PT-67: Good things (day 31)

Thursday morning, training with J. Back to our mostly regularly scheduled programming. It has been an odd week, with Monday’s unusual evening training, and while today was nothing out of the ordinary, it just feels out of the ordinary. But productive. And FUN! And a lot of hard work.

Key Takeaways

I continue to be amazed by the difference in feels between weights equipment in the gym. Today, it was the kettlebell versus the dumbbell. We were upstairs and using 35 lb. KBs (because the 35 lb. dumbbells live in the big kids’ room downstairs) and boy howdy did they feel heavier and have a different sort of swish to them. Of course, if I had “grown up” using KBs I’d probably be giving my beloved dumbbells the WTF? look instead. J and I have talked about this before, but the distribution of weight is so very different between the shapes. Not being a science or engineering person, I always thought 35 lbs. is 35 lbs. and it all feels heavy. Now having done exercises with the dumbbells, the barbell, and the kettlebells, I have new respect for just how unique each weighted tool.

The big giant rubber bands are now part of my reality. Before a month or so ago, the only time I saw those in service was when someone else was using them for an assisted pull-up. Now I have my own yellow one on order to add to my growing collection of gym paraphernalia that I simply cannot live without and must lug around with me everywhere I go. M had told me that as I got deeper into my routine of choice I would start acquiring stuff to support it. I also broke down and ordered a larger bag to cart my day-to-day crap in, as my assortment of bags small and medium bags to repurpose for gym equipment use seems to have hit the wall.

Speed bandwork is kind of like my version of beat the clock on my favorite huffy puffy Lists, but the objective is to keep going until my arms refuse to work anymore rather than continue until the time beeps to switch to the next exercise. Kind of looks like I was a complete abject failure, choosing to stop when it felt like my arms were just going to be sore later because of trying to get there (and I was right – they are kind of sore). Still, I do not really see it as a failure, more of a new challenge and mind obstacle course to overcome. It has been over a year since J has introduced this concept to me, so not the end of the world that I am rusty on it.

This week, feels like a lot of things returned or were reintroduced and/or repurposed and I am insanely out of shape on them. Mini bands – love, Love, LOVE my mini bands – but not so much in conjunction with glute bridges. Body refuses to remember the endless glute bridges we did week after week in 2015 in the original dumbbell A and B Lists. I am going to have to put forth some consistent practice to get myself whipped back into glute bridge shape.

I still love teaching days.

What We Did

The List is not yet updated, so the names could be changed later. But after forgetting a couple of exercises and their proper ordering (so had to confirm with J to get this right), here’s the List:

Romanian deadlift with 35 lb. KBs
Mini band lateral walks

Double mini band glute bridge
Stability ball hamstring curls

1-arm row with KB
Band horizontal speed rows

Dumbbell overhead pullover
Band speed straight-arm pulldown

Band facepull
Zotman curls

TRX lat pull-up (bonus exercise – just for fun)

How It Felt

Right out the gate, we got started with Romanian deadlifts with 35 lb. kettlebells. Yep, we used a pair of those bad boys this morning, and they felt very strange and heavy in my hands. It’s been awhile since we have done RDLs with anything other than a barbell, and this was a first with 2 KBs. The distribution of the weight makes it feel like a different exercise, or just a much weightier weight.

Mini band lateral walks are a staple in my life anymore, but big novelty of the day was J had a brand new mini band for me to use. Now I have my own and typically have them with me on training days, but he had a matching pair. I feel a bit like a mini band connoisseur and can tell the difference between a newer band and the same band I have used a few dozen times and stretched out. Surely there is a day in my future when the heavier mini bands get all stretched out and feel like the lighter ones when new. The fact that I think about such things and can tell when my bands are getting less elastic speaks volumes about my progression. I am a simple woman in such matters, and it thrills me to know that I’ve worn some out and have to buy another.

I am ridiculously out of shape with a basic glute bridge, much less a double mini band glute bridge (band above and below the knee). I understand and remember the basic concepts – elevate the hips by tightening the glutes and tilting the pelvis, tightening the core and pressing navel into the floor, rib tucking – whatever term I think to use, essentially it all comes down to raise the hips as high as possible while not arching the lower back. While doing all that upward glute and pressing hip bones skyward, press legs against the mini bands to engage the side hips. A lot to think about when glute and hip joints do not seem cooperative about that whole getting butt off the floor action.

I am engaged in a like/don’t hate relationship with the stability ball hamstring curls. They are getting easier, yet still challenging enough that the urge to rush through and be done with them is very powerful. But I do force myself to slow down and try for that last half inch of pulling the ball in toward me. Today I had this weird cramp in my glute doing these and I know it is from sitting and working much more than has become typical for me. I took a brief pause, explained to J that I was having a weird glute cramp, and got back to it. He suggested not raising hips as high – going about half of what I’m usually trying for – and that did make a difference. Not sitting in an office chair for hours at a stretch will make a much bigger difference, though.

The 1-arm row with 35 lb. kettlebell was new today. This is/was a step-up in weight for me, and the KB shape difference also had an impact. I have done these with a 35 lb. dumbbell and while heavier it is manageable, but my present customary weight is 30 lbs. So while this KB was heavier, the 5 lb. difference felt a lot more significant and the round bell part of the weight created a distinct swish urge. What I mean is, with a dumbbell I pull the weight up through my shoulder with my hand and wrist steady toward and toward my hip. Even with the heavier dumbbell, my arm and wrist stay stable and still while pulling with my shoulder. However with the kettlebell, the urge to unbend my bent elbow and swing the bell toward my hip is strong. I don’t think it is the weight itself so much as the distribution thereof. I mostly resisted the urge to swish it, but the fact that I’m detailing it here tells me I might have flickered my wrist and arm more than I realized.

Band work for speed returned today with the band horizontal speed rows. I like these because we don’t count reps and the objective is to maintain good form while going as fast as I can until it feels like my arms are about to fall out of my shoulder sockets. Cues here were the usual ones – chest up, pull back with shoulders and relax forward into the stretch – and keep that up until shoulders start to round forward with fatigue and then do at least 5 more. Signs of growth and forward progress? That actually makes perfect sense to me.

A favorite is the dumbbell overhead pullover, today with a 30 lb. dumbbell (when not downstairs to snag a 35 lb.). Since I have be retraining myself to put my feet on the floor (rather than on the bench), I think I might like these even more. It’s almost like a whole body exercise, since we’re focused on pulling the weight back overhead and tightening those lats and abs and stuff while hefting the weightier weight.

For the band speed straight-arm pulldown, we used the lightest yellow band over the highest bar on the TRX rack, and believe me, both points make a difference in the way this exercise feels. Usual cues are in place – chest up and shoulders back, pull bands straight down – only once I get the groove down go as fast as possible while maintaining good form until shoulders start to round and then do 5 more (before collapsing to the floor in a heap). (Okay, that last was just the thought that flitters through my mind; J would never suggest such a thing out loud.) After the work we did today, I was feeling the fatigue and ready to stop almost immediately after starting, but I kinda/sorta hung in to get the feel for what the speed work actually feels like to me. After the first set, I gave up trying to hold onto the handles and went back to my usual grip on the band just above the handles. No idea why it makes a difference, except for the habit that comes with 2 years of doing straight-arm pulldowns with that grip. I am still feeling the work in my lats and back muscles from this block of exercises.

Or maybe it was the new band facepull exercise I learned today. More and more lately we have been using the big giant rubberband loop rather than the 2-handled stretchy bands for various things, and I have come to appreciate it more than that regular stretchy bands. For the facepull, J secured it to the rack and then showed me how to grip the band about shoulder width apart to mimic the rope attachment on the cable tower. The rest of the facepull action works my back and shoulder muscles in similar ways as the cable tower. Fascinating to me how effective this is as an exercise, but when people discuss resistance training they are usually thinking weights or cables and overlooking the effectiveness of the bands.

I remain sort of ho-hum on most bicep curls, and the Zotman curls are so unmemorable I had to text J to ask what was paired with what because of the last 2 blocks of exercise pairings I could only remember 3. The Zotmans I find interesting if only because I have to keep an eye on my shoulders to make sure they are not wandering too far back or trying to shrug up. While I most definitely have more bicep mass than I can ever recall having, I suppose I don’t care enough about them to expend a lot of focus on what feels like a boring exercise. When curls appear on Lists I do them, but it’s not an “oh goody! Bicep curl!” type experience.

Someday I might want to do a pull-up, but that someday is so far into the mysterious future I cannot even envision it. I learned today how to do a TRX lat pull-up, though, and it was plenty enough work to keep the regular pull-up a very distant future aspiration when I have conquered and mastered everything else. The basic shape was easy enough to understand – shorten the strap handles to absolute minimum, grab shortened handles and squat with arms extended overhead, then step forward so upper body is at an angle as if doing a lat pulldown. From there, pull up with arms and lats, using legs as little as possible while pulling up. It was hard, but absolutely captured my imagination as not that impossible for me to improve upon with practice. I love that. J says this can substitute for the overhead pullover, but since I love that one too, it will remain kind of a standalone bonus exercise for this List.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Pondering a multitude of things today. With all the stuff going on in the world, with Harvey and the fallout of that natural disaster in Houston, I do have an attitude of gratitude and hopeful heart for those who have lost their homes and possessions and remain displaced. Since one of my biggest clients is sort of from that area and still maintains a home and large business presence there, it has been something I have been dealing with this week. He has several investment properties there in flooded neighborhoods and will soon be getting some first-hand reports about damages from his local property managers. In the meantime, families are displaced and completely devoid of possessions. It’s impossible for me to even imagine how that feels.

I was reading a few things this morning about survivor’s guilt that gave me pause. One of my nearest and dearest passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week, yet of the range of emotions I feel, guilt is conspicuously absent. I am incredibly sad and insanely angry at times, but mostly happy and grateful for the rich cache of memories, painful as they feel in this time period. It makes me wonder what drives that. I am a survivor of a few things, and perhaps I have had enough therapy through the years to cleanse my system of anything as wasteful as guilt.

With the better health quest, I periodically get questions and comments akin to “don’t you wish you started earlier in life?” I am not a worrier by nature, nor am I someone who looks back with regret, so I find such inquiries perplexing. Worry and regret imply opportunity for different outcomes, an issue of control and decision-making and obsessing over aspects of both outside my sphere of influence. I tend to be pragmatic about things, look at my options and make the best choice possible, and yes, sometimes there is an emotional bend to what course I select. Depending upon the situation, I might be plagued or crippled by insecurity and self-doubt about the various ways to do things, but once the decision is made, it is done and no amount of worry about rightness or wrongness of my choices would alter the situation. If the decision rested with someone else, I would offer an opinion, sometimes passionately argue my point of view, but I respect our individual autonomy. I am not an “I told you so” sort of judgment being. If things don’t work out based on choices made, it’s part of life’s learning curves.

Such is the timing and ongoing nature of my better health quest. Of course I knew 20 or even 30 years ago that regular exercise and healthier eating would benefit me, but during those periods there were other goings on in my life that made better long-term health decisions a far lower priority. I think about it now, as I have young adult children with eating habits that directly relate to their upbringing and it does come up in our discussions. Mom guilt is definitely a thing, but not one that has infected me directly. I can tell you I did the best I could, but that’s inaccurate. I made choices based on the circumstances and situations in my life at the time, and while many of those choices were very good, sound, practical – near as I can tell both my kids are productive members of society – not every decision I made as a parent was in the kids’ best interests. I do not feel defensive about my parenting, and if someday they tell me they hate me and that I am/was a terrible mother, well okay. They are adults and have complete agency and independence to base their own impulses, choices, and beliefs upon their own truths, hierarchy of values and needs, and I absolutely respect that. Unless there is something specific for which they can cite and I should from my own judgment apologize for, I am/was a good and imperfect parent. Just like every other parent I personally know.

I can look back with regret for not gaining mastery and control over my diabetes before it became an issue for which injected insulin was required. But why? Energy is a finite resource; why waste it on something I cannot change now? Hence my tendency to dismiss worry and regret. Going forward, I am fortunate to have a body that responds as well as it does to regular exercise and adjustments to the fuel I feed it. Key for me: in the present moment, while I am training with J or practicing on my own or planning my meals or drinking my protein shakes, I know I will regret any conscious decision to stop if I quit now. Beginning, middle, end of story about why I focus on consistency and developing better habits.

In the gym, I try to be super careful about form and not getting hurt. Because I don’t want to be sidelined for doing something stupid. With my current healthier eating strategy, I am ruthlessly cutting back on processed foods, especially carbohydrates. I eat bread 2 or 3 times per week in meat and cheese sandwiches. I have single portion servings of potatoes and rice with a few dinners each week. Pasta has become something for special occasions or when I just have some amazing craving for spaghetti or lasagna. Pizza remains my one big splurge food, but I am pretty disciplined about no more than 2 slender slices or cutting one bigger slice in half. Fresh fruit is my primary gratuitous sugar source, and I eat A LOT more vegetables and green and leafy salads. Protein shakes are fast and easy and my staple before morning practices/training and occasionally as a midday meal (if I am overwhelmed with work) or snack (if I am returning to the gym for a social practice).

The effort is starting to show. It feels like owning up to that feels right and normal and honest, not like I am claiming premature victory. In fact, if I can own when I do not work as hard as I think is reasonable (slacker me), then I can own that the scale is being nudged along by the changes in my eating habits and consistent efforts in the gym.

For me, that’s big progress.

I still do not chase the scale. I have desensitized myself to it as merely a tool for data gathering and hop on every morning, make note of the reading, and continue on with my day. The angst and self-flagellation for lack of positive outcomes is a distant spot in my rearview mirror. As long as my glucose meter reports predictably normal results I have no real concerns.

Kitchen sink – so appropriate for the randomness of my thoughts today from and about training. While I could tell you about the theological and anatomy discussion, some things that happen in training need to stay in training. Besides, my training recaps are overly long as it is anyway.

I was pretty wrung out by the time we finished today, but in good ways. Work has been busy/hectic/crazy, and because of the type of project I have been working on this week I have actually sitting for extended stretches analyzing spreadsheets rather than standing or walking on my treadmill desk. Who knew sitting like this would be detrimental to my hips and glutes? I had this weird cramp in my hamstring/glute this morning doing hammie curls and had to stop for a quick rest, but I got back into it and saved the set. Standing at the treadmill desk for extended periods is having some better effect than sitting, but I am paying attention to my Fitbit alarms to move and stepping down and walking around for the 250 step minimum every hour.

The really great thing these days: I like the way I feel. Granted fitting into smaller sized yoga pants is a huge rush, but I simply like the way body feels and the budding confidence that I can and will get up from the floor under my own power and without needing assistance. Huge. My mind feels clearer and my focus sharper. I’m starting to consider things like getting my trusty beach bike cleaned up and ready to deploy again, because I believe myself far more capable now than the last time I was last it was out and about on it (that’s like 5 years if I am counting). Maybe there is a “real” bike in my future. Or not. Time will tell.

While I would like to step out and take more walks to clear my head and wind down from an intense workday, temperatures have been 100+ all week and not something I want to go out into just to clear my head. But I am thinking about the cooler fall and winter months, how it might be nice to step out in the middle of the day and take a 30 minute walk as I did when my days had more structure with a lunch hour in the middle. That my mindset has adjusted to go to the gym for a huffy-puffy List or take a walk (when it’s not blisteringly miserable outside) is a huge victory for me. Before, it might have been surf the net or take a walk to the kitchen and eat crackers or other tasty (but so not good for me) snack foods.

Last week a lost friend returned to the friendship fold after being away for a short marriage and longer divorce proceedings. She had heard about our friend’s death and reached out. We had a very nice 2+ hour conversation by phone and will get together when she returns to the area in October. But chatting with me, she marveled at my attitude of self-assurance and self-acceptance. While at times it seems I should have been here long before this point in my life, some life lessons take longer to master. Again, looking forward to whatever comes next rather than look backwards with regret at the coulda/shoulda/woulda factor is far healthier for me.

I apply that to the exercise as well. We did some new things today, and I always like learning new things, even new things I dislike. I now have my own big giant rubber band on order so I need not chase around the gym to find one when I want to use it, nearly always when I am downstairs in the big kids’ room (more accurately renamed by my son because there are plenty of women using that area that comfortably own their places) and the bands are kept in the storage locker upstairs. Where I once looked back at training days and grimaced for all I failed to do properly or with enough intensity or commitment, now I look forward to practice on my own and figuring out where I feel weak or have questions or need a do-over on the demonstrations. It is what it is – sometimes I just don’t get it – and I have lost any and all shame about having to ask for help.

But what really cements this for me – recently I think I have been trying to do things with too heavy or too light of weights. Too heavy is always easier to diagnose – struggle, struggle, fail, or worse, something hurts in sharp and unnatural ways. Too light is tougher, because there are a lot of exercises where we do lesser weights or resistance and pursue longer sets. Where I began to take note is when form started to suck eggs and be sloppy, so I had to slow down and analyze where I was going wrong (this time). When it has been a long-standing exercise that reappears on various Lists, I feel/felt sort of dumb for having to ask for refresh.

I know I should not feel dumb. I also know my lack of recall on everything is not something I market or wear like a brand for fame and glory, which is a not-so-private fear of mine. So when I have one of those moments, better to make note of it and text my question while it’s fresh. Maybe it’s a big step forward that those types of texts are fewer and farther between than the random chit chat we typically exchange.

Which is another topic simmering in the recesses of my mind – mindset is such a curious thing. How do we change it or improve upon it? How do we make ourselves develop the discipline to be consistent at something beneficial that is a whole lot of painful work?

Near as I can tell, the habit of doing the same things over and over and over again eventually breeds success. Muscles become more resilient and capable of the workload. Tastebuds change and what once tasted so amazing (eventually) becomes overwhelming in less than positive ways.

I can speak with far more assurance in the exercise realm. There was a new variation on the high-to-low chops on Monday. Every single time I have tried the newer variation these last few days, I inevitably revert to the original version. If there is such a thing as muscle memory, my muscles remember how I learned this movement and forces me to consciously change shape and direction to make myself perform the other one. And high-to-lows are not even something I feel especially good or gifted at doing either. But my habit says “hinge” when the new version is more deliberate side bend.

Healthier eating is an ongoing battle and likely will be into the foreseeable future. My love of sugar and junk food is a lifelong addiction and must be respected as such. I know people who are absolute models of consistency when it comes to practicing moderation, but at this point in my life with food, it’s absolutely not me. And I suspect it will always be some measure of struggle, and I have learned to accept this as part of my reality. Putting that into perspective, over the course of my life to date I have overcome much bigger and much greater challenges. Time and practice, I will gain some mastery over this as well.

Finding balance is another skill that has me surfing the learning curve in knowing how and when to utilize it appropriately. Yet another tool in life’s toolbox. Gaining enough experience with that skill to utilize it effectively and efficiently is quite the trial-and-error learning process, though.

I love my job, and the biggest chunk of my time is spent in front of computer screens. However, my next challenge is not so much juggling all the work I have to do so much as it is learning to stand or find the right slow-mo speed for the treadmill desk to lull me into the focused trance that I need to get through a tougher project without having to sit down 10+ hours per day. As J pointed out to me this morning, it is not so much the sitting so much as it is the staying in one position for extended periods of time.

For me personally, I need to be on my feet more of the time anyway. The discoloration and swelling in my left leg tends to return when I sit for extended periods. I have grown complacent with my more active workdays, and it was disappointing to see the darkness return to my left shin. Another insistent reminder that sitting for extended periods is something to be avoided if at all possible.

Writing about all this today and triggered (positively) by several posts in my fat loss group to think about the why of it all, I thought about John Kennedy’s famous quote about space exploration:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

My time to learn to exercise, to eat better, is now. For me, my life does depend upon the better health quest, adopting and learning habits that will carry me through more gracefully into even older and grayer twilight years. While I have no clear idea what retirement may look like, I do know that my hopes are pinned on being an active participant, to not be sitting on the sidelines and wishing to be younger and stronger so I could move more freely through my life. Already it bothers me that my hips and glutes are trying to solidify and turn to stone after a few days of mostly sitting and staring intently at my computer screen. The regular exercise and healthier eating strategy is hard, but not impossible and definitely not beyond reach. In this struggle I am and was just like everyone else starting out or falling out of the habit. Finally I have managed to get far enough out of my own way to feel successful, so much so that it no longer worries me how I might fall down or falter in my quest. I now have enough experience and enough tools to know I can and will get back up and reclaim my present level of success.

But I would really rather not fall down, so I focus on my consistency in the better health quest over everything else. The rest will fall into place eventually.

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