Monday morning training with J. It was somewhat low-key, the start of newest adventure into training with heavier weights, lower rep sets.
The drama in my mind about heavier weights is not present this go-round. We experimented a bit late last summer, and the prevailing memory of the period is some low-level anxiety. I do not like disappointing J or myself with lack of effort, and while I did try hard while in that phase, I felt less successful. Partly it’s fear of the weightier weights on my own precludes me from my typical consistency with practice on my own. I have not pursued the heavier weights Lists once we went on to other things. This time, with the push-pulls, I feel more experienced and capable. I certainly do not think J would recommend I try to go heavier weights, fewer reps every single day, but I can see weaving them into the rotation of Lists each week.
The strength seems to have snuck up on me. I am in the gym regularly; I am practicing what I learned/am learning and striving to improve my form and skills. But until J suggests we bump up weights, I tend to stick with what I know. I have a healthy respect for what harm could befall me by trying too much on my own. Last Thursday, today, we used heavier weights, lower rep ranges, and I managed pretty well. Kind of astounding to me that I can do 8 reps with some of these bigger dumbbells. A very good and exciting surprise, to find I am stronger than I expected or realized.
Way back when, J described fitness as a giant iceberg with a lot of avenues, methods, areas to explore. While I am relatively certain that body building or power lifting or competitive anything does not interest me, I feel like I am an exercise adventurer or a dabbler in various things. Using heavier weights seems like just another avenue we should explore and see where it takes us next. The choices are not so stark and segregated and it is fine and important to meander down this brand of yellow brick road. I mean, between the huffy-puffy, the plexes, the upper/lower splits, plus the miscellaneous other random Lists, I have lots and lots of choices with how I want to exercise each and every day. But I like it. I like all of it. And I am okay with that. Being goal-focused on outcomes is not something that has ever bothered me. Outcome-based goals are still not a factor in my day-to-day exercise pursuits.
What We Did
Today was our first step toward the pressing aspect of the press-pull series of exercises with heavier weights, lower rep ranges than we have been pursuing. Our List today:
Heavy Goblet Squat (40)
Flat DB Chest Press (30s)
DB Walking Lunges (15s)
1-arm DB Overhead Press (15, 20)
Seated Hang n’ Band Laterals (10s)
1-legged Bent Elbow off bench Plank
Heavy Rope Triceps Pushdowns
Kneeling Rope Crunch
How it Felt
Thinking about the heavy goblet squat, is it slacking when I
fail do not immediately choose to go as low as I can potentially go from rep 1? In the span of time it took me to type that question I decided definitely not. There is an element of fear about squats and falling over backwards that I am oh-so-slowly overcoming. This must be at least part of the reason for the offset weight in my hands. At the rate I’m going, the anxiety about falling over backwards will switch to falling over forwards with a much weightier weight in my hands. For the present time, I’m good with the 40 lb. dumbbell for my set of 8 reps. I am even remembering (or trying harder to remember) the speed pop-up of the return to the top. Since the springing up with power is crossing my mind on other Lists as well, the idea is obviously taking root in my mind.
Anymore, when I think about the flat bench dumbbell chest press (or any other chest press for that matter), I am not thinking about the weights so much as I am about the upper back arch. Yep, still obsessed with the arch. But the best thing about today’s chest press process was 8 reps with various dumbbell weights – from pairs of 20s, to 25s, and up to the 30s. And I did really well, particularly with the 20s and 25s that I use routinely before we ventured forward into this pressing series. My arch is still pretty good, but in my ponderings I see room for improvement, part of which is ensuring I either put my towel down on the bench or wear a top that covers my shoulders so I can ensure my skin is not sticking to the bench and preventing me from arching appropriately. Arch obsessed – that’s me. But it’s okay; better to be obsessed with form than not giving a crap about it. If I have learned nothing else throughout this journey, good form is always going to be more important than the weights I am using.
I am still not a big fan girl of lunges, particularly walking lunges. But I am more competent now; I do not live in fear or have chronic dread when they appear on a List. However, with a pair of 15 lb. dumbbells in my hands, they become a lot more challenging. Amazing what a difference it makes going from a pair of 12 lb. dumbbells to the 15s. But I can do them. New things to watch are not leaning too far forward and ensuring I do not let my shoulders round or fall forward with fatigue. That translates to me as not letting weights swing, because when weights start to swing, it usually means I am letting upper body form slip in some way. Also, keeping shoulders and upper body in proper position puts more of my weight on the lead leg, especially when dropping deeper with the rear knee/leg and how it feels lighter. Continuing to work at these. Feel light years better and more confident than my lunge anxiety days, but still working to improve my form and technique.
One of my favorite exercise things is the 1-arm dumbbell overhead press. For this session we did 3 sets of 8 reps with the 15 lb. dumbbell and a set of 8 reps with a 20 lb. dumbbell. I have been doing these with the 15 lb. dumbbell most of the time for at least the last 6 months, and last Thursday when we decided to venture forth on the heavier press-pull venture, we had used the 20 lb. dumbbell. So anyway, point of this is (1) love the 1-arm dumbbell overhead press, and (2) doing well enough, am now strong enough to use the 20 lb. dumbbell for a 6 to 8 rep set.
I still struggle with seated hang and bang laterals and the 10 lb. dumbbells feel heavy to me. On my own, I have tended to use a pair of 8 lb. dumbbells. But the challenge is good, and while I can just barely make the 8 to 10 rep range, I am proficient enough right now. Time and practice means I will get stronger and become better at these.
Planks, of any shape or form, are not now, not likely ever going to be a favorite. But they are effective and I can do them. While we were training and I did not have the benefit of the timer on my phone and had to count to guesstimate time, I would say it was maybe 15 seconds. The 1-legged bent elbow off bench plank are not easy, pleasant, or fun, but they are effective. The bent arm part makes my triceps burn, the plank – with strong rib tuck and tightened glutes and then elevate the rear leg – it is hugely challenging for me. I have practiced these every day since, and in my mind it’s the longest 30 seconds per leg of my entire day. But I will continue to practice and work on my form. “Rib tuck” continues to be be best cue EVER, and honestly, I know abs are stronger, even if they still feel uber weak to me.
New term: accessory exercises. Love that, and triceps are apparently accessory muscles. We did the heavy rope triceps pushdowns (in keeping with our press theme). No idea what weight we actually used, but it definitely felt heavier than I typically use. Burn baby burn on the triceps, particularly after the planking in the prior block. Still satisfying, though; I think my arms are looking pretty damn sleek in these days of sleeveless dresses and tops.
New ab exercise of the day: the kneeling rope crunch. The cable machine thing is set up high and I am kneeling on the floor with the rope in my hands, knobs on the rope sort of pressed against my forehead. Crunching down toward the floor, then coming back up without elevating the hips. Sounds so much easier than it actually is in practice. Impulse is to lift those hips up while rising up, versus pulling myself up with the abs and more of an arch in my upper back. When I am doing it right, I can feel it in my abs. Practice is in order to get more proficient.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
For the first time probably ever, I simply forgot to finish writing this recap yesterday. It was an unusual day in many ways – it was non-office day for my full-time job (because I needed to be here for a couple of meetings today, one of which has been rescheduled) and had an unusually busy day of meetings and appointments that were more hurry-up-and-wait than typical. Instead of writing or working on other work-work matters, I indulged in retail therapy. Not the end of the world, but a bad sign of stress. That and emotional eating this weekend (donuts, of all things; I do not really even like donuts all that much), I am detoxing from sugar and fat this week and hoping to get back to my regular eating methods and schedule.
I am extraordinarily stressed about work right now. Busy, hectic, crazy as usual, and stressed because my full-time job is on the bubble and I am neither patient nor happy when left in a limbo-like state. Not that much of a control freak much of the time, yet in this I find any and all control freak tendencies flaring badly. It’s kind of ugly inside my head right now.
That said, I find there is a soothing sort of consistency about the gym and the List of the day. Monday night I went back after finishing up my scheduled work day to meet with friend K and give her a small gift. I stayed to half watch the first part of her training session with J – she’s learning barbell deadlifts and killing it – and we had a nice gab-fest during and after. I feel semi-dreadful about interrupting her session and did try to stay quiet on the sidelines, but it’s an exciting time for her and she is very generous in wanting to share it with me. It’s inspiring to see her excitement and triumph.
The outside world stress – this too shall pass. While in the midst of it, though – it sucks. Big time. Weirdly, though, I find myself doubling down in my engagement in gym-related pursuits. This (Tuesday) morning, I was completely immersed in my lower body, counting reps and ensuring I got past minimum or to maximum side of the prescribed range. And I pushed myself a little, trying for the heaviest weight I can remember using. Must be all the kettlebell swinging I have been doing, but it was not that bad. And it kept the ugly inside my mind from tainting all aspects of my life.
In the beginning, I felt kind of odd working with J because of his youth. Plus I had my gym crazy, my anxiety, my self-consciousness, and negative girl in the overall wheelhouse running much of my personal life. Perhaps his youth was the least of my concerns? Of course, in the beginning, I did not imagine training much past a few months – either I would quit or he would fire me, nevermind that his manager would not allow that to happen, that she would have moved me to some other trainer if I were too high maintenance or worse.
Mindset is so important, and mine is better, healthier, because I exercise regularly. The crazy in my life is full-tilt ON right now, yet other than not getting this blog post written on my usual schedule, everything else is calm, peaceful, moving along without much of a hiccup. Sad stuff with work, but the people, the relationships that are meaningful and matter to me, those will continue no matter what happens with the work. Through it all, working through my Lists helps maintain my balance with the rest of the shit going on in my life outside the gym. I knew my confidence had grown and my mental game improved as well, but I see it more sharply and clearly outside the gym as well. While physically I am still not very flexible, bendy, or graceful, I am definitely stronger and have some pretty muscle peeking out from where there was once only or mostly layered fat.
Anymore, I have a much deeper understanding that fitness is a process and a lifestyle, not some magic bullet or diet or gadget. Forever and ever, I will be monitoring my eating habits and in the gym or doing something else to build or maintain optimum balance of muscle and fat and in good health. All around me, I have female friends seeking some quick fix or setting goals that will (hopefully) motivate them to get up and get moving. When I hear them speak of the goals they are setting for themselves, I hear this hopeful earnestness that reaching that goal will be life-changing in real and significant ways. The hopeful romantic in me wants that to be true; the practical realist says it is unlikely. Time will tell. I just know that for me, the only “goal” I have is choosing me and my health every single day. Choosing me and my health is making better, smarter choices, by getting to the gym and exercising, eating a balanced diet heavier on the protein, not avoiding doing the work involved with keeping myself in a good, healthy place. It’s not easy. It’s definitely not glamorous. But it makes me feel better in all ways.
And better is just … better. Calmer, happier, healthier me. I may even be getting a little more self-aware and possibly even a little brighter for the good people and good information that comes with it.
It is now Thursday, another training session (recap in a separate post coming soon), and I am obviously quite behind on my training recaps this week because of work-related events. Ugh – I hate when life interferes with my blogging, because this week has been quite exciting for me in the gym.