PT-82: Hello push-pull; it’s been awhile

Monday morning, training with J. After dramatically shortened Saturday practice and a whole day rest day on Sunday, I was well rested and 100% healthy this morning. It was a good session, back to working at building strength.

Key Takeaways

No major breakthroughs with exercise today, but some internal realizations from external observations. Occurred to while J interacted with other members while we were working – how much do I trust my trainer? In my case, absolutely. I can tell him something hurts or is bothering me, and he adjusts the List to suit the situation. When left to pick what I might want to do, I’m nearly always going to revert back to a something where I have a lesser degree of confidence in my own ability. Part of this is simply my personality; trainer-trainee partnership says he is operating from a much wider, more diverse library of exercise that I possess and can on-the-fly pick and choose what we’re doing without the laborious thinking and research would be required for me to do this for myself.

My concern about weighty weights and backsliding with progress is less about weights I may be using or the competency I may surrender by not practicing them than it is about the habit of being in the gym doing something on a regular, consistent basis. If I did more or were habituated to cardio, I would probably not be as addictively obsessive about my various Lists. But I don’t do steady state cardio, and I do think about my core work and have dreams of various exercises where I have a strong desire to practice and improve. Last we did this particular push List, I was using more weight. But oh well. I’ll get back there soon enough.

Good health comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and forms. I love my emerging self-confidence outside of my professional pursuits and endeavors. There is a real sense of the long-term benefits of all my present-day pursuits in my getting regular exercise and making better food choices. The scale is still not my friend – it’s a data point-generating device that inspires a lot less feeling of anxiety and dread.

Online sources of support and shared objectives with regard to fat loss and improved fitness are not working for me, and only partly because I am a bit of an awkward weirdo with social media. Going forward, other than the few friends I have made outside of the groups, I’m likely to step even further away from participating in either. Either that or risk irking trainer J with my questions of obscure concepts I come across in my reading. I learn few things of any value, and I can live a very long and happy life without ever exploring further.

What We Did

Today was the push version of our push-pull Lists:

A1  Heavy DB Goblet Squat (45 lb. KB)
A2  Incline DB Chest Press (30 lb. DBs)
A3  DB Biceps Curls (15 lb. DBs)

B1  DB Bulgarian Split Squat (15 lb. DBs)
B2  1-arm DB Overhead Press (20 lb. DB)
B3  Bent Over DB Rear Fly (5 lb. DBs)

C1  DB Sumo Squat (35 lb. KBs)
C2  Seated DB “hang and bang” Lateral Raises (5 lb. DBs)
C3  Lying 2-DB Triceps Extensions (15 lb. DBs)

How It Felt

We are back to the weightier weight version of goblet squats. Last we visited this List, it was with a 55 lb. dumbbell. Today, the 45 lb. kettlebell felt like this ginormous chunk of vinyl-coated metal that was never meant for me to elevate off the ground without help. I did okay, but I continue to be amazed how a 45 lb. kettlebell feels so much heavier than a dumbbell equivalent. I already know that I have to work hard at staying upright – I think of it as “tippy-tippy-break” when form goes all wrong – and pressing down through heels. It also seems like after this much time it should be easier, or more routine. But nope, not for me. Every day, every time I do squats of any stripe, I am thinking and wondering if my butt back is back enough or if my knees are breaking first enroute to the bottom of the squat. At the bottom of the squat, what are my heels doing? So many times I catch myself with heels elevating and the tippy-tippy-break in progress before I can catch myself and make it stop. Consoling factor? How boring an hour it would be for fab trainer J if I form were more perfected more of the time.

On to the incline bench press, starting with a pair of 25 lb. dumbbells and stepping up to the 30 lb. dumbbells. Okay, I admit to being a lot proud of myself with these, if only because the rest of the day contained so much conversation about form, technique, correcting my arms and hands flailing around in a mostly uncontrolled manner. I am particularly liking chest presses lately because I can really feel the muscles working the weight and I have trained myself to not lock my arms out at the top. It’s so tempting to just press up until my elbows lock, and I seem to be into the habit groove of stopping with elbow bend remaining. Big win.

I am still not quite given over to being a full-blown curl monkey, but I have a strong preference for the alternating version of dumbbell bicep curls versus the 2-arm version with a pair of 15 lb. dumbbells. We did start with a few 2-arms, for compare and contrast, and while I flunked the pop quiz (the 2-arm can include more shoulder involvement), I truly thought it was all about personal preference and how it felt easier and not so heavy to do an arm at a time. There has been issue with my right forearm in the last several weeks, but it seems to be coming along nicely. Hammer curls with a 15 lb. dumbbell – probably not this month, but forearm is improved and my babying it is now an afterthought than an ongoing issue that I am considering every single day. As for the bicep curls, they went well and I can still feel that I was working them this morning. My biceps getting stronger, but I’m far from bulky or sporting the biggest guns in the gym. All cool with me. I’m happy to be capable of doing the exercise no matter how boring I find it.

I don’t think I know anyone who looks forward to Bulgarian split squats, and these are not my favorites either. However, I’m improving. Last week I did bodyweight on at least 2 occasions, so I felt more ready today with 15 lb. dumbbells in hand. J reminded me of the learning curve with these – overcoming the balance with a single foot on the floor – and look at me now. My competency with everything in the lunge family is a huge point of pride for me, because I had genuine lunge anxiety when we began and it took quite a long time for me to come to learn and gain baseline proficiency. Today we used 15 lb. dumbbells, but I looking through my notes I see that I have used a pair of 20 lb. dumbbells in the past. Either way, I’m glad I have no lost any significant ground with basic shape and ability.

The 1-arm dumbbell overhead press – we switched from a split stance to a squared stance today, a new progression in stability. Other than retraining my habit from split stance to squared stance, I was surprisingly ready for the transition and handled it well, even with hoisting a 20 lb. dumbbell overhead. Maybe it’s the relative simplicity, or maybe it’s just that I like the feels and impacts on my shoulders, maybe it’s that I have a good understanding of the scapular plane positioning, but I like when the standing version appears on Lists.

First troubling exercise of the day was the bent over rear fly. Even with 5 lb. dumbbells, this is the most corrected exercise in quite awhile. For whatever reason, my arms and hands do not want to cooperate and instead wish to flail around like some sort of crazed windmill. Or so goes my thinking as I am trying so hard to keep them in line. Problem first arises with hands wanting to turn sideways and flash the whites of my lower forearm. No, no, no. Hands are supposed to stay level, with pinky fingers above the thumbs gripping the dumbbells, elbows flare. In my case the hands want to flip upside down and who knows where the heck elbows are in the process? Have to work on keeping upper body parallel to the floor, knees slightly bent. And pulling from the shoulders, not flailing with the arms. Ugh. These look so easy. I watch J demonstrate; carefully observe exactly what his hands, arms, elbows, and shoulders are doing. Can I replicate it? Not easily. I am oh-so-slowly getting the hang of it, but crap – talk about thick-headed slow learner. Overriding the separate impulses of hands and arms is going to take some concentrated practice.

It’s been awhile since I have done dumbbell sumo squats, today with a pair of 35 lb. kettlebells rather than just a weightier weight dumbbell. First thing I noticed: how heavy those kettlebells are to lift, much less do squats with. But going along through the exercise, no way was I going to reach the 12 to 15 rep range J tossed out there. I did make 12, but after that – I was so done with those. One of my knees made a poppish sound, loud enough for super-hearing J to take note of and give a closer look at my foot placement (turn outward more). For the record, knee was and remains fine; no idea what the poppish sound was and doubt it anything serious. BUT, there was another member working out near us, resulting in a well-deserved spontaneous compliment for trainer J’s abilities. And it’s a small, small world: she’s also a runner and knows and “loves” my son G. That made a pretty awesome training even that much better.

On to the second troubling exercise of the day – the seated dumbbell “hang and bang” lateral raises. Like their close cousin, the bent over rear fly, arms and hands have independent ingrained habits that are going to be some work to break. I’m going to be going in slo-mo on these while I am trying to get hands and arms and shoulders doing the lifting all in line and working together. Another deceptively simple exercise. But something closer to perfect practice is required in this, because I am not hitting the right muscle groups if I am losing track of what all my limbs are doing while we are focused on the lateral raise. At least my wild misstep exercises are in the same general family and can be worked at and worked on together.

And finally, an established favorite, the lying down 2-dumbbell triceps extensions. These remain a constant on the favorites list, and only marginally because I feel like I have well and truly learned the shape and the way they are supposed to work to be most effective. I love them because they are effective, and after doing them faithfully for the last 2 years, I can actually see and feel the triceps muscle. Before, I only saw or felt the batwings. Now, I see the sleek little muscle there and greatly diminished batwing. That’s huge for me: actually being able to see the new muscle emerging.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

An interesting thing to me about training days is this section of the recaps. Frankly, I’m never sure what I might be thinking about before, during, and afterwards. Usually I am all a-glow with happy-happy-joy-joy for new things I learned, exercises I am improving upon, weightier weights I have used. Plus I just feel very good, as if this were a grade-worthy event and I came out with a better that expected score. But I don’t know what will stand out as most relevant to talk about here.

I have had a lot of thoughts lately about why I continue to train with J, quite probably because we are in the fourth quarter of 2017 and my plan is to renew and purchase my next chunk of sessions using 2017 dollars (money geek; I divide my planned spending into buckets and like to clear it out as much as possible before the end of the year). I have certainly learned a lot in the last 2+ years. Days like today, when we are working at and breaking down my form and technique on specific movements, I remember why I have not quite with a defeatist attitude, choose to train with him, and plan to continue for the foreseeable future. Chatting with another member about her needs for her session and what she wants to do in it based on how she feels, I have a better sense of who I am in trusting J’s judgment, knowledge, and experience to get me wherever we go next. I speak frequently of exercising safely and sanely, and other than talking about it in passing conversation, I never say to him “remember I have this, that, the other thing ….” as far as aches and pains. If something hurts, I tell him and we work around it.

Why I choose to continue training with J: he makes me better.

Strong word, “makes.” Like he’s standing there with the bullwhip primed and ready and forcing me to do this stuff. Sometimes I think this is the vision most people have when they think of personal trainers. Or that they are standing beside you with encouraging and inspiring platitudes and happy dance celebrating every single squat or curl. Or giving you the frowny face when you confess eating tons of crap and sugar all weekend and not being in the gym since your prior training session.

It’s been a long, long while since no practice between sessions has been an issue for me. Confessions of eating crap and sugar are no longer an issue either, and even if they were, there are worse things in life. Whatever visions I once had of what training is like, reality is our sessions are all about teaching, modifying, correcting, improving, and enhancing form and technique. In my experience with J, it is all about the teaching than it is about motivation and accountability and all those cool marketing words and terms used in gym advertising that trainers are available for hire to assist members in reaching their exercise objectives.

Motivation? That comes from me, and in truth, most days I don’t even think about it. I chose to avoid thinking motivation and went straight for creating exercise as a habit, so I didn’t have to seek another external force that I could use as an excuse to prevent me from getting up and to the gym and busy working at something. Motivation is like candy to me; something really enjoyable yet absolutely unnecessary for a healthy life.

Accountability? J and I are both pretty well-grounded in reality and its reflected in our training partnership. He’s not going to chastise me for falling off the healthy eating and regular practice wagons when it happens. Worst case scenario he will point out the consequences of my actions and choices, but most of the time – honestly, he does not care. Or more accurately, he does not manifest the caring emotion in the ways expectations of mainstream populations seem to anticipate and project. I’m a client; of course he has high hopes that I will practice what he’s trying to teach me, that I will improve and move closer to achieving my current objectives. That said, he’s not my babysitter or my conscience. If I’m struggling with something, I have to speak up, tell him that I just don’t get it (although he can usually read that clearly from my expressions) and we figure out where I’m going wrong (this time) and break it down and keep breaking it down until something sticks and I can gain some traction. I’ve learned there is no shame in not knowing, making mistakes, having to break bad habits. I know now that I am not the village idiot, and the exercise impacts and changes different bodies different ways.

Perhaps it is just time and maturity that comes with regular practice, achieving some success, and building on what I know, but I have written extensively about how my mindset has healed and improved as I continue my odyssey in the gym. When we first started, I took correction extremely personally and with an intense sense of shame for all I could not grasp and replicate in the first couple or few tries. The basic methodology of a lot of practice to mastery of the same basic things works well for me and improved my overall sense of confidence. Corrections to form are just corrections to form, not being called out for real or imagined character flaws that should be addressed. Big difference.

I don’t precisely feel weaker returning to this series than I did last we visited, but I do feel rechallenged by it. J did forewarn me that with the months of huffy-puffy focus that I may not be quite as strong woman in the same sense, so I was anticipating that the potential issue existed. But I was not disappointed; I did okay, probably could have pushed hard, but I think that every training day. Maybe I need to change my attitude, become the trainee seeking to impress the boss in session and go light the rest of the days on my own. But … doubtful; so not my style. Session days are learning days for me, my opportunities to ask the questions in the moment, to try out the cues, to find the best practices. I have 5 other days every week to do more sets and more reps, to up my intensity and practice what I am learning.

I am somewhat of a one-off weirdo in how seriously I try to learn and adapt to the exercise, but from firsthand experience I know what an impact is has had on my overall health. Today feels a bit like a crossroads. Finally over a bug, weather turning colder, going to yoga with a client on Tuesday – I’m thinking about what I want to do next with my fitness pursuits. Someday soon I will strike a balance with practice that includes a push day, a pull day, a couple of huffy puffy days, and then of course, training sessions. And one day per week, probably Sunday, a get outside day. Ultimately I think that’s my bigger picture and still quite tentative plan for routine weeks.

But I’ll see. I love the challenges being in the gym every day brings, love trying to improve and to get better. In my living room sits a Cybex arc trainer, for all that dedicated (and boring) cardio I’m not doing. I am going to a yoga class with a client, because he invited me and it will be fun seeing his self-professed non-bendy self in action. I think about more stretching, but to be perfectly candid, it holds about as much appeal as going on the 20 mile death march (for me) that M calls daily workout.

I have a lot of options, and no burning need or rush to make a decision or try something new immediately. As always, I’m thinking about it. Improvement is an infinite cycle available for me, and the only thing stopping me is me. I feel confident I am in the strongest place of my life to keep moving forward.

And speaking of improvement, having another brand of push-pull with diet. Healthy food choices – the bane of my existence. Well, not really – that would be or at least could be still be reserved for the single-legged everything and push-ups in the gym. But still; I don’t know why I continue to torture myself with trying to make food work better for me. Stick with what you know, Janelle; new things are less likely to work for me than they are for other folks.

Yep, starting to think my fickle-picky eater habits are having a somewhat adverse effect on my better health quest. Since I seem to only like/consume certain foods, I eat them over and over and over again. Day after day, week after week, month after month. Just writing that down – no wonder I find my eating so tiresome.

I am, however, learning. M and I ate out both days of the weekend, which is kind of rare for us anymore, and burger joints – extremely rare for us. Saturday was my favorite casual burgers (The Habit Burger) and Sunday was his (Islands). Saturday I did indeed have my cheeseburger quota, and it was divine. Sunday I went with the chicken caesar salad, my usual choice for this location, but the waiter either didn’t hear me or forgot to input my request to hold the parmesan cheese. Rather than send it back, I figured it would be fine and ate it anyway.

Or tried to eat it. A few bites into the salad, and it was far too salty for me to finish. So I ate the plain grilled chicken and some of the drier lettuce leaves and called it a day. I have always been more sensitive to salty foods, but rarely has anything overwhelmed to the point of abandonment. Fab trainer says this is a symptom of clean(er) eating, that I will become more sensitive to flavors. Boy howdy – I had no idea. Next time I’ll not be so agreeable and send the not right dish back to the kitchen.

I suppose it worries me (the tiniest bit!) because I am already such a fuss-bucket when it comes to food, as in there is so much I don’t really care for and will avoid if at all possible. Unfortunately stuff I love tends to be heavy in fat and carbs, so I am practicing moderation, most of the time (anymore) successfully. But I don’t let myself get to fixated on favorite things (pizza comes to mind immediately) and have a reasonable portion a couple of times per month. In the case of pizza, I will order a tiny personal size and a side salad. If I’m lucky, I’ll be eating with a friend willing to split it with me, otherwise I eat half and take half home for M. Pasta was once a weekly staple in our diet, but now it’s maybe once every 2 or 3 months and always in a restaurant. Once I discovered how high it spiked my blood sugar, pasta was moved to the treat column. Same with most chinese food, with all its sugar and carb-laden goodness.

My nutritionist friend suggests this could also be a good thing, perhaps I will find new foods or preparation methods for vegetables that make me enjoy them more. Perhaps. But I feel like such an old dog at this point; I’m not sure teaching my tastebuds new tricks is in the cards.

But maybe. Hope is eternal, after all. At least in my world.





PT-80: Recovering

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday late morning, training with J. I have been sidelined for a couple of days due to illness (fever and severe sore throat/tonsillitis), so I have been quite literally on the couch for the past few days. By yesterday I was feeling significantly better, yet still in a weakened state, and yet I did not want to cancel my session or try to reschedule to what is typically a back-to-back busy Tuesday on J’s schedule. Instead J offered a compromise – a later (11 a.m.) training appointment so I could get some extra sleep if needed.

Key Takeaways

In the last 2 years, I have learned how to do a lot of different exercises in the gym and gained strength from it. I have come a long way in cleaning up my eating habits and lost weight in the process. And I am very proud of those accomplishments. But what I am most proud of is how much stronger, more powerful I have become with my thinking and my mindset. Inside my own head, negative girl still dwells and screeches out messages that can stress me out and lead me down the path of destructive self-doubt if I listen to them. I have grown a much thicker, stronger skin. In my opinion, my self-possession is the most attractive attribute to emerge from this process thus far.

This is my second 2-day streak of not going to the gym this year. First was kind of a mini-vacation, when I resolved to take 4 days off and could not stand it after 2. This time the situation was different – there’s no way I could have practiced even if I was not concerned about spreading my illness germs. But what I found curious this year, both times of skipping practices were essentially non events. This is poignant for me because as focused to the point of obsessed as I am with my exercise habits, I was not worried or upset on either occasion. Maybe I gain a couple of pounds from literally lying on the couch for a couple/few days. Maybe I get weaker from the time away. But so what? I’m in this for the long game, which means I will lose weight I gain and regain strength that may fade.

I appreciate the small differences of doing huffy-puffy on slowed way down pacing to match my ability and energy today. On my very best day, I am the client least likely to push herself too hard to impress the boss (trainer J). Training, exercise is probably 2/3 doing and 1/3 thinking about what I’m doing. It’s part of my process and possibly, probably what will restrain me from making me the poster person for amazing success story in shortest span of time.

What We Did

Because this is a former version of a huffy-puffy List, the descriptions and names may not be typical or how J might label them. But I tried to be descriptive where I lack a formal name for the exercise. Our List today:

Mini band warm-up – kickback, side kick, forward walk, lateral walk, kickback.

Goblet squat
1-arm row
Box elevated plank with kick-out/up/in

KB hip hinge
Crunch / leg lift

Landmine 1-arm overhead press
Band facepulls
Band horizontal chops

How It Felt

On the mini band warm-up series: I still love, Love, LOVE my mini bands. And seeing so many others in the gym using them for zombie walks (it is October, after all) and lateral walks and using them for glute bridges and goblet squats, apparently J has been working with other trainers and building the mini band fan base. They are effective and add value to other exercises in the List rotations. Plus it’s absorbing and FUN to be forward, backward, sideways up and down the blue grass with rubber bands around the ankles.

The oldie but perennial goodie – goblet squats with the 25 lb. kettlebell. I do this often yet less frequently than days gone by, but I note how different my reactions to lighter than typical weights and rep ranges is in the present day. Still on antibiotics and recovering from random sickness, I was not in top form for training. Once upon a time, I would mentally beat myself up over my weakness and slacking. Today, I was simply happy to be back in the gym doing something, even shorter sets, lighter weights, significantly slower pacing. Plus squats – I always seem to make room for new improvements and enhancements in my form. Lately, it’s about the feet – always the damn feet! I have to watch my upright-ness and ensure my feet stay flat on the floor and pressing upward through the heels. Slow, slower, slowest-ing the squat points out all sorts of simple corrections too easily overlooked when pursuing the huffy-puffy pacing.

Next up is the 1-arm row with the lighter 18 lb. kettlebell. Since we started doing these with the landmine, things I know about foot placement and form had gotten misplaced. Rear foot turns sideways 90 degrees and knee is bent, stance is wider. Once I got there, everything worked the way it is supposed to work, pulling upward with the shoulder. I do love the row, and with the lighter weight, felt really dreamy pleasant. We did step up with the 25 lb. KB in the second set, and while more challenging than usual, it was not uncomfortable in my recovering state. That was encouraging. I will live to row another day starting with my typical 25 lb. weight.

We used the foam plyo box instead of the bench for the plank with kick-out/back/knee in. Glutes tight, rib tuck, rib tuck, rib tuck, and keep those glutes tight! I am pretty simple with planks – all of them – and staying straight with abs (rib tuck!) and glutes tight has my full attention. With the kick out, go as wide as possible without twisting the body. With the kick-back, rib tuck even more and kick back only until the glute tightens. With pulling the knee in, only about half way, before the tailbone tilts and tucks under. I know how it’s supposed to look and feel, but it is still not easy. Today on the plyo box and from the elbows, it was far easier on my shoulders and upper body, which is as much a point of fatigue as the abs waving the white flag and pleading for relief.

We returned to the kettlebell hip hinge, from the very first of my Lists back in 2015, only now I was using the 35 lb. kettlebell, which is fairly light for me anymore. But no matter; I made it work, and it was certainly more than enough challenge. I do love these, because it took me a long time to get the shape and technique of how they are supposed to work. Now, I am strong enough to hold the kettlebell in a stable position for the hinge and can feel my muscles all working together. It’s gratifying to revisit exercise I struggled so mightily to get some competence with and feel how far I have progressed.

The former arch nemesis and bane of my existence, the pushup returns today. This exercise hops in and out of my nemesis stable, but lately it spends more time on the outside. Progress, right? Today we did them on the foam plyo box, and I do think my habit of doing a set of at least 8 on the TRX or the bench most mornings as part of my warm-up has helped me progress. But I felt really, really good about my effort today. I actually feel them across my chest muscles now. While sweating profusely and breathing hard (even while going in the slowest of slo-mo pacing), I got them done. Glutes tight, ribs tucked, lower down to the point of chest stretch – done, done, and done. I’m improving.

On the latest ab/core template, we have done the crunch/leg lift combination. These are hard. Really hard. But I have been doing at least a set of floor chops most days and core is stronger. Not bullet-proof stronger, but definitely more capable than even 3 months ago. With this version of the crunch, knees are bent and feet closer to the bum, and elevating shoulders and reaching up as far as possible. Maybe there are people in the world whose shoulders actually lift up off the mat while pressing abs into the floor, but mine are not presently in that group. I tried and could definitely feel it in my core, but I don’t think there was any air flow between my shoulders and the mat while I was crunching. But oh well; this is where I dwell right now. On the leg lift portion, this version has elevated to 90 degree angle with knees bent at 90 degrees as well. Press core into the floor while slowly lowering the legs with knees bent. Low, lower, lower just until my abs let go and my back wants to bend, then pull those knees back up and start over again. OMG – these are so awful! Yet for some perverse reason, they appeal to me on so many levels. I like the challenge. I like the feels. As I said, I can actually feel the building strength in my abs, and it’s very exciting. I have never felt very capable in this regard, and I am finally feeling some changes occurring and progress being made.

The landmine 1-arm overhead press without a weight plate remains hugely satisfying for me. I cannot quite articulate how satisfying it is to use the big bar with or without additional weight, but I love that it’s now part of my Lists and rotations. My feeling in this moment is that this is an upgrade in personal responsibility over the dumbbells or machines, if only because I think there is a wider margin for errors that could result in an injury of some sort. Plus they are effective and build better shoulders in lots of ways.

Of all the facepulls I have learned, I like these with the big giant rubber band the most. It is not just the pulling backward against the band but the resistance of the band between my hands and the resistance pulling sideways as well. The feeling is are broader range across the back and through the shoulders.

The band horizontal chops continue, and I will keep plugging away at trying to improve my form and technique. Lean forward, side rib tuck into these, and try not to get so enthusiastic in the chopping motion that I lose my footing and have to reposition and adjust. As in everything, I will keep working at it, keep practicing, keep striving for improvement. But I gotta say – as part of my core template, I am starting to see some carving into the fat around my waistline and the faintest shadow of obliques emerging. Success is always very motivating.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Honestly, this is the shortest section of any training recap in well … forever. My primary thoughts today were that I’m glad to be well enough to be in the gym, period. No longer worried about spreading illness germs, fever had been gone without medication for more than 36 hours, and day 3 of the 7 day series of antibiotics had me feeling so much better. Still low energy, still not my usual levels of strength and endurance, but I did okay and felt good that I was at least in the gym and back to something akin to normal. Big win.

I am such a creature of habit, though, and I do not really enjoy being outside my routine, especially because I’m recovering or something else. The gym has a different vibe and feel at other times of day, and I am not familiar enough with it to feel completely at ease. Far from the end of anything or worthy of comment for anyone else, but I’m more sensitive to such things and like my routine and familiar sights and sounds.

But I was there. I didn’t spend my whole session whining or making excuses. I did what I could, and while I am never going to be voted most likely to push myself too hard in training, I was very conscious of the consequences of over doing it. I’d much rather go light on effort and return tomorrow than go big and have to stay home because I’ve relapsed.

A Tuesday Footnote

I was back in the gym today and going through this List again this morning. While on Monday we went lighter and did only 2 sets of everything, today I was feeling better and wanted to try for my the regular 3 sets of each block.

How I know I am not yet 100% over being sick: what normally would take maybe 40 minutes at even semi-leisurely pacing took me almost 2 hours. I had to stop many time. I have had to pause, wipe the sweat from my face and take a drink of water, and then finish the set. While I do care, I allowed myself plenty of time to spend 2+ hours to do everything I wanted to get done today. My energy is not back to normal obviously, but I remain very pleased with my effort.

I did make a mistake setting up my landmine overhead press, in that the bar got away from me and very nearly wrenched my shoulder. Fortunately I caught it and myself with a very minor pain tweak to my arm and elbow. The distraction as much as my faltering energy is a wake-up call, and I got very focused while I had the bar in my hands.

Experience for me is a great teacher, and the way I am handling my recovery from illness is a good measure of me listening to body and its reasonable requests. I’m not doing anything crazy. I’m not pushing and trying to use my normal weights if the lighter versions feel taxing to my system. But I’m also not giving up or giving in to my lazy side that whispers that I could go back to sleep or consume more calories because I’m getting over being sick.

Weighing myself on Monday – I had managed to gain 3.6 pounds over the weekend not exercising and eating whatever sounded good in the moment (primarily watermelon and Lipton noodle soup). But oh well; I don’t care. Or rather, I do care, but I am not particularly worried about it. I refuse to let the scale dictate the value of my efforts or my better health quest. Back on my feet, in the gym, getting caught up on work, and essentially up and moving around more – the scale will take care of itself. My eating is fine, not doing anything weird or crazy or stalking the nearest donut shop.

Life, and weight fluctuations, happen. So does getting sick and getting better. My freaking out about it is a waste of energy.

And that, my friends, is huge progress for me.



PT-73: Landmining

Because I am again more than a week behind in session recap posts, back to labeling them with dates. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thursday morning, training with J. I initially thought we would be doing Monday review and adding in the third block, but somewhere in the intervening days J changed his mind about what to do next. Or he had changed his mind about the order, both of which are perfectly fine things to do. However, today it was mid-session that he changed his mind completely about direction. Full-on teaching day, and it was amazingly fun. Our session quickly morphed from “we are developing a formal List” to “we are putting together something new so let’s throw a lot of stuff at the walls and see what sticks.”

Love that. Works for me. Training. Not a job, not an adventure, it’s awesome-sauce amazingly big fun, balm for an enduring soul.

Key Takeaways

The more I have to pick up and move the big tall bar around the slightly more confident I get about my ability to do so without hurting myself or others. Because it’s 41 lbs. And long, tall, awkward to lift up out of its holder, walk 10 feet, and insert into a landmine.

New trick when using 20 lbs. on the bar is to use use a single 10 lb. plate and 2 5 lb. plates, because the 5 lb. plates are easier to get on and off when paired with the 10 lb plate. For whatever reason I thought there was some scientific trick to using the least amount of plates possible.

There is a shape and angles difference with the landmine and barbell versus the dumbbells. It’s fascinating to observe, and I feel all nerdy girl in noticing the differences.

Because of the way the barbell is positioned, it did not seem like the way I held the bar in my hand on various moves matters. Yet it does, and only through a fair amount of trial and error do I learn the subtle differences.

For the first time in a long time, I spend a lot of time making small adjustments on each exercise. I understand it was a teaching day; this is primarily new stuff. But there are so many small adjustments to make and be made. But oh well. If I have to move an inch or so every other rep (or even every single rep) until I get the feels right, so be it.

What We Did

Today was all about the landmine and learning how to work with it. The teaching List:

1-arm row (wide stance)
1-arm press

Reverse lunge
1-leg Romanian deadlift (2 holds)
1-arm row (narrow stance)
Chest press (demonstrated but not officially tried out)

How It Felt

The squat is intriguing if only with trying to get myself into the correct angle to the bar. For the first time ever, I actually appreciate the mirror across from where I am working. Typically I hate looking at myself do anything in the gym, but with this landmine stuff, I find myself trying to get the angles right and need the mirror to see if I am in the ballpark of correct with my footing. Still using 20 lbs. of plates on the bar and do fairly well with the rep range.

Not sure what it was about this exercise, but I kept reaching for the bar with the wrong hand to 1-arm row. Did pretty well with a 10 lb. plate, but the intermittent forearm weak pain it has me feeling cautious. For the most part I get the basic shape, and while this is framed as a huffy-puffy List, it felt a lot more like a strength-building List with the rows.

There is a definite awkward feeling handing the barbell for a 1-arm press. First the landmine on the floor pivots to and fro, and my first effort has me being very careful to make sure I press it straight ahead versus letting my wrist and arm get loosey-goosey and sort of rotate it around in a circular fashion. I have the shape down down now, and where my elbow should be (in front of me, not all the way down to my side), and foot placement – the oh-so-important foot placement – in a split stance.

Thrusters are in slo-mo or I lean forward too much and elevate my heels. After 2+ years of doing squats, I am back to having to thinking butt back and standing up straight. How strange it is the distribution of weight with the barbell and ensuring my hand placement is correct for both the squat and the overhead press at the top. I’m working on the timing and pacing, but in my head it is not going very well. But oh well. It’s not that I don’t care – because I do care very much – but not too much or I will get lost and overthink all the small details that I ultimately need to memorize and absorb.

The reverse lunge with the landmine requires a lot more focus and concentration than bodyweight or with dumbbells in hands. It was not terrible, but turning the rear foot slightly inward for stability – goodness where have I been? It made a huge difference, and I am trying to retrain myself to always do this with all lunges going forward. But with the barbell in hand, it seems so important to do a side at a time, all at once, rather than alternating. Still, it was tiring. And thinking about and controlling the bar in my hands seems a lot trickier than the dumbbells. Maybe be cause it’s new, but more likely because it’s heavy and awkward and a lot more risky should it slip from my grasp.

We used 2 different holds on 1-leg Romanian deadlifts today. First we did them with me facing the bar and holding onto the end with my palm facing down (in my mind this was the wide way) and then with me standing at the end of the bar with my hand turned to the side (the skinny way). (I learned later that they are referred to as perpendicular and parallel relative to the side of the body.) Unsurprisingly, these were a challenge to stay balanced. But again, foot placement matters. This time, it’s the elevated foot turns slightly inward to square off the hips and keep everything upper body tight and still through the whole movement. I actually did better with these than I would have anticipated, and I feel more confident going forward. The barbell is far more controllable with balance than the cables.

The 1-arm row with narrow stance felt more like a regular dumbbell 1-arm row, in that there was a split stance and pulling upward with the shoulder. The distribution of the weight is different, but I understood the shape, how my feet were supposed to be positioned, and could definitely feel myself pulling the weight upward with my shoulder. I actually have no strong preference for these over the wider stance rows, and unless J is specific about doing one over the other, I would probably alternate styles back and forth between sets.

J laid down on the floor and demonstrated a 1-arm chest press and it looked interesting, but he chose to not have me try it today.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I speak of measures a fair amount in terms of my better health quest. I have dates and time frames in my head. I have lots of other numbers as well – everything from my starting weight to what the scale reported this morning, to my A1c when I started and what it was in August. The range of numbers of statistics that I am aware of and loosely track in are primarily data points; snippets of information that ultimately tell a story about my overall forward progress.

But it is far from the whole story. On its own, it appears to be a smooth, steady line of progress. There is no way to accurately track and measure for the anguish, the frustration, the buckets of sweat, the puddles of tears. The sense of the empty emotional devastation at how my untrained body has struggled and flailed for every tick of the scale or the glucose meter, for every extra pound of weighty weight I can wield safely and sanely. All that negative noise is mostly in my rearview mirror, but I am still close enough to that version of me that my eyes tear up thinking about the uphill slog and how hard that part of any change of lifestyle habit. And how richly satisfying it is to reach the next summit and look backward at my most recent climbing-up point.

The landmines and barbell are just another toolset in my fitness toolbox, yet in my head they loom large like the peak of Mt. Everest. It’s a new and exciting accomplishment for me, something I have worked very hard for without knowing it was looming large as a potential Next Big Thing. I have earned any and all measures of success with it. The weight plates I am using are not meant to impress, but I could be using lighter, heavier, or no added weights and feel the same way. It’s the next phase of training, of being capable enough to learn to use these different tools that makes me feel this strange mixture of pride and humility.

I am a weird emotional headspace, so I question a lot of my feelings and impulses. Of late I have this sense of being underestimated. Or maybe undervalued? Not sure precisely, but the sense of irritation when old and banished to outer circles of friends act surprised at my appearance persists as an intermittent annoyance. Whereas my arms were once judged as getting too big, now they seem perfectly normal and just blend with the rest of body’s pieces and parts. Sometimes I think my glutey-booty needs its own red wagon to be carted around behind me, but it’s a passing sense of self adjustment showing. I imagine M and J – both on a manorexia journey and steadily slenderizing – have similar feelings when they look at their changing frames in the mirror or while going through their own fitness pursuits. Only for them it’s more fist-pumping triumph feelings versus the weird stew of push-pull in my own heart and mind.

My point here, underestimated, undervalued – by whom? No one who matters to me in my orbit. I have made new friends that make me feel awesome. And brave, so very brave. Courage is uniquely individual, and overcoming my gym crazy was just a single step in a very long journey of shedding ugly feelings of inferiority and shame.

Cool new tools today, and while I’m not perfect in their use, that I have come this far and am capable of using them imperfectly is just huge.

True confession: telling M about using the landmine on Monday, I was really happy. Telling him about today, I got all emotional and teary kind of happy with my little baby step accomplishment. I have worked so hard. I have tried really hard to work so hard. My intellectual curiosity about fitness and exercise has grown by leaps and bounds, and it tends to go hand in hand with my efforts to stay focused and actually implement all I am learning about in print, video, random conversations with others while keeping my eye on the better health quest.

All around me, people I know are getting sick with serious illnesses. I’ve learned of 4 people diagnosed with different forms of cancer in the last 6 weeks, and I have heard from clients and friends about other friends or relatives receiving similar bad news. There have been deaths this year, and I am dreading more sad news into the future with a former boss.

Sometimes it’s just genetics or bad luck that brings serious, life threatening illness. However, more often than not there are chronic conditions that can be avoided, controlled, even reversed with a more active lifestyle and  healthier eating choices. With the diabetes, I am living, breathing proof of the possibilities. I am under no illusion that this diabetes drug-free state will last forever, and I have no idea how much damage I may have done to myself before embarking on my better health quest. But oh well. The past is past; mistakes and poor choices were made. It is not something I look back upon with regret or despair. Nothing I can do about it now except to make better choices going forward and enjoy the whatever allotment of good health and vitality comes from present and future efforts. From this point forward, though, I will regret knowing I can do better and yet refuse to undertake the challenges to make those better choices a stronger habit. I am inherently lazy, and if body and mind had not become so smitten with the effects and feelings that come with regular exercise, chances are excellent that I would not be spending quite as much time in the gym honing my skills.

I don’t particularly like where I was when I started. My simplest goal is to avoid having to return to the medication to control my blood sugar. Avoid simple sugar and processed foods. Limit the starchy carbs. Eat lots of lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. Sounds so easy, but when the sugar/fat/salt evil triad has you in its thrall, it’s so hard.

Nor would I be so happy about the cool new tools that I start to cry happy tears telling M about my training adventure.

Progress? Oh Hell yes. And for once the tears that accompany the sweat were of a celebratory nature rather than angry frustration or recrimination.

Progress. I’ll not only take it, I’ll celebrate it.

The shoulds, reality, upgrades

In my head, I should be writing my training recap. But I’m not. Because I’m juggling multiple projects, priorities, and thoughts. Plus I’d really like to eat at some point before I become cranky and hungry. That’s ugly stuff people; we don’t want to go there.

Reality is there is so much to talk about, in addition to the small, fine details and adjustments with training. Nothing big, no major weighty-weight goals to report or crow about, no new digit drop on the scale to be ridiculously excited about either. Nope, all about form, technique, the laser-focus trainer eye picking up small details that require adjustment and could derail progress now or into the future. These are not optional ways to do things; this is not hammer curl versus bicep curl kind of differences. It is small things about shoulders, core, foot placement. And it’s with basic exercises like squats.

But a typical recap takes a little time to write, time I presently don’t have to devote. Instead, in my head and other venues of communications I’m having discussions with people about ridiculous things that practical, pragmatic me does not understand. While I have disconnected and shut down the negative noise, it has the effect of stimulating my thinking and energizing my emotional volume. I’m kind of pointlessly indignant and outraged for not good reason. There are avenues in my life I need to just read the topic, unequivocally and unemotionally state my position (absolutely transparently: frequently the politically incorrect side of the equation), and let the rabble rousing continue without me. I gots other stuff to do.

The important thing I want to talk about, though, is the evolution of training as a component of the better health quest and its overall rippling effect. I can tell you until the cows and sheep and every other barnyard creature that wanders come home about the exercises and how each feels to me. I can tell you about my thoughts. I can tell you the lightbulb moments. And I love doing that. I love downloading all that happened in my mind, transcribing my notes from my notebook and sharing it with all of you.

I just lack the chunk of time to do so. And I’m utilizing the precious little I have right now explaining myself, primarily to myself.

Reading back through many hundreds of posts and emails and things I have written in the last 2+ years, I see the zig and zag of my journey and progress. I see myself with single legged Romanian deadlifts – once upon a time my arch nemesis exercise – and know how far I have come with that even though I continue to struggle with balance, only a far heavier weight or bar in my hand(s). My lunge anxiety and weeble-wobbles with bodyweight lunges of any stripe has given way to this fascination with the rear foot placement, body alignment, whether I am bobbing and weaving with the dumbbells in my hands. The weights I once thought so far out of reach for me are now just another datapoint in my day-to-day exercise experience.

I love that. I love ALL of that. The world’s best vocabularian lacks words to describe my deep sense of joy and satisfaction with all I can do now, how far I have come since I began training with J, and how infinite and exciting the learning curve in front of me with this process. (And who knew that “vocabularian” was actually a thing? Learning is forever.)

But my learning style – it has evolved and adapted, as has the way J and I interact in the trainer/trainee partnership. My capacity has not just grown in less fat, more muscle, increased stamina, it is also more discipline and an increase in my understanding. My body remains a bit of mystery to me, but I know that basic care and maintenance involve eating healthy foods and getting regular amounts of exercise. Even with that, there are quirks and adjustments. Despite my best efforts to maintain and be at a calorie deficit most days, for the first time in my entire life I found it’s possible to be a too much of a calorie deficit and how its impacts can and do take me in the wrong direction. Where I once felt stronger and more engaged while going through my List, I have felt weaker and more fatigued as I tried to press forward. Looking at my sleep and my stress levels, both seemed to be in order, particularly the sleep. I had not changed my diet, but it did seem more huffy-puffy effort was draining my reserves. I started watching my nutrient intake and that helped some, but increasing my overall calories put me back in normal energy range. And guess what? The scale went from plateau and creeping upward to on the march back down.

Yep, eating a little more and restarting my weight loss. Who knew?

As far as the exercise, I’m not always never the perfect client with pacing on huffy-puffy Lists, particularly technical review days where lots of little issue cropping up and creeping in from the List. (I know there probably isn’t a perfect training client; it’s another urban legend along with the rainbow-farting unicorns.) Maybe it’s less routine stuff – my forays into TRX exercises look and feel completely different than in the beginning – or just bad habits taking hold when I’m on my own. No matter. I’m still embryonic enough of trainee to take correction and adjustment and incorporate them into my form and technique. I also do not take it personally, as if I am the tribe idiot who does not or cannot understand. Comporting myself to getting the gazillion small nuances of exercise is not for the faint of heart, but I’m proud of myself for rising to the occasion. Big girl capris holding steady in this regard.

While it appears we’re socializing and having fun in training, I am very serious about learning and absorbing every single detail. Unfortunately there is so much about exercise that is miniscule little details that do not feel different (until it all goes bad) it’s difficult for me to remember everything without pen and paper in hand. In the time I have spent typing this post, I have had my arms stretched out trying to replicate the stance for the TRX tricep exercise and rib tucking while sitting upright thinking of the motion for glute bridges. Long live my exercise geekiness! This also leads me to the conclusion that tomorrow is too late to run through this List again, that I will have lost something while sleeping tonight. So I am will be back in the gym sometime tonight to run through it again to try and cement the nagging little things we went through.

It was that kind of small details-heavy session.

The whole point of this rambling brain dump: to describe that I am upgrading. For lack of a better, more accurate, more precise term, I will use one that sounds like a big and tangible Very Good Thing.

Yep, I am upgrading myself. My habits. My thoughts. My discipline. My cohorts. My work.

This is not me expressing belief that the work I do to improve my health deserves recognition or reward or status boost more frequently or even at all. Nope, this is me acknowledging that I have worked very, very hard and am seeing the natural consequence of those efforts in all aspects of my life. Who knew that developing a new sense of discipline in one aspect of my life would bleed over and color everything else more positively?

I marvel at this process. I was a pretty happy person before I began working on my improving my health, but I am in a superior frame of mind and reference since embarking. Better health – what to do, what to do. I hire a coach, I learn a lot, but there are 2 hours per week jam-packed full of exercise stuff so studying on my own is absolutely imperative. From there I meet others and getting to know them piques my interest in all sorts of things, so my natural curiosity makes me want to know and understand more.

Diving down the rabbit hole of new knowledge so I can reassure myself that I’m an equally interesting and interested conversation partner. Because at my core, I feel pretty damn boring in today’s world. I feel as if I read the same stuff everyone else reads, think along the same biased lines that I think, and when I meet others with different experiences, I like exploring their experiences and what has shaped their own biases so we can share and learn from each other. And rediscovering that I love, Love, LOVE the whole learning-new-things process.

But there is the militant asshole factor. I try to avoid it, and in most of my real-life interactions, my friends, associates, clients, general associations are fine. We are all grown-ups and have genuine give-and-take conversations. It’s online social media – something I pursue extremely sparingly – where the asshole factor comes into play. And I lack the patience and the stomach for arguing with might-is-right sort of mindsets.

The darker down side is my interest in and patience with others stuck and unwilling to try to up their game is waning. It’s a fine line where I am either a knowledge junkie unwilling to repeatedly pour my gathered treasure down some black hole without any return or I grow stagnant in the presence of others.

I know I am quite capable of patience and interest. J gave this spectacular illustration this morning, with potted plants. Get a pot, added the best soil possible, bury some seeds, water it, expose it to sunlight, talk/sing/dance for it. And watch it. Every day, do these good and nurturing things for the seeds. And be patient, while watching it. At some point, something is going to happen. Some little tendril will sprout from the soil, and over the course of days and weeks and months and years you care for this plant and provide all it needs, it grows and thrives.

Such is the case with diet and exercise. I was chatting with my daughter on Tuesday evening about the process, and I told her, truthfully, that it has only been in the last few months that I can truly discern the changes in my body and the scale. After 2+ years of at least 6 or 7 days of resistance training every single week, I have just now tipped the scale of 30 lb. weight loss. I’m physically smaller, have pretty new muscle peeking out on various body parts. There is less fat all over. Yet my BMI calculation says I am still obese.

Oh well.

The thing is, I stopped thinking that I should see results after a set amount of time and an awful lot of effort. My focus is just putting in the effort, doing the work. Everything counts. Every step on my Fitbit, every calorie I burn doing resistance training or weight lifting, every calorie I consume. I get tired, frustrated, distracted routinely and do not push the huffy-puffy pacing on huffy-puffy Lists, or my confidence feels tentative I utilize a lighter weight range. But my effort is not in vain. It may not be as efficient or as effective as if I put forth the all-out effort, but I still do a lot. And I’m satisfied with that effort no matter how reduced it may seem in my own mind.

As my base level of strength and endurance has built, so has my desire to understand the process more. I still come home from the gym after every session and write down in my own shorthand what I learned, what I want to retain, what I know and feel inside is most important. I frequently do the same after practices on my own. Who has the time? I hear this constantly on the rare occasions that I mention it. I make the time. Because what I value, I prioritize and protect. I value my health. I value my time, and J’s, and others in my village. I take notes and write down what I want to remember, including names mentioned in passing that I want to look up later. Because if I don’t write it down, I’ll forget. I am unlikely to even remember to ask for the name later and the potential avenue for learning new things is lost to me.

It’s part of my upgrading process. I make notes for later research from conversations with clients and with friends as well. My memory appears to be good because I have a habit of writing things down, and if I make the effort to write it down, my recall of details is so much better.

So, if I’m a good training client (and I am), I put forth the effort. I do my homework. I possibly have taken the concept of training extra credit to some unforeseen level. And I’m okay with that. This is my process, what works for me, what keeps me focused and interested in my own progress without using the typical, tangible measures.

If I let go of the reins on my discipline in this area, it would not be long before I’d be back on medication to control my blood sugar and those 30 lbs. would be restored. And I have given away all my larger sized clothing.

While I might idly wonder how letting go of my discipline with exercise and diet might impact the rest of my life – in work, in relationships, in interests – I have zero interest or intention in indulging that avenue of curiosity.

I have earned my progress because I do work at it, every single day. And I’m proud of my effort. The success I have enjoyed and the rewards of developing this discipline are far broader than I ever imagined. And as I type this and think about anyone telling me this 2+ years ago, I would have been very skeptical and feeling as if someone were trying to manipulate me. I can write about it until blogs are outlawed and am unlikely to sway anyone who hates exercise or any sort of restriction on their eating habits. It is something we each have to discover on our own.

Still, the effort and developing the discipline is so worth it and worthy of writing endless amounts of words about it.

What I’m thinking about today

Yep, been MIA again with multiple posts in the process of being written. I have so much to say, yet for a myriad of reasons, either not enough getting written or not enough of the stuff I want to share here getting written.

No matter. I will get busy and crank my recaps out at some point.

But today is as interesting as every other training or practice day in the gym. Combined with other fitness-related influences around me, lots of thinking progress. Negative girl has been trying her best to turn on the self-recrimination faucet, but my progress into fitness badassery has me more capable of batting back and vaporizing the negative noise.

Today is a compilation of my random and rehashed thoughts over the last few months.

My factory-production level model of excuse making is out of service. Not permanently, nothing about my mindset should ever be considered enabled or disabled permanently, but perhaps mothballed in long-term storage. Through the years, I have gotten better about excuses. As my maturity and understanding of life has increased, so has my perception about the nuances of my own behaviors. Making excuses does not make me feel better or put a positive spin on an undesirable situation or set of circumstances; it merely makes my behavior marginally acceptable in the moment. Getting real with myself and staying grounded in that reality is a huge component of forward progress.

The skill of listening to body is hard, but complying with its requests is harder. From earliest days of training, fab trainer J has emphasized and stressed listening to body. What I typically heard at first – I want a cookie! Let’s drink soda! I don’t wanna do [insert entire exercise library here] that! – was the addictive cravings of a lifetime bleating out their demands and drowning out anything and everything else that might be desired or required for the better health quest. After the earliest days, I seldom complain (much less whine) about the better health quest and all it entails. I try very hard not to bitch about overcoming poor lifestyle choices, because I know the process is challenging and must continue the balance of my life. Happy to say body’s requests now are more in line with green/yellow/red warning signs in the gym, but now the challenge is to take a rest day without fear or anxiety of never returning to the gym. I am getting better at managing my emotional state. Imperfect, always, but better.

To change my lifestyle habits, education is essential. I frequently feel like the latest incarnation of a nerd in a fake-it-until-I-make-it kind of way, but with a diet and exercise slant. Which means I read everything I can lay hands on from more trusted sources with regard to eating, fitness, exercise. From there it branches out to discussion with J, here on the blog, in my FB fat loss group. And what I find – vast majority of people I interact with about this stuff are typically seeking quick-and-easy, sound-bite-sized solutions. Few seem to want to take responsibility for their untrained, unfit, overweight state. They want to discount or irrationally debate the science, or find reasons why it does not apply to them. Whereas I like knowing the why, and figuring out how such knowledge impacts and/or benefits me. Because me, my body, my issues with losing weight or adding muscle are not unique or special snowflake qualities issues. Sedentary lifestyle, too much processed food, too much food period – these are the things that contribute to my obesity. Wishing it away hasn’t worked out very well for me.

Education makes the search for motivation and inspiration mostly pointless. Chatting with my own village of experts on various topics related to better health and from personal experience, resistance to doing the work is probably the biggest obstacle in the way of individual success. I understand it, and I sympathize. To a point. I have read hundreds (maybe thousands?) of motivational and inspirational memes and quotes looking for the catapult that gets me up and doing the work; many have even stuck with me in my mind. But when I’m in the gym working through my List of the Day, none of that is in my head. I am thinking about form – where are my feet, what is my elbow doing, how are my shoulders, go slower, go faster, peppier pacing, etc. – not about “just do it” or “how badly do I want it?” My reality? The search for motivation and inspiration happens way far outside the gym and well removed from the places where I shop for, prepare, or consume food. Reality is the motivation and inspiration have absolutely nothing to do with what I am doing in most of my life and better health pursuits, but it feels good to think about how I could potentially be someone who uses or has used such tools for success. But I have found that the searching for motivation or inspiration is a great tactic to avoid getting to bed on time so I can drag my sorry, ass-dragging butt out of bed when the alarm goes off and get busy doing the work necessary to genuinely impact my better health. It makes for great feel-sorry-for-myself fodder when I fail to follow-through on better health commitments I make to myself. And research into better programs, better diets, better habit-building processes makes for a valid reasoning as to why I am not actually putting any exercise program, eating strategy, or habit-changing behaviors into practice.

With exercise, practice – even perfect practice – does not make perfect, but it is critical for any sort of positive progress. I get up nearly every day and go to the gym. It’s not for everyone – I am an empty nester with a flexible schedule – but it’s a commitment I made to myself to improve my overall health. I stick with it, cling to my routine, because I absolutely understand and accept that doing the work is the only thing that will improve my overall health. I can read about the perfect eating strategy until my brain burns out, but without putting my chosen eating strategy into action I will continue to be obese if not gain additional weight. End of story. If I want to be leaner, stronger, more physically fit, I have to consistently exercise most days of every week. Forever. There is no shortcut around either of these solutions. Watching videos or J demonstrate, metaphorically banging my head against the wall until I absorb the cues and body gets the muscle memory working, reading fitness experts talking about exercise does not build much lean muscle or burn any fat. J and I have discussed this extensively. Working with him – yes, it’s a huge luxury – but I can only imagine what I would be doing if the only time I practiced what he is teaching is in our sessions. Twice weekly would not be doing a lot for my long-term health and wellness. It would be something, progress would be even slower, but I would be quite far from where I am right now.

Diet and healthy eating is still really difficult. I want to complain about it all the time. I really want to eat the food I want, when I want, in whatever volume I want. And I can – it’s my choice – but if I do that I have zero basis to complain and no one to blame for failing to lose any weight or inch my way closer to being out of the obese range. Whining about or making excuses as to why I am not losing weight does not make it happen for me under any circumstances. Nor does getting discouraged because I was good and compliant with my chosen eating strategy for 5 days and nothing positive seemed to happen for me this week. One the most far-reaching lessons in this endeavor is acceptance of what I can and cannot control; sometimes it even looks like genuine patience. J and many other friends who have had or are having a push-pull relationship with weight loss or maintenance understand how difficult it is to change patterns and habits. Plus there is a lot of sensible, practical advice available online, none of which involves maintaining the status quo of eating hyper-palatable food because picky eaters who hate to cook. I can relate; I am a very picky eater myself. However, I cook because it makes most sense in controlling both the types and quantity of food I am consuming. I also eat the same meals over and over again, because I cannot eat junk food and a lot of other things I love and expect to improve the quality of my overall health.

My tolerance with others and their “poor me” outlook grows more limited. In the last 2+ years, I have discovered progress looks and feels different for each and every one of us. I have also learned that there are folks who want results without doing the real work involved with achieving those desired results. Compare and despair rings true for me, and once I realized there is no one true way that fits most in fitness, it was easy to abandon such an unhealthy and unrealistic vision of how my journey is supposed to unfold. For the most part, I have a hopeful optimism on my progress with the better health quest. I do spend a fair amount of time in the gym on a regular basis, so I’ve been fortunate to make some new friends who share my enthusiasm for exercise, even if our goals and objectives and journey to improving our fitness vary by a wide degree. I love the camaraderie; sharing our individual successes and struggles is what makes it a great experience and deepening friendship for me. Because even if the wins or the vexing issues are very different, the process, the feels, the reactions are very much in the same vein. The people I’m closest to, there is not a lot of complaining about the workload. Maybe I am just finally seated at the grown-up table, where the new people I am meeting and making friends with understand that the choices we make dictate the lives we lead. There is not a lot of wallowing in self-pity or complaining about lack of results or forward progress with donut sugar coating the fingertips or zero practices between training meetings.

For me, goals are still mostly overrated. If you’re trying and your progress is so slow you wonder if there is actually any progress, I’m sympathetic and encouraging. I went for months avoiding the scale and looking too closely in the mirror because I was working so hard and not seeing or feeling much by way of transformative results. Throwing out concrete goals for weight loss or fat loss or weights moved to and fro was among the best decisions I have made. Unfortunately, I am exposed to far too many who are struggling under the burden of an ambitious goal and growing more discouraged about their lack of progress meeting that goal. For the longest time I needed no extra incentive to be discouraged, and removing that layer of pressure was liberating.

Consistency does trump intensity when your primary focus is better health. I have never been athletically inclined, much less gifted. I have started and stopped with exercise so many times and gone through the motions with the work and/or failed to take responsibility for my choices. I have complained about not having the time, the energy, or that I just couldn’t do it. Yep, been there, done that, have a whole freaking closet full of the t-shirts. Same is true of healthier food choices. Help is out there, but bottom line – short of some type of drastic medical intervention, we are the only ones who can strip the excess weight from our bodies and/or add lean muscle. Wishcraft was not working out for me, at all, so I hired an excellent trainer and have comported my personality to adapt to accepting help and forced myself to invest the sweat equity. And anyone who says it’s fast or it’s easy is lying; don’t fall for it. Changing behaviors involves a lot of physically uncomfortable choices, and I personally hate being uncomfortable. But I got used to it, and now there is a certain amount of discomfort that goes part and parcel in the better health quest. Maybe someday that changes, but for now it is a component of my day-to-day reality. Since I am now a few steps away from that initial entry, I have been told I make it look easy. Anyone saying that to me needs to look harder; the new normal is a least a little uncomfortable some of the time.

There is no substitute for good coaching. My village of experts are really skilled in engaging with me and emphasizing my strengths and helping me mitigate or overcome my weaknesses. My experiences are not unusual and should not contribute to someone else’s reasoning for why they cannot make progress toward their goals. Thankfully I am not anyone’s coach in this regard, because I would be a disaster at it. The tough love tactics I gravitate toward with myself will not work with everyone, probably not with most people. But my trainer, my doctor, my therapist – they all share any and all success I enjoy now and into the future. While I would never go so far as to say I would be nothing without them, mind and body are infinitely healthier with their expertise and guidance influencing my journey.

While not my usual training recap, it’s what is mostly on my mind in lieu of deciphering my scribbled notes on the session. I’ll get there; I always do.


PT-72.2: Happy feet

Monday morning, training with J. We are still in the update the peripheral heart action (PHA) Lists (forever and ever known as huffy-puffy Lists).

Key Takeaways

I am obsessed with foot placement, and since getting to know other tribe members and observing the ways they do the same or similar movements, I note they do not always have their feet in the same pattern as my own. Having hung out with friend C while she’s working with J, there are certain chops we both do that her feet are reversed from the way my feet are placed. J has explained it – C has different restrictions than I do – but there are so many things we do with different footing that I have to work at it to keep them straight.

When we revisit exercises, I am amazed by the ways my abilities have changed. Some stuff – shoulders anyone? – I still struggle with. But others, I have improved and my strength shows.

The huffy-puffy Lists are focused on peppier pacing and getting the heart rate elevated. Except, my peppy pacing switch must be out of service. I do okay, for sure, but my effort could be better, a recurring theme, and not a terrible recurring theme. Teaching days like this, though, I don’t much care if I’m leisurely and slow through training days. I will just keep working at it and eventually my peppy pacing switch will be reset.

What We Did

We only got through 2 blocks today, but it was a pretty heavy-duty teaching day today. The List:

Anterior Lunge → Curtsy Lunges 
Band Speed Row→ Band High Row or Rear Delt Fly 
Band Low-High Chop (emphasis: lateral lunge) 
Landmine Squat – 10 lb. plates (2) 
Landmine 1-arm Press – 10 lb. plate 
Landmine 1-arm Row – 10 lb. plate
Landmine Rotations – bar only

How It Felt

As far as lunges go, the anterior lunge is among the more benign. I used to call these walking deadlifts, but the name has been corrected in my head now. No matter – I can do these. I can lunge my way all the way across the room with 15 or even 20 lb. dumbbells in my hands. Doesn’t mean I don’t feel my legs working, and that I’m not delighted with my growing strength and confidence. Just means that for me, these are the easiest of the lunge family.

From there we went directly into the curtsey lunges, not very common on my Lists and on the really challenging stable of Lists. While their formal name is curtsey lunges, in my head they are icepick lunges, because the effective muscle contraction results feels like what an icepick would feel like stabbed into my side glute. But last time we did these, I struggled mightily. I feel that cold hand of icy dread as soon as J said “curtsey lunges.” But despite the distance between their last appearance on a common List and present day, I was better this time. Imperfect, need more practice, but better. Adding these to my warm-up rotation to improve my future efforts.

The peppy pacing switch comes into play with the band speed row. These are supposed to go until limbs catch fire or fall off – whichever may come first – and I rarely pursue it to the bitter end. I don’t typically count reps in session, and I’m sure I am shorting myself pretty dreadfully and am well aware of it. Training days, realizing now that I should try harder when MAX reps is the the goal. This is not me trash-talking myself so much as a reasonable, rational observation of my efforts. Often I am engaged in thinking about what we are doing, questions bubbling, thoughts churning, all while working and engaging in active listening and conversation. In my own practices I put forth a more concerted effort, because ultimately I do want to improve on whatever pace and rep range I can comfortably (or not) manage. Sometimes I think it does not always show up and shine through on training days. And always I am my own worst critic.

What is it about rear delts and shoulders? Using the lightest yellow band and stretching arms out for the band rear delt fly, it’s so hard. Does not seem to make much difference if I try to go faster or slower, these are just hard. Shoulders, I am reminded again and again and gain, are just complicated joints and muscles and gain strength and endurance more slowly. Switching over to the band high row, it was less difficult yet still a challenge.

Oh one more in my nemesis stable, the low-to-high chop, simply because of the lateral movement/lunge emphasis. Intellectually understanding how this is supposed to work, seeing and feeling the shape of the exercise is not really helping in this matter. My hip joints and do not seem to like the side-to-side movement of a lateral lunge. Probably that means I need to do a lot more of them, too. When I hit it right, I can feel the impact and muscle contractions in the core, particularly the obliques, and it is very gratifying. It’s just significantly more mental and physical work to make myself pretzel-bend (or so it feels!) into this chop shape. I’ll keep trying. Chops are unlikely to fade from my List library.

Second block was where real teaching began. It was interesting, fun, and very exciting to utilize new tools. Trying to stay in control of my own body while learning to utilize new tools is always an adventure. It’s been a long while since I have felt so brand new to something. And for the record, while I have used the big barbell in the past and even visited ever-so-briefly with the landmine floor hinge over a year ago, this was my actual first outing with it as part of a List. So while I am surprised by how different it feels to do this essential basics with the barbell/landmine, I probably should not have been caught off-guard. Live and learn.

We started off with the landmine squat with 20 lbs. of weight. While the squat part of the exercise seems universal, positioning my feet with the bar became the tricky part. J’s instruction – look in the mirror and body should be about 90 degree angle to the bar. Except the way the mirror and the bar/landmine positioning makes it a little hard to determine if I am positioned correctly. Experience will make this happen more naturally, without a bazillion tiny baby steps forward and back to ensure heels and feet stay grounded. Between the feet staying firmly on the ground and my hands getting used to being grasped around the end of the bar, a lot more thinking going into this version of the squat.

Next up was the landmine 1-arm press with 10 lbs. of weight. The angle is different than a 1-arm overhead dumbbell press and it seems to work the tiny little top shoulder muscles differently. Either that or those tiny little top shoulder muscles are lazy and weak, because oh my they ACHED the rest of the day. But oh well. No serious issues with these, except for my very first try, when I realized the landmine hinge also twisted side-to-side as well as up and down and arm started to drift wildly. Immediate feedback was MUST pay attention. Other than that, though, the weight is challenging without being too heavy. It feels different than other 1-arm overhead press movements and works the shoulder in new ways. I am enjoying the challenges.

The landmine 1-arm row with 10 lbs. of weight reminded me of our earliest days of training. J demonstrated and I watched closely, observing his foot placement (because I am obsessed with foot placement) and how he pulled the weighted bar straight up and down. So when it was my turn, I got my feet situated and into what kinda/sorta felt like proper position and started the row movement. Except where J’s arm and movement seemed very straight up and down, mine seemed to be going more in a rounded arcing fashion. So I set the bar down, had J demonstrate again and explain to me where I was going wrong (this time), and tried it again. Second time I did much better with the regular straight up, straight down motion, although I have to remind myself to now let elbow lock, keep the bend at the bottom.

Final exercise in the block was the landmine rotations. I immediately felt this in the obliques. My technique was imperfect, but this dancing with the barbell takes some adjustment. Still, the primary discipline is holding the arms still and steady while following through with the twist portion. It was brand new, needs a lot more practice, but not bad.

My Second Kitchen Sink

Mini-version of this – as if the first part of this post were not enough for a few kitchens.

I love teaching days – I always have, always will. Anymore I’m not concerned about all I don’t know with regard to the gym and exercise so much as I am delighted when it becomes my time and turn to learn new tools. Maybe I dig the new tools and want to use them all the time until I achieve some sense of mastery over them. Or maybe I only do them when J says “we’re going to do [insert nemesis exercise here]” on some random Monday or Thursday session. Anymore, a good attitude to have. I am unlikely to fall apart or be horrifically imbalanced because I only do lateral lunges once in awhile.

Attitude seems to play so much a part in this exercise adventure. I’m strive to maintain high spirits and positivity toward the better health quest, particularly in light of it will be with me forever. Life is far too short to live with poor attitudes toward things I must change or stubborn unwillingness to try new things as I become capable of advancement.

The landmines and big bar activities are very exciting, but hard. Once upon a time hard would have been daunting and paralyze me with fear. Now, I might sidle up and examine it closely a day or two (or 5 before requesting a review session) but I know I will return to it and try again.

I’m very happy with where I stand with regard to my exercise and better health efforts. Because I am making noticeable progress getting fitter.


PT-72.1: Happy feet

Monday, September 18, 2017

It’s been a major busy time period with work and such, so I’m behind (again) with training recaps. This week important stuff happened, that I will want to have records of into the future, but I have not had a blocky enough block of time to compose all my technical details. However, since I tend to start these things from the bottom, here’s what I have completed thus far. 

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

For whatever reason, I had a random zinger of a thought warming up this morning. I was idly wondering if I were nearing The End of training because I had pretty much learned everything an exercise generalist is capable of learning. Pretty good idea of where it came from (more on that in a moment), but at the same time I was both not happy with myself for such a ludicrous idea born of the evil triad of insecurity, arrogance, and doubt. The insecurity because once in a blue moon I wonder if I am falling behind some imaginary standard, arrogance because I am an idiot if I think I will ever stop learning (and I am not an idiot), and doubt about J’s level of expertise, creativity, and imagination for all things exercise.

Even if I knew everything that I could know and do without committing to a more narrowly defined discipline of body building or power lifting or something else, I seriously doubt I am even close to my maximum strength ability. I surprise myself nearly every week with my capability to move weightier weights to and fro, and my endurance still has quite a bit of room for expansion. No, The End of training is nowhere in sight. I’m relieved as well as happy to know that I still have a lot more iceberg to explore.

But I know where the thought originated. Over the weekend and again this morning, I had interesting interactions that have stuck with me, some were even about my better health quest and the seemingly recent gains on reshaping my shape. People have been very kind and complimentary about my efforts in the gym, and being nerdy about my eating is paying dividends as well. Still ….

I am not an exceptional person. I am not scary smart. I am not athletically gifted. I am not model pretty. I am not especially humble and/or kind, or at least I am not enough of the time. These are just my realities of being an imperfect human being, and perhaps a fragment of unrealistic expectations lingers in the recess of my mind. But I don’t know that I believe that. I do think circumstances just have me pondering the breadth of my own humanity and how it relates to the general population.

I do have a strong desire to be better. Not scary smart (sometimes feel downright dumb) – I try hard to pay attention, to read, to listen to other viewpoints and learn from the resources available to me. Not athletically gifted – I am fortunate to be able to afford to hire the services of fab trainer J to teach me all that is involved with getting functionally athletic and into reasonable fitness shape, and on my own time I put in the sweat equity to improve and build upon those lessons. Not model pretty – acceptance of this reality has made the business of living a happy life a far smoother and painless journey. Plus I’m now 56 and aging gracefully seems to quell any competitive instinct that I may possess with regard to being competitive in this regard. Being humble and/or kind – always room for improvement in this area, but this is one slice of my life and times where I do not feel inferior in my efforts.

The point here – I do put forth time and energy toward self-improvement. While not a particularly specific goals oriented person, I am also not placidly accepting that this is as good as the life I live gets, nor do I believe treading water will keep me from sinking or falling further behind the average curve. The targets I chase seem to change, come closer or recede farther depending on the day, my mental and emotional states, and my perception of effort. In the self-judgment realm, if I feel good enough, it is good enough. Less than that, I have hopes to be better in my next outings.

I’m happy and I’m grateful for the ability to make myself do the work and put forth the effort. I know many with depression, anxiety, other mental or emotional impairments that would likely be impacted positively with some of the diet and/or exercise changes I am incorporating into my own better health quest. However, we each have our own journeys and have to feel ready to try new things to make ourselves feel better, improve our lot in life. I’ve learned that being supportive sometimes means stepping back and letting others falter and fall down. The thornier pathways I presently face is how to be a positive force that helps them get back up and in a different direction to where their individual better health quest may take them.

The issue I seem to face more and more routinely is that I cross paths with others who want the positive impact yet are unwilling to do the work. Or to be completely accurate, unwilling to try the hard work that has been so influential and game changing for me. It’s hard, because I truly want others to be happy, or at least content with the lives they are living. My own objectives, hopes, dreams for myself are simple: good health and enough resources (money, time, energy) to pursue what makes me happy. Dreams for retirement and the future are modest; M and I agree we have zero desire to travel the world. Maybe we adventure more, which to M means we drive to beautiful mountain places and run (him) and walk (me). Or we bring out bikes out of storage and explore the many biking paths in our own backyard and beyond. Our nomadic spirits are not especially active; there is so much within our own country we have not yet seen, and even if we were to embark on an exploration trip, we always enjoy returning home.

Good health, strength, a higher level of fitness is an integral part of those hopes and dreams. We could be injured or ill – no one knows what the future holds for each of us – but for both of us there is a lot of wiggle room in how much good health we enjoy now and into the future. Our methods of getting there and then maintaining it are very different, and we agree to disagree. But for both of us, investment in regular exercise and healthier eating now pays huge dividends long past 2017. I have come to enjoy my gym time. I like moving the weights to and fro and the slowly-getting-leaner limbs I am presently sporting. It’s good for my body, but it’s the best medicine I have ever experienced for my soul. As for the healthier diet, M is extreme in his training diet, dropping weight as quickly as possible after an injury that him on a greatly reduced mileage schedule. But he can and does eat nearly anything he deems healthy, no matter how distasteful. Me, I am the far pickier eater and more balanced in my approach. But we can both eat the same things over and over again without complaint.

Just lately here, I am finally, FINALLY starting to really accept that my hard work and consistency is paying off and showing. I am surrounded by and associate with a variety of smart and compassionate folks who are very kind, yet they are also honest and do not lie or tell me what they think I might like to hear. My outsides are starting to slenderize and may will someday be closer to the healthier me on the insides. Finding the right balance, though, now that I am feeling the real impact of the work, is becoming more critical.

It’s a significantly AWESOME and motivating feeling to be in smaller size capris and leggings. More than that, though, is the way the fabric feels against my skin. Do fat layers numb the sensitivity of skin? No idea. Maybe it’s just the psychological boost of smaller sized clothes feeling better from the inside out? Again, no idea. But who cares? My positive impulses continue and keep me getting up, getting to the gym every day. Whatever it takes to sustain this mindset is worth it to me.

The last few days, I’ve had colleagues, friends, clients remark upon my efforts and compliment me on the hard work I have put into this process. One of my friends was musing about the expense and how we choose to allocate financial resources. As she is a CPA and quite successful on her own terms, it was a musing related to her own budget and financial coaching activities. I point to the cost differences between being on insulin to control diabetes and mostly drug free (still taking vitamin D) and what I pay for training with J twice a week. I actually save a significant amount of money paying a trainer to teach me how to resistance train and use weights. I still hesitate to say “weight lifting” because it doesn’t feel like that’s what I’m doing. I remain very much a generalist who has little interest in the actual volume of weights I’m using, except as it may hinder or help with my ongoing progress. Knowing that I am making progress is the most important, driving factor for me.

The way this ties into my better health quest: if I am exceptional in this, it is because I am willing to put forth this much effort into the work. It saddens me that someone like me, invisibly average in most ways merely makes a choice and then puts forth her best effort to improve, is ever considered exceptional. My work ethic is my work ethic. Since no success in my life has come without (hopefully) smart choices and a lot of hard work of various stripes, I cannot imagine anything worthwhile coming easy or being handed to me. I did not win the genetics lottery and have to apply myself to achieve any and all gains. While my clients really like me, I toil extremely hard every single day to ensure I continue to maintain that confidence and trust.

Same is true of my better health quest. In the last 2 years I have finally gotten to the point of ready to address the issue. More distant friends comment on my village of experts as if that makes it easier than those without, yet I still have to do the tasks each prescribes, suggests, teaches. J is demonstrating every session, but his (nonexistent) huffing and puffing does not build muscle or burn fat from my frame. That they are available to me for more tailored or personal advice is invaluable to me and the way I learn and retain information, but if all that goes away, I can still access a lot of useful information on the internet or my local library. There is no secret universal formula and the truth is out there and available.

There is a lot within our control available for change, update, improvement, and if you want that change, updating, improvement badly enough, you find a way to make it happen. This does not mean it is easy or happens quickly or you get exactly what you want when you want it, but when it comes to health, even small improvements pay big, long-term dividends.