Monday morning, training with J. We had an older List review day, because Sunday going through an upper body List on the FreeMotion (FM) machine – I haven’t pursued it in practice in weeks and had completely forgotten the shape of several exercises and had to substitute other things. So it’s good we went through it again with enhancements to make it even better.
Anymore, my List library is fairly vast. In the current routines I like to pursue with some regularity, I have 12 to 15 pages, 2 to 3 workout sessions per page. Granted a few of those sheets are warm-ups or “mini” Lists that are my go-to Lists when I am tired, short on time, or just not into being at the gym (human – it happens). These are active pursuits; my file of retired Lists I have outgrown or have become outdated if at least this expansive. Because I return to a few favorites in each category, I tend to periodically marvel at my array of choices.
Because I have my preferred Lists that I am familiar with and mostly confident in my abilities, they are my go-to Lists. However, I do wander back to other Lists, and truth of the matter is that if I don’t practice, I lose the cueing and forget the shape, form, technique associated with it. Such is the case with Sunday’s practice and the former version of this List. Some things – I simply could not unearth memory of what to do or how to do it. Progress is there was no shame attached, nor did I feel inappropriately stupid for losing the context. I was far more philosophical about it; review day, refresh, and definitely put this back into the practice rotation.
Training days in general are highlights of my week. I thrive on the interaction that comes with getting down into the weeds and adjusting, correcting, improving form and technique. Or learning new exercises or becoming familiar with new machines. All good and wonderful things. But review days are probably my favorite, especially review days like today when issues are exposed and changes and adjustments to Lists result. Yes, we went over everything, even things I know and have a good understanding of and can perform proficiently, competently, confidently. But what I continue to learn week after week, the weeds surrounding each individual exercise are thick and dense. There is always something new to learn, some new tweak to try, some new muscle area to feel. Because I am not a specialist – my interest in fitness remains that of the broad-based generalist beginning who just wants to learn to do this stuff safely and sanely – every little tweak that wakes up some other piece of muscle (or makes it burn like cooking on a gas burner) is this new and amazing discovery for me.
I don’t get tired of trying, or of learning. I don’t always feel the feels in the first go-round, and I have some difficulty articulating the differences between new shapes and things that we test drive. That’s okay, though; progress is I allow myself some time to figure out what is different on my own and may have to report back later. Even if body came with an owner’s manual, I would have to test the theories before knowing for sure that my body worked like the standard model.
Always it seems to be the simple exercises that are deceptively complicated. No wonder there are times I feel like the village idiot because I am not getting the full benefit of an exercise because it seems easy and yet I am missing form pieces and parts or doing enough incorrectly to feel as if I am mostly doing it wrong.
Finally, after writing about each of the various exercises and versions we tried and experimented with today, I only now realize the method to the order of each block. While we had to reposition arms from side to side for various things, arms were either up, horizontal, or down low for each block. When J is doing most of the repositioning, I don’t even notice. When I am having to schlep my own stuff, reposition the equipment, change my own weights – I notice and am able to keep track. But training days, I’m lucky if I can even remember the order of exercises as they occur. Ah well. The luxury of training days.
What We Did
After a Sunday practice where I had numerous issues remembering the set-up and/or how the exercise was supposed to work, J and I did a review and revamp of the FM machine upper body List, taking it from supersets (2 exercises) to tri-sets. Today’s updated List:
A1 Decline Chest Press
A2 Lat Pulldown
A3 Straight Arm Pulldown
B2 Horizontal Chops
B3 Horizontal Shoulder Presses
C1 Rear Fly
C2 Triceps Pushdown
C3 High Dual Biceps Curl
D1 Lateral Fly
D2 1-arm Kickback
D3 “Arms behind” Biceps Curls
How It Felt
For the most part, I have the decline chest press down pretty well. As with all presses, remembering to pretension the chest muscles is an ongoing, uphill battle.
We did the lat pulldown off the stability ball. I have done these kneeling, sitting on the floor, sitting on a stability ball. Today’s choice was stability ball. Up until today, we have been doing these with the FM arms closer together to replicate the dual arm lat pulldown machine downstairs. The works really well – lean forward slight to relax with arms at the top, pull down with an upper back arch and pull the elbows as far back behind the back as possible. J then moved the arms further outward, so pulling down in the same manner now felt more like the lat pulldown machine with the wide bar attachment. Exercise weeds – they are everywhere. Plus J has this entire exercise library in his head and ready to deploy it on demand. #jealous
The straight arm pulldown is so deceptively simple and I almost feel like a moron for still having the ongoing struggles with it. Shoulders back, chest up, abs tight, arms straight and pull straight down while pressing chest forward. Simple right? Not for me. I swear, I must be the only person in the entire gym who cannot remember to puff up her chest while pulling down with her arms, but there you have it. When I do it correctly I feel it all through my upper body, but I think I am getting it right about 50% of the time if I am being generous. More practice, more work. Probably this is related to what a basic push-up continues to vex me after 2 years of training.
Today was 2-arm row from a standing position. I love rows. Now that mind has mostly adapted to the idea of pulling with shoulders versus pulling with arms I have made meaningful progress with them.
Surprisingly, no squeaks of distaste from me about the horizontal chops today. Chops of all stripes are not usually my favorite, but I think maybe improvement is underfoot with the horizontal version. We have been doing some horizontal press-outs with the bands on press day that make these seem easy peasy, so that could be part of the appeal. Or the fact that I haven’t been pursuing many Lists with cable or band chops lately – all my chop energy has been directed toward the dreaded floor version.
I learned the horizontal shoulder press today, which is an utter delight compared to the overhead version on the FM machine. We started out with a regular chest press, exploring the differences between the flared elbows version that I originally learned to a lower, 30 degree angle version to see how that felt in the various chest muscles. The exercise adventurer within me loves this stuff – figuring out how each one feels differently and what is working harder depending on elbow position. From there J demonstrated the shoulder press, which is leaning forward more and elbows lower, which I just realized the 30 degree angle position puts them in the scapular plane I learned about doing overhead presses (such are the benefits of mimicking what I was doing in the gym while writing the blog recap). I love this version of overhead pressing so much more than the actual overhead pressing on the FM machine. When I tried it Sunday, I kept trying different ways to make the cable not rub against my entire arm pressing upward, until I finally gave up and got some dumbbells and did them that way.
I kind of love the triceps pushdowns. We did one set with both FM arms and pressing down with the handles – some standing upright and pressing down, some bent at the waist and pressing down from that position. All good enough with the handles, but I prefer using the rope attachment, probably because I am more familiar with it. Either way, my triceps are looking pretty damn swell this summer. I have been paying attention and doing the work to purge the vast majority of my batwings.
On Sunday trying the rear fly, I had the upper arms of the FM machine set wider apart. Today, I learned that no, they should be on the narrowest setting. Yesterday, I wondered what was wrong with me, that I was struggling mightily and just not getting why on such a low weight setting (5 lbs. per side) it felt so difficult. Well, the angles were wrong. It was a lot more pleasant and a lot more productive having the machine set correctly.
Previous versions of Lists have had the high single arm bicep curl, but today was the high dual bicep curl. We started out with the high single arm bicep curl, because it’s review day and we start with what I think I know. It feels really awkward at first, keeping your elbows and arms elevated above your shoulders and pulling back with the cables, and very quickly I caught on that I feel it in my biceps, my triceps, and very distantly in my shoulders. Standing at my desk with a 3 lb. dumbbell in hand trying to mimic the movement and remember where the muscles fired, I definitely there’s something going on with the backs of my shoulders and my lats. At the time we’re going through this stuff I am thinking about form and technique, am I doing it correctly, what questions do I have about it while J is standing here to answer them, and less about the muscles squeaking. These are kind of fun, and hard, and complicated, because of the whole body positioning. Everything like this where I am standing upright, I am thinking glutes and abs tight, which tends to manifest as rib tuck (best cue ever). They probably look so simple to the casual observer. Who knew these engage so much of the whole body?
The lateral fly was new today, but very similar in feel to the regular lateral raises with the dumbbells. Feels a little different with the pull of the cable, but for being new they went pretty smoothly. My biggest issue with any version of lateral flyes is remembering to keep palms down and not turn my hands so thumbs are pointing toward the sky.
New favorite tricep exercises is the 1-arm kickback. Except yesterday I was absolutely certain it said 2-arm kickback, and I could not figure out how to do that so it felt like my triceps were getting some productive work done. Leaning forward and trying hard to press back on the handles with both hands – take my word for it, not very effective and VERY frustrating. Immediately when J demonstrated how it is supposed to work a couple of things happened: (1) I recognized the movement from doing these with the stretchy bands, and (2) I turned the wrong direction away from the working arm immediately on my first try. Not sure what it is that is hard-wired in my mind about left and right but this happens routinely (getting mixed up on everything between directions to turn out or in or which hand/foot to use). I typically catch myself almost immediately after the first tries, but still. It reminds me of being in kindergarten again and the teacher kept handing me the lefty scissors because I use the crayons and pencil with my left hand. Apparently the experience traumatized me forever.
On the bicep curls, we went through 2 different versions – facing the machine, where I am leaning back slightly and have arms in front of me and then facing away from the machine, where I am leaning forward with shoulders back pulling arms forward and up and into the curl. I vastly prefer the “arms behind” bicep curl (facing away from the machine) because it’s easier for me to stay focused on keeping the tension of the weight/cable forward and curling with my elbow. It feels more controlled. Having to focus on keeping shoulders still and back tends to keep me from trying to cheat and use my shoulder as part of the curling motion for the most part. Plus it just feels overall more engaging. Bicep curls seem so boring to my mind, and it’s really easy to lose my focus and drop out of my form while mindlessly bending my elbow up and down.
simple straight-arm pulldown or understanding the allure of a bicep curl. There are so many small nuances missed observing from afar or even thinking I mostly got it, only to find out that I’m leaving out chunks of form-related details or putting undue and unnecessary stress on a related joint. A timely reminder that I can never be too careful no matter how simple something appears.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
The last few weeks, I have been down in the dumps. Not quite depressed – I always hesitate to use that term knowing so many people who genuinely suffer in ways I cannot even imagine – but most definitely off my game and in a funk. Whereas earlier phases of my life I would be eating tons of crap, sleeping more, reading bodice-ripper romance novels by the dozen, and awaiting the zombie-apocolypse on the couch with the TV blaring mindless background noise, this latest rendition was not that bad. I eat less crap food in general but there was a definite up-tick from my new normal. Sleep was actually less rather than more, and it was lesser quality sleep. Not reading enough right now and of my growing wish list of books in the queue, there is not a single romance or light-and-fluffy beach book reading. I have been listening to a fair number of podcasts and YouTube on a variety of topics that are realistic and about current day events and not necessarily very positive, but there have been some that made me laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of human behavior. Biggest difference of all though: I have a death grip hold on my exercise routines and have not relented in my daily pursuits.
Apples to apples, present day and my methods of coping are better. But there’s always room for improvement. I recognize the importance of blogging, of writing. When I feel helpless, writing it down works wonders for my psyche. It’s as if the power of the negative emotion is drained away with each syllable typed.
The last couple of weeks of not writing my recaps, I feel as if I am lessened in my own practices. I still go, I still do the work, and much of the time, I feel engaged and as if I am doing a lot of things right. In the back of my mind, though, the reproachful thought of how much better it might have been lingered.
Part of me has felt diminished this month, as if I am again the incredible shrinking woman. All in my head, of course, but when a good portion of your life occurs in your mind, I notice and the perceived slights and shortfalls are magnified and I feel insanely stupid and very dumb. Practice is a solitary experience for me, where I try really hard (or not – let me be perfectly honest that it happens routinely) and frequently have to puzzle my way through to excavate what I know and have forgotten or buried under a lot of other things. Sometimes I have the patience and persistence to keep trying and working at it until the epiphany happens. Other times I simply abandon what I feel like I temporarily don’t know and substitute something else that seems kind of like it. Progress is being able to substitute without guilt or feeling like a training tribe washout.
So while I am handling stressful periods better than I have in the past, there is an entire palace of rooms for improvement. Not seeking perfection, but I’d like to manage my time and energy better. I would like choices to be not quite to black-and-white, where I am either being really good and on the wagon with food and nutrition or have fallen down completely and justifying continued poor choices because I am already sitting in the dirt. While I am incrementally better at this, because to be fair, my poor choices of today are much different than poor choices of even a few years ago. Poor choices today might be binging on saltine crackers or having a peanutbutter sandwich for a snack (versus a piece of fruit) when I am barely even hungry. A few years ago poor choices would be guzzling sugary soda with a bag of puffy cheetos and/or a candy bar (or several) candy bars. I know it’s progress, but in the midst of a funk it is easy to backslide into beating myself up for less desirable behaviors because of the funk.
Will the funk pass? Of course; it’s a temporary situation that ends this week. Next week, next month may be rocky, but probably less so. For the most part, I like structure and stability – a definitive beginning, middle, and end works best for my particular personality type, and since things are winding down and Saturday officially begins the next phase of life and times.
And I’m thinking about that – next phase of life and times – and wondering if it holds any particular meaning for me in the better health quest. Anymore, anytime I think about my life in terms of changes that impact my life overall I ponder and consider how it could or would or should impact my better health quest. Directly. Independently. Could, would, should this overall life change impact my better health quest?
The ambitious, type A- aspect of my personality is starting to wake up in the exercise and fitness realm. Not competitive, unless it is with the me of last year, last month, last week. As the residue from this month’s June funk is starting to dissipate, new ideas and positive aspirations are beginning to bubble to the surface. Truly, anything that contributes to getting my butt out of bed and off to the gym in the morning is a Very Good Thing. Riding the habit habit is a great thing, but it’s nice to be able to have some other reasoning to be pleased about every day.
So from today, my thoughts are on The Future. Change need not be looked upon with anxiety or fear. There may be challenges (likely) and even potential falling flat sort of missteps (more inevitable than not). But oh well. If I learned everything from doing it right the first time I would be someone else. As I have previously noted, the more I learn, the primary takeaway is how little I truly know. And if it looks easy just observing, it’s damn difficult in reality. Or more clearly, it’s damn difficult to master proper form and technique in reality.
As of this recap, I have no clear view of what The Future might look like or shape up to be. Maybe I change my mind about the concept of goals (unlikely, but sometimes I like to shop and actually try on clothes, too, so anything is possible). Or maybe I test drive how long it actually takes these days to do max reps and sets on my library of Lists. Perhaps I return to a more orderly rotation rather than clinging to my favorites and those I know well. Diet and nutrition are ongoing topics and battles for me – not to understand the concept of healthier food choices, the actual ongoing discipline to implement them consistently. My wigginess in June is a good example of modified stress and emotional eating, but I know I must do better. Not “must” because I want to be some thin and svelte figure, but because my long-term health goals remain at risk. Unfortunately that has been inadequate to make me overcome a lifetime of poor habits, but every day is a new day and an opportunity to be better.
Then again, positive mindset progress is a thing for me. I knew the funk of June is temporary and driven by forces beyond my control. While the issues themselves are winding down and resolving, there will be lingering feelings and impulses to process as I continue forward. But unlike other times in my life when the sky was falling on me and me alone, I am sure this is a temporary situation, the feelings and weenie-whining inside my head will fade and resolve itself, and I will not relinquish my hold on forward strides or release my responsibility in the better health quest. Looking around at my own stable of glitter-bombing unicorns and the inspiration they provide in all areas and aspects of my life, I know I’m in really good company and good hands with plenty of practical, positive paths and trails to follow and pursue.
Choices are not always going to be correct, but I’ll learn something no matter what the outcome. Even if I temporarily forget or have to get up out of the dirt, dust myself bum off, and try again, that better health wagon is not going anywhere without me.