new terms: compound exercises (movements that engage 2 or more joints) and accessory exercises (smaller muscle groups like triceps and biceps). I always thought compound exercises were like poptarts – my term for power squat to overhead press and the like – which I suppose are more like exercise combinations. Present day rep ranges are typically 8 to 12, 12 to 15, 15 to infinity (or I have to stop). Weightier weight pushes and pulls with be smaller rep ranges, more like 6 to 8.
An interesting fact for me about using heavier weights: whereas J’s rep range for heavier might be 3 to 5 max, mine is more 6 to 8. Safety first always, and obviously he is far more experienced, comfortable, and has different objectives and reasons for wanting to lift more all at once. One of the (many, many, many) topics we touched upon and covered is the different styles of weight lifting and body building and reasons for doing (lots) more weight, less reps (aesthetic, build muscle) versus my version of more weight, less reps (than typical for me). Having been recently reading and following several fitpros on Facebook and elsewhere, the light suddenly comes on about what they are talking about with respect to their own training and what they present as best or better practices. While I was already aware much of that stuff is not applicable to me now (and maybe not ever), it is nice to get it into a context that I can actually understand and see how the principles fit in the bigger picture puzzle.
And because my doc runs a fat loss support group and I try to stay involved, I read the posts from other members including the monthly challenges. This month, the challenge is to do 300 kettlebell swings per day – definitely not something I would consider trying without discussing it with J in advance. On my List where these appear, I typically end up doing 15, setting the kettlebell on the ground and glaring at it, then picking it back up and doing another 15 to complete my set. So 300 per day? Daunting to say the least.
J did not tell me it is a terrible idea, but he did suggest (1) using the lightest weight (at 8 kg) kettlebell and (2) perhaps start at 100 per day and work my way up. I had already borrowed an 8 kg kettlebell from a friend (for whom this is now too light) to do whatever volume of swings possible in the backyard rather than trying to squeeze 300 before, during, and after my morning practices or training sessions. So I’m giving it a whirl.
Tonight I went back to the gym and hung out with friend K and got 100 done over the course of our meandering conversation. Tomorrow I will add a bunch into my warm-up and during my practice. I think I may actually be able to do this challenge. M is so helpful in my fitness efforts. Upon seeing the new addition to the back deck and hearing my hopeful intentions about this month’s challenge, he immediately suggested doing them facing the swimming pool, so if I lose control the kettlebell lands in the water rather than the side of the house or worse. Appreciate that vote of confidence! But it’s true – that vision is part of my recurring nightmare of Very Bad Things that can happen with heavy objects flying through the air.
So, while I am working on glutes and hamstrings of steel with an overload of kettlebell swinging, I am also looking forward to the next chapter in my weights adventure with trainer J.
Even on a briefer workload training day, we cover a lot of ground and get quite a bit done with the overtime session. I am excited about the idea of bumping up with weights I am using and seeing how it feels as we move along. The process and evolution feels very organic, as if this is the natural progression of the journey.
Watching the power lifting ladies group last night, I really do admire their abilities and the type of focused dedication that got them to this place and level. However, I also recognize that I no longer feel like less because I am not there now and have no genuine aspirations to train to lift in the same ways. Part of the learning curve for me is to abandon the idea that having different personal objectives and being on a parallel journey does not make me less than others pursuing strength or a particular aesthetic. I always believe it’s possible to be supportive and encouraging to others with different dreams, yet for me to fall away from the established norm made me wrong, lazy, or worse. As I have noted many times before, my confidence has grown and strengthened as well. Thankfully I am a very different sort of thinker and self-supporter than I was when I started 2 years ago. In fact, this month hosts an anniversary of sorts – 2 years since my first training session with J.
It has been a long and winding road, full of surprises and triumphs, buckets of sweat and puddles of tears. I have made new friends and developed different interests. I started to recognize and believe that I do have strength and stamina and stick-with-it-ness heretofore unimagined.
Whoda thunk? Certainly not me. And I have never been so pleased to be wrong about how weak I truly am.