Thursday morning, training with J. Of late we are doing a lot more review and refinement of the push-pull Lists with an eye toward improving form and technique as well as stay focused on the strength emphasis.
I still love review days. We could probably do review days forever and I would not notice much of a difference in how I feel about training sessions. It might get boring for J, but he would figure out a way to cope if that’s the direction we chose. Truth of the matter is I am not the one driving the List creation or what we do on Mondays and Thursdays; I like it all, even the stuff that sucks eggs. There are a lot of things I dislike to the edge of hatred and avoidance, but after I’m all done, I feel so great about having my big girl capris in place and showing that exercise who is in charge here. J is the primary decider in what we’re doing. He suggests a new direction – 100% of the time I say yay, let’s do that. If there is a choice I pick one and we do that. Or not. Sometimes he changes his mind at the last possible second and we do something other than the initially proffered choices. It makes no difference to me; I am a pretty agreeable sort anymore. In the big picture, there are other training days ahead and we will surely pick whatever mild preference I may have had during one of those future sessions.
What I don’t practice, my improvement is slow to stagnant. This is not me being a slacker; this is me being the realist that there are few practice days and a lot of Lists to pursue. But as I have been focused on improving my planking and floor chops/sit-ups, I have another pair to tag onto my daily practice for the next week or so to see if I can nudge that improvement and confidence needle in the positive direction. While I have the time to devote, I should utilize it and just spend an extra 10 to 15 minutes on the 1-leg RDL and stability ball hamstring curls as well.
Individual exercises are like icebergs; what you see above the waterline is a very small portion of the actual mass of the thing. Every week I have this realization about something that just walking by looks so easy. Lat pulldowns? Reach up, pull weight up by pulling down on the bar. I watch people do these things every single day in passing, yet I still have to remember all these little technical cues. Same with seated rows. Pull the weight up by pulling handles back toward the waist, let it draw you back. They look so uncomplicated, until you’re sitting in the seat and trying to refine form to wring the maximum work out of the impacted muscles or muscle groups.
Pacing, pacing, pacing! Weightier weights is only part of the story. Progress comes from how much rest between sets, how much idle time spent glaring at the machine that is not working adequately for me. I confess to frequently being indulgent with myself on my own; I am not necessarily going gung-ho full throttle from exercise to exercise to exercise and working, Working, WORKING at each aspect of my List. Not sure how ambitious I am toward this end; maybe this is where having goals comes into play? My mindset is get into the gym, work as hard as I feel capable of working and call it good. If I were working toward something specific, I might be more gung-ho about always pushing hard at improvement. Or my mindset would be locked-in on its present ho-hum sort of speed and I’d be feeling discouraged, disappointed, despairing, and very negative toward my slacker ways. The seeds are planted in my mind, have been for a while. Maybe it’s time for me to turn also put some focus and give some love to the idea of turning up the intensity.
Still, training of the body and learning exercise happens every training session. So does working on the mindset and nudging it along toward a different outcome. I do not minimize my gains in any area; I have worked hard to get this far. Awareness of the large open space that equals room for improvement is part of the long-term strategy, because ignoring it only makes me unhappy and discouraged. When I feel ready to address it in my practice, I will make it happen. Until then, encouraging myself is an adequate enhancement to what I do in the gym on my own.
I am good enough. The mere thought and understanding of how far I have come in being able to say that and mean it makes me feel really proud of myself. Negative girl and realistic girl have their place in my attitudes and impact on my behaviors, but the happiness I derive from being in the gym is so powerful it is truly life-altering and provide a sense of balance and new sort of satisfaction as to what is possible for me in all aspects of my life and times. I love that. I love the feeling of what healthier means for me and how good it feels inside my body right here, right now. Big win for me. Acceptance of where I am on this journey, happy anticipation of the next milestone to be named later.
What We Did
A1 Barbell RDL (ramp up to 91)
A2 Mini-band Lateral Walks
B1 1-leg DB RDL (25)
B2 SB Hamstring Curl
C1 Seated Low “Tree Hug” Cable Rows
C2 Low Facepull
C3 Horizontal Rope Chops
D1 Lat Pulldown
D2 Straight-Arm Rope Pulldown or DB Pullover
How It Felt
Having just done Romanian deadlifts (RDL) dumbbells in the previous 24 hours, I was in a good place to discern the real or imagined differences between the barbell RDL and those with the dumbbell. It’s the weight distribution, with the plates at the end of the bar and not right in front of my legs. I am getting the general shape and execution of these now. Keep upper body still while hinging at the hips, pretensioning the glutes and hamstrings to do the lift, and then pressing hip joints forward at the top while tightening those abs and glutes. We added another 10 lbs. of plates today, taking me from my prior high of 81 lb. to 91 lbs., so that was something new and exciting. Rep range is 6 to 8 for the strength emphasis exercises, and I went through 2 sets of 10 reps each without much difficulty. I got to use my pink weightlifting straps all the time today, too, so that was another win. I am still amazed what a difference they make for me.
Onto the next exercise, the mini-band lateral walks. Keep the upper body still – no swishy-swashy swaying going on – and go sideways. Back and forth a couple of times until feeling it in those outer hips. I do love my mini-bands, and maybe next I try this I will use the red bad (next resistance up). These are fun, effective on the outer hips, yet they seem to offer me no immediate feedback that legs are tired or hips are working. I am starting to really believe I am growing fitter, because stuff that used to be so exhausting and “is it over yet?” now is just sort of ho-hum and on to the next. Progress.
My worst nightmare: the 1-leg RDL with a 25 lb. dumbbell in hand. *le sigh* Okay, not my worst nightmare in the gym; probably my worst nightmares in the gym have nothing to do with exercise. I console myself that at least it is not getting worse; it is, in fact, improving, just not quickly enough for my impatient self. I am slowly improving at self-diagnosis of why I am weeble-wobbling (and after this much time I am surprised I am not more of an expert), and even more slowly correcting myself and breaking bad habits. Bottom line: more practice. Other than the occasions we have done these on training days, I don’t think I have done a single set of these on my own.
The stability ball hamstring curls – it’s becoming a neurotic exercise that makes me feel crazy. I know I am not doing terrible things with it, yet at the same time I feel like I am slowly backing away from the point of forward progress. Maybe my ambition for the last half-inch is eating me away and eroding my progress with other aspects of it. Thinking about it this afternoon, I have something new to try with the positioning of my feet and elevation of hips and angle of my feet on the ball as I am working. There is a short-circuit in my thinking and/or ability with this and I would like to expose and correct it before it gets to be my next tearful nemesis. I haven’t had a tearful nemesis in over a year and have been enjoying very happy and fulfilling practices in that time span.
In our last outing with the seated cable rows, J has been stressing and really working with me on letting shoulders relax into a stretch without allowing arms to completely straighten and elbows locking out. Part of his job and what makes him really good at his craft is finding lots and lots of different ways to say the same thing until something sticks with each individual client. Today he came up with a new term for me: we now refer to these as seated low “tree hug” cable rows. The visual works very well for me; keep my arms “short” with elbows bent on the stretch while leaning forward with shoulders first, not from waist and upper body, and pulling back with the shoulders and arch, not leaning back at the waist. Such an ongoing challenge for me. I have on 2 occasions owned and utilized regularly a Concept 2 rower, and most of that comes from pulling and leaning back from the waist. With the new “tree hug” cue in mind, I focus more on the position of my arms and leading with the shoulders on the return.
From there we went to the cable machine and a low facepull. Facepulls are usually from a higher position cable setting, but this worked fine for me. It’s the overhand/underhand that typically messes with my thinking, but we haven’t had that distinction in a while. I’m feeling pretty pleased with my efforts with these of late, and J was kind enough to snap a couple of pictures to show my emerging muscle definition. It was quite thrilling to actually see the defining creases in my upper arms and shoulder caps. I mean, I actually have such things now.
While I freely admit to not being much of a chop fan (floor, cable, stretch band – you name it, none of them appear on my favorites list), I do get the greatest return on investment with the horizontal rope chops. For the most part I have the foot positioning down (parallel) and the anchoring arm/hand furthest away from the cable, and the partial rib tuck (to tighten the oblique) and the lead with the hip while pressing out with the rope. I understand the cues and what I should be doing, but the execution is frequently awkward and not quite as I see it happening in my head. With the horizontal version, I feel the closest I get to performing a fluid and controlled chop, versus this sort of hail Mary hopefully-in-the-ballpark-of-mostly-correct. But like the 1-leg RDL, these do not get trotted out for practice much, if any at all. There are other Lists with different challenges that get the lion’s share of my time and attention.
The lat pulldown – I feel like the special needs tribe member with the lat pulldown. We are back to the wide bar, and I am up to my old tricks of not learning to naturally let my shoulders relax into a shrug at the top. We had multiple tries today, and after watching J demonstrate (again), I am closer than I was last week. But my stubborn mind does not seem to want to grasp all the technical details of this all at once. Pulling down with my elbows and releasing up with my shoulders – I continually want to lean back from the waist on the way down (versus using my thoracic arch) and lean forward from the waist and shrug up unnaturally at the top. Yes, there is a shrug at the top, but it’s supposed to be from the shoulders relaxing, not from me leaning in from the waist. Walking by enroute to and from the locker room, people doing these make it look so easy. All that plus retain a bend in the elbow. Maybe next I try this I should pretend I have no arms on the way up? I am not sure it could be any worse than what is already going on with me. And that’s not to say I’m doing horribly with it; my mind believes it should be simpler than it is for me. I also get that J emphasizes what he emphasizes because he wants me to learn to get the maximum work for my effort. My usual solution (more practice) applies here as well.
And finally, the straight-arm rope pulldown. I am undecided if I am happier with the rope or the straight bar, but mostly I’m happy that I long ago grasped that correct form for this version is butt back and back and arms straight while pulling down with the rope and then splitting it at the bottom close to the body. I had observed others doing this with a more rounded back, so of course I wondered and had to ask about it. Those other people – maybe it was accommodation for their bodies or maybe they were doing it wrong. For me, I am doing it correctly as taught by J. That is truly what matters most to me, because I’m doing well and improving as the weeks pass.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
I read this great term – compare and despair – on another blog today. Having never heard that before, I thought it quite brilliant for encapsulating a process I have had to diligently work at abandoning as unhealthy for me. Without thinking I do still fall into that trap, but I do my best to quickly scurry out and away from it.
Comparison is the thief of joy – and self-esteem. I need no help beating the crap out of myself; I have a built-in negative girl locked in a special space for those occasions. It genuinely shocks me when anyone speaks of something I do or have with even the smallest note of covetousness, because I am so invisibly average in my own eyes. Able to lift more? Who me? Have you seen [insert names of numerous ladies far stronger]? Better control of diabetes? It does not appear to be hard-wired into my genetics; everyone in my family similarly afflicted has lifestyle issues that are direct contributors to this condition.
My blindness to any and all attributes I may possess is essentially 99% complete. As an example: in the big boys’ room at the gym this weekend, I was doing bent over rows and looked up to find some guy sitting across from me on a bench and seemingly staring down the neckline of my top. Kind of ewww when I our eyes met and he didn’t even blink, but whatever. Next set he was still sitting there, so I turned my back and decided my ass was much more attractive and he could stare at that instead. By the time I turned to put my weights down, he’d moved on.
But my initial instinct was not that he was staring at my cleavage, and to be completely fair and balanced, he might have simply been staring into space and not seeing me at all. Nope, my initial instinct was what could possibly be so wrong that the man was staring? My hair? Stain on my leggings? Form completely awful? Handling the weights inappropriately? Turning my back and ignoring him was all about me and my stuff; the least disturbing thought to me was that he was looking down my neckline and I would rather not imagine what imperfection he might be laughing on the inside about so I turned my back and forced myself to stop thinking about it.
Since I am 56 years old and do not dress to attract attention in the gym – I buy and wear clothes that are comfortable and please me and my eye – it shocks me when anyone takes any note of any positive thing I might be doing. Always my mind sinks to the worst case scenario. Compliments, kind words, even silence from J when we are training (because no correction or adjustment is needed) are treated in my mind like rare and precious gifts. But comparisons? Only as a cautionary tale of what not to do. Mindset is changing, slowly, because I have some accomplishments worthy of pride. But it has taken a lot of work on my part, and it is hardly a stroke of luck that got me from where I began to where I am right now.
I know other people work very hard as well, and I admire that. But better health is my priority, so that’s also my focus and what gets the lion’s share of my available time and attention. M and I have discussed working out twice per day, something I do once or twice a week right now and primarily for the social aspect of it. However, I also recognize that my weaker intensity, focus, stick-with-it-ness in my own practices does contribute to a desire to do more work. IF I were only more efficient more of the time, I would probably get more done, make faster progress. But I am realistic; I am not to the point where heart and mind want that accelerated progress enough to pump up my intensity and focus. I work longer at my degree of effort, and sometimes it means I have to work a lot more and a lot longer duration than others. I don’t think that makes me wrong. I do think it makes me and my objectives different or on a longer timeline.
Occasionally, I think I need to try harder, be more of a badass who is into her List of the day to the exclusion of everything else. Unless I am in the right frame of mind or playing beat the clock with my gym time, pressuring myself that way only stresses me out and leads to feelings of being a loser. I know I am pretty far from being a loser; I have made significant positive inroads on my better health quest. But my mind can forget those advances in a hot second, and if I cannot maintain my mental discipline and shut off that negative noise, I am going to find myself sledding down my better health iceberg with negative girl at the helm.
Mindset – it’s not something to be blown off, pooh-poohed, or minimized. I take it seriously enough to stay aware of where my head is at while I am at the gym. Many, many, many Monday and Thursday mornings I have not felt like training, yet my hyper-responsible self insists that I go because we have an appointment. Mostly I shrug off the sense of dread by the time I am halfway through my warm-up, my sense of adventure and desire to learn something new kicking into higher gear. While I might be moving sluggishly during transitions or from exercise to exercise, I am giving it my best effort. There have been times when that has not been true, that I felt my best effort was so inadequate why bother trying? Not me, not in a very long time.
I like the gym as a happy place. There are things I dread, groan, bitch, moan, complain about, but I do it anyway. Because it’s good for me. And when everything is said and done, it leaves me feeling great. Still, I reserve my right to dread, groan, bitch, moan, and complain about that which I dislike. It is good for the soul.
With my inchworm forward progress with exercise, I have to be honest about less success and advancement with healthy eating and diet. The struggle with my fork continues and it’s not pretty, uplifting, rainbow-farting unicorns.
For the most part, I do pretty well with healthy food choices. It’s the non-most part – probably 25% of the time – where I falter and gives the most grief. Protein shakes as meal replacements work well for me, as do big-ass salads and eliminating most processed foods has made an enormous difference. Limiting my carbohydrates makes a bigger difference than I ever realized.
It took me more than a year to get to the point where I mustered the ability and discipline and support-related resources to pay attention and work at this effort consistently. As it is, I am imperfect in my efforts. My stress-eating behaviors still rear their ugly heads, and I give up and give in to temptation. It happens more than I want, but it is not the end of the world.
And this is a win for me – that it is not the end of the world. In the two-step dance of lifestyle changes, this is just another of the one-step back in the enduring, life-long process and quest. Being imperfect in my eating strategy this week is not the hill I die on, but a mere molehill on the upward climb through the rest of my life.
I love that simple yet profoundly fundamental change about me, recognizing that I have overcome more than one obstacle over the course of my life and the push-pull in the day-to-day business of living continues despite of all that happened then, or happens today, tomorrow, the rest of my life. Whatever less beneficial choices I may make in the here and now do not mean I lose all my gains to date. My acceptance of that has been a game changer.
And acceptance – for that I have an amazing cast of people who make me want to be better. May we all enjoy happy, healthy lives for a long time to come.