Thursday morning, training with J. First appointment of the day was 30 minutes earlier than usual, so J asked if I wanted to come in 30 minutes earlier, giving me a little extra time. All good things. Except first appointment had to cancel and we could have gone back to our usual start time – not a problem for me. All good points that fab trainer J is truly fabulous and generous with his time.
What I have learned from all my training sessions: there is good form and technique, some exercises are more effective or productive, but a “bad” exercise has yet to cross my Lists. Probably this is partly why I depend upon J so much; keep me from doing stupid stuff or acquiring even more bad habits. There are things I like less, there are things I will avoid whenever possible, but there is truly nothing that makes me feel physically poorly afterwards.
Perhaps someday I will also develop stronger preferences for things than I have to date. I am more a generalist and interested in everything until it either hurts me or bores me. And even if it bores me, I do it anyway because it’s good for me. Kind of like eating vegetables; I really don’t love most of them, but I eat them because they are good for me. I am always glad to be learning new skills, and learning the big barbell and how to use one effectively falls under this umbrella. Still don’t see myself as a powerlifter or even a serious weight lifter, and that’s okay. I do not need a defined goal to learn new skills.
Those stretchy bands! In the back of my mind I keep thinking they will someday be relegated to warm-up routines, yet they keep appearing and evolving into something more challenging and productive. Not sure why I think I want them to go away, but it just occurs to me from time to time that I should be done with them by now. My wanting them gone is probably most recently related to convenience; every time I want to use one for warmup or on a List, I have to go on a search and rescue mission throughout the gym. Annoying. (Yeah, me and my first world problems, I know).
Heavier weights – oh my, it’s so thrilling! I feel ridiculous admitting this to anyone else, but being able to actually use a bigger weight is exciting. I have never thought I was strong. Sometimes, schlepping crap at the office, I still feel kind of weak (but that could be related to the dress and heels and the awkwardness of of carrying boxes of files and records to and fro while trying to keep them away from my dress). The way things sneak up on me and while I am looking doubtful at the weights J suggests, next I know I am capable with them. Maybe not for higher rep ranges, but once upon a time what I use now was in the 6 to 8 rep range, too.
I am an exercise nerd. My fascination with the way things work – like my own body, for example – seems to know few boundaries. Is okay. I keep it mostly to myself.
What We Did
On our List today:
Barbell RDL (61)
High Tension Resist Rotation Press
1-leg DB RDL (25)
SB Hamstring Curls
Seated Cable Row
Seated Hamstring Curls
Dual Cable Lat Pulldown
How It Felt
We started with basic form for the barbell Romanian dead lift and getting the feels for the difference in weight distribution for a 41 lb. barbell and its significantly longer length when compared to a 25 or 30 lb. pair of dumbbells. It was okay, not horrible, not too scary. There were no other members right nearby either so I was not too concerned about accidentally bumping someone while moving it to and fro. After the first couple of times hinging with just the bar, J added light weight plates – a pair of 5 lb. plates for a set, then took those off and replaced them with a set of 10 lb. plates. While it feels very different than my beloved dumbbells, it is not unmanageable, and I am too inexperienced right now to have a strong preference one way or the other. Bad habit that happens with dumbbell RDLs (wanting to soften or bend knees on the rise back to the top rather than keep them straight) also reared its ugly head with the barbell. I think I could learn these, and if I am a bad fit for it, there will be no pouting or tears. Mostly it was fascinating how different the weight feels, almost lighter than similar amounts in dumbbells because it is so spread out.
We have not done the band resist rotation press in awhile, much less the high tension resist rotation press. Only real difference is I don’t remember stretching the band out quite so much, to the high tension. When I was doing it right, aka not leaning away from the band a bit too much to maintain the high tension, I definitely felt it in the abs and the obliques. Best cue EVER – rib tuck – also applies here as well. We were using the lightest yellow band and it was still challenging to keep it tensioned and press properly. These are effective; I was feeling my abs all Thursday afternoon.
Big, huge, honking triumph of the day: the 1-leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift with a single 25 lb. dumbbell. When J said to use the 25 as the offset weight, I am quite sure my expression was doubtful. Last 1-leg RDL was with a pair of dumbbells and I struggled – still struggle – with my balance on those. But J has the fully functional, big giant brain and watches people do all sorts of things all day long, so away we went. To my astonishment, I did not immediately fall over or drop the weight on the floor or my foot. Rear leg elevated and weight dropped gracefully for 5 or 6 reps. OMG! I have gained unexpected new balance overnight or am I just stronger now? Could be both. Either way, my excitement over the initial success nearly did me in as I grew more fatigued. But my goodness – I was standing on 1 leg with a 25 lb. dumbbell in my hand! Never imagined such a thing being possible for me. J is a genius.
The pullover is a standard, and I have been doing these with a 25 lb. dumbbell for several months. I kind of love them. I genuinely enjoy the flexibility that has built after months and months of doing pullovers. Today we started out with my standard 25 lb. dumbbell for warm-up and then proceeded on to the 35 lb. dumbbell for a 6 to 8 rep range. While I was extraordinarily aware of when I made the minimum reps, I continued on to the full 8. Because I don’t want to perceive myself as a complete slacker. The one factor I noticed about the weightier weight is the physical size of the 35 lb. dumbbell in my hand being larger than the 25. The way it’s held for the pullover, I could feel the edge of the 35 against my wrist far more than with the 25, the edge of which tends to land more at the edge of my palm. It was not a dealbreaker; I was not complaining to J that this was an unworkable weight because of it’s physical shape. No, I just had to adjust my handhold around the handle and the way my palms pressed against the weight itself. Little things, little tweaks can make the difference between success and less success. I am improving in self-diagnosing what’s a Very Big Deal and what just requires me to change my bit a bit to ensure I am not getting my wrists dug into by the weight. Yay me!
The stability ball hamstring curls are back. I was actually very pleased with my progress since the last time I recall doing these – hips were elevating higher and my curling in was better. However, and I laugh as I type this, J is encouraging to lift hips even higher and curl in just another half inch. I am definitely out of practice, but it feels like my recent streak of kettlebell swinging has done a lot for strengthening my glutes and hamstrings. J as coach is there to coach and instruct and ensure I continually push forward and wring every last drop of productivity out of each exercise. Except I am actually not sure my knee bends in another half inch no matter how high elevated or low hanging hips are off the ball. Like everything fitness and exercise, though, I believe persistent practice will make a difference. I will keep trying.
The seated cable row – every time I visit this machine I feel as if I am relearning technique and proper form all over again. Perhaps from my years of rowing machine rowing or just because my learning curve is steep on this, but there you have it: takes a set (or more) to get into the groove and pick up the right form. Okay, so today it was all about pulling elbows back as far as possible behind you. I am trying hard to remember not to lean back from the waist but utilize the upper back arch and pull with the shoulders and not with the arms. But since we are talking about elbows pulling back, it gets confusing. Always I am thinking about the arch – arch obsessed with this machine as well – and pulling with shoulders back, back, back and that will move elbows back. I need more practice. I cut myself some slack – so many Lists, so few practice days. But for the most I feel as if I understand and capable of performing the basic shape.
My arch obsession follows me around in the gym. It even applies to the seated hamstring curls machine. I understand the shape of this machine; I understand how it’s supposed to work. However, I am also never sure if I should be using lighter weight or heavier weight, and in truth it fluctuates depending on the day. Like the stability ball version, I am watching and thinking about that last half inch of the contraction and the movement. I find myself dilly-dallying with the weights to ensure I can actually feel that last half inch and make it happen. When I use a light enough load to make that last little bit, it feels awfully light for the rest of the movement. If I use an adequately weighty weight load to feel the work all through the movement, the last half inch thing becomes a no-go in the process. So my explorations continue. For today, though, I had a pretty good experience with the last half inch and could feel my hamstrings working that range of movement.
Finally, we moved to the dual cable lat pulldown machine. I always want to lean forward in the shrugged up starting position, where I should be leaned back slightly. Minor correction and easy enough to fix. The arch obsession continues here, with the arching with the upper back coming into full effect while pulling down and feeling a pinch between the shoulder blades. I think anyway. While I am pantomiming it here and writing this paragraph, I’m pretty sure there is a pinch there. But there is no weight involved, and we have had so many recent discussions about arch and pinch between shoulder blades I may be applying it too liberally. But I think I am right; I will have to test my theories in real time tomorrow in the gym.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
While I have had no urgent or burning desire to learn about using a barbell, my friend K has been had barbell deadlifts on her bucket list and has been killing them the last month, 6 weeks. I have been in the gym and hanging out with her on Wednesday evenings and cheering her on with this pursuit. I had asked J if maybe I too could learn the technique, because I want to be able to support my friend in her interests. And as I said, it is good to learn new skills and how to work with different tools.
My impression – I am neither doomed for failure or destined for hot pursuit of this particular type of equipment. My interest in all things exercise and fascination with learning will keep me interested, and working with K once a week will provide enough practice to feel as if I am intent on learning and refining my technique. She and I can dabble with them for awhile, and perhaps we will both develop a yearning to participate in a deadlifting class. Time will tell.
The longer I go with training and practices on my own, the happier I feel about the whole process. It was renewal time for me, so my next block of sessions is purchased, my session bank refreshed. Yay! Sometimes I think maybe there is not a lot more for me to learn, and I laugh at myself and my own silliness. I need only look at the session recaps to see that there is always something new to do, whether it is adding more weight or working on my form or just learning to push myself to keep going when I really wold rather just stop now, thank you.
Like everything else in life my discipline is imperfect, but I give myself good more for consistently trying to improve. Fears about just learning and reinforcing bad habits are very far in my rearview these days. I find myself thinking about offhand comments J might make to me – try to go lower in my squats, butt back butt back butt back in so many exercises, and I realize that the process is like an infinity band. The more I think I know, the more I realize how little I know. And I like that. I hate to imagine me at the end of the learning curve; in my mind that is my time to die.
Since we are venturing forward with weightier weights, it means working in the big boys’ room more often, because that’s where the heavier range of dumbbells live. After 2 years of training (it’s anniversary month! Unfortunately not quite a cake occasion, but maybe we bend the rules.) I would imagine my gym crazy completely conquered. But nope, I still feel the hairs of anxiety dancing on the back of my neck when I go in there by myself and the usual crowd of men and far more confident-looking women are there working. I give myself credit for improvement, but am realistic that it is still a thing. Oh well. Still plenty of time to strengthen my spine and ensure my big girl capris are in place.
Wow – coming up on 2 years. How different my life is now. I’m starting a list and a separate post to celebrate and commemorate. And maybe there is cake? Maybe.