Monday morning, later training with J because of the holiday (gym did not even open until 7, so unless we wanted to be training outside in the parking lot, 6 a.m. was not going to work out). Fabulous thing, training days, even when the gym is mildly vexing me with building maintenance (Saturday) and holiday schedule (today).
Every time we begin a new training chapter and J says anything that sounds like “make it harder,” I inwardly flinch and cower and want to say out loud “noooooooo!” But I don’t. Because as he remarked today (and it was quite a thrilling moment for me), I am so much stronger and more capable now. Which is actually true, as impossible as I find believing it at times.
So we are revising and reworking the peripheral heart action (PHA) workouts. I had to look up the term again, because in my world the PHA Lists are known as “huffy puffy” Lists. I even have J and friend K referring to them that way as well, at least when they are talking to me. But seriously, PHA is that mouthful of words that could mean anything. Cardio brings to mind me on an endless treadmill/stairmaster/arc trainer/elliptical to Hell (or in this case, nowhere, which may as well be Hell) to burn a decent amount of fat and calories. Huffy puffy gets the heart pumping, sweat dripping, heavy breathing (all in a completely G-rated way) in a much more efficient manner.
Of many things I genuinely enjoy about training days, the flexibility about what we do each week is among the most satisfying. If I had a specific agenda, if I wanted to learn to powerlift or get busy lifting heavy more of the time, I could speak up and J would engage put his big giant brain creating the programs and progressive challenges to make it happen. On the flip side of that, the fact that I have no burning goals to meet or specificity in what I want to do or destination to explore makes the fluidity of our List-creating process a pretty painless process. It is an extremely rare occasion that I care much about what we do on training days, and the days I have voiced a preference, it is because of my own struggle with a specific sequence or series. Left on my own with my library of Lists, I would likely not make much if any forward progress or advancement. My natural reticence, conservative outlook toward progression, and lingering anxiety about self-sabotage would keep me in check long past appropriate expiration.
Some training days body simply refuses to engage as I expect, and I find myself wondering if I am just wimping out too soon. Today it was arms and shoulders – they were just not warmed adequately or the mind-body connection had a server down, but it wasn’t happening. I wanted it/them to work better, but for whatever reason they were giving up and giving out in a most disappointing manner. It speaks to me about warming up adequately, particularly today when I feel like a spare 5 minutes was not enough. The reason why for this particular and hopefully random experience matter less than paying attention and being mindful of it going forward in the week. Gym schedule and life return to normal tomorrow.
What We Did
The revised huffy puffy List went as follows:
Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
1-arm “Body Supported Dumbbell or Kettlebell Row
Floor Pushup Position Plank w/ Steps
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Bench Elevated Pushups
Sit-ups w/ Chops
2-Dumbbell or Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift
1-arm Dumbbell Snatch
Band Horizontal Choppers
How It Felt
I am super-duper proud of my progress with Bulgarian split squats. I cannot think of a single person who has ever said to me “I love Bulgarian split squats.” They are hard. They are soooooo hard. But with enough practice (read: do a few sets on a List every single stinking week), they become more manageable. And now that I am adding dumbbells to the mix, they seemed impossible for awhile. But practice anything enough one becomes competent and more confident. Today I was only using a pair of 10 lb. dumbbells, and it was challenging enough. Yet if I had chosen the 15s, I would have been fine. Next time. Maybe. Or I’ll use the 10s again and remind myself that I am doing lighter and need to increase my rep range.
Today I learned new way to do 1-arm dumbbell rows with the 35 lb. kettlebell without a leaning post or a bench, kind of unassisted body-weight 1-arm dumbbell rows. And it was so cool! (Yes, little things make me ridiculously happy.) I believe with a bit more practice my form and competence (and standardized foot positioning) will improve to the point that I may prefer to do them this way all the time. Funny to me, last we did these with the 35 lb. kettlebell that big ball of metal felt like it weighed a lot more than 35 lbs. This time, the weight and the weight distribution was not so bad, because mind was all fascinated by the body shape and foot positioning. I admit being eager to try this again on this or another 1-arm dumbbell row List.
We moved from the bench elevated to the floor for push-up position planks with steps. The urge to zoom-zoom-zoom through these (because they are HARD!) is strong, but it feels so different I have to slow myself down to make sure I get all the steps (step out, kick back, knee in) done with each sequence. Other than don’t drag my foot on the floor with the knee in, they are not all that different than from atop the bench. Except they are harder. But I can do this, even if it feels like I don’t really want to do these. I’m getting better at them and will continue to improve, and eventually, someday, I shall advance past the 5 or 6 sets I get through.
Tough morning with the kettlebell goblet squats (35 lb. kettlebell again pressed into service). First stance started out too wide. Then it was down slow, peppy up, stay upright. Not sure what it is about that darn round piece of metal, but it throws me off. I can do this with a 50 lb. dumbbell and can barely function properly with a 35 lb. kettlebell. It MUST be the shape and distribution of weight, of course, and nothing to do with me shaving sleep and having a piss-poor Sunday. Excuse factory has been decommissioned and dismantled. But, snapping back to normal happens; I will be fine.
Back to basics and the bench elevated push-up. I am improving. I am feeling these through the chest muscles. And I am nearing the tipping point where they are no longer a permanent resident of my exercise nemesis stable. While I do push-ups from the floor from time to time (usually because I’m already down there for something else), the bench makes it so much easier and more pleasant. Which could possibly mean I am ready to spend more time on the floor and less time using my bench as a crutch.
While I tend to refer to the sit-ups with chops as floor chops, however they are named does not matter at all. J recently taught me how to do these with my toes and feet propped up against the wall, but today I was using my bench supports as the place to prop my feet up against while doing these today and it did work better. With floor chops, practice practice practice is going to be my lifelong mantra. Also today I was fine without a mat.
Second 35 lb. kettlebell was MIA this morning, so we used a pair of 30 lb. dumbbells for the Romanian deadlifts instead. Working hard at the cuing on this – pre-tension the glutes and tensioning them on the up, keep core tight to protect the low back. There is a sort of hypnotic rhythm to RDLs that I particularly enjoy, but I am looking forward to the challenge of the kettlebell weight distribution.
The 1-arm dumbbell snatch (with 20 lb. dumbbell) is a work in progress. Am I improving? Somewhat. Lower to something akin to a power squat and stay tight, then pop up explosively with elbow elevated above hand before pulling the weight up overhead. My goodness, that sounds so simple, but it’s dang hard work. Like everything else on this List, practice practice practice. But I’ll get better.
And finally, the horizontal band choppers. With the big giant rubber band, these are challenging and 12 hours later, I can still feel the work we did this morning. I am crazy in love with the big giant rubber band, so much so that I ordered my own. But holy moly, my obliques are squeaking and screeching tonight. And I cannot wait to go through and do them again.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
Several of my friends do various forms of exercise – yoga, crossfit, walking, running. Majority of the time it’s fine; we compare notes, talk about what’s working, what’s not, try to get together for an occasional overlap. Except the crossfitters. I am unwilling to go to a box to even try out a routine, but happy to join just about anyone for a walk, a hike, even a yoga class.
For the most part there is at least a respectful level of agree to disagree about what works for each of us. Why the need to be right, the one true way baffles me, but it’s human nature and just another thing i do not especially understand and therefore cease to concern myself with contemplating the why of it all. If my pals are happy doing what they are doing and achieving desired results, I’m delighted. Our journeys are unique and our mileage will vary.
But it does make for interesting conversation when some new idea takes hold and is shared like a new health and fitness discovery.
A pal recently discovered intermittent fasting and over the weekend was very excitedly telling me about it. Only in her version, she can eat “anything she wants” in an 8 hour period and fast the other 16 hours and lose weight. Since J and others in my fat loss group use this as an eating strategy, I am familiar with the concept and its pros and cons and know it’s not for everyone, myself included. Hey, I think I’m doing swell just cutting out gratuitous snacking between meals. On top of which, my body seems to work better with regular fuel stops. If I am careful about said fuel stops and consistent in my exercise, the scale moves and I slowly drop weight. If I am careless about fuel input then scale moves upward and I gain weight.
If i were freed from restraint and could eat whatever I wanted, no amount of exercise could save me from gaining weight at a very rapid pace no matter how many hours I fasted per day or per week. Which is what alarms me about my pal’s thinking about intermittent fasting.
So I talked this over with J this morning, because it’s part of what we do during training hour. He agrees with me, that this is a fatal flaw in her current thinking, and pointed me in the direction of some more J-approved resources for reading on the topic. With my current focus on diet and healthy eating, it’s helpful to read everything realistic (i.e., non-marketing, non-rainbow shitting unicorn hype) I can lay hands upon. So I am well armed when someone crosses my path with bright ideas that will rock my world and super-juice my better health quest. To those who are so well intentioned toward me, I want to calmly, not defensively reply that my world is rocking just fine and my better health quest is great without rocket fuel. But hey, I do sincerely appreciate the interest and concern.
Because lately I’ve been pondering my own wussy-ness about standing up for myself with well-meaning friends. I am not a victim of bullying so much I am a passive participant in allowing it to continue. My dislike of conflict is pretty well ingrained, and in today’s culture of polarization it seems impossible to avoid. More than that, though, is that many of my real life friends have strong opinions and personalities, and the only method I had was to explain my choices in harder, stronger terms. In days gone by it has been far easier to just let them steamroll over me and my objections.
Increasing confidence and some specific training from TM has me in a better position to state my preferences and opinions without rancor or challenge. My body, my choices after all. The subtle changes in attitude and more responsive directness in expressing my desires and needs has not gone unnoticed, and among my circle of pals it has required some adjustment and realignment as well. Not all my relationships have survived, and from this far away I can see it was for the best. But at the time, letting go of long-term friendships was very difficult for me. I’m growing up and I’m learning.
Who knew exercise would have such a positive impact on interpersonal relationships?
I have been pondering the huffy puffy Lists and the way things seems to be proceeding to a more time efficient practice every day. It’s not so much that I feel compelled to spend 60 to 90 minutes at the gym doing something, but I am kind of in that groove and wondering if I should be pursuing a huffy puffy and a regular List at least a couple of days per week. Or expanding my rep range. Or lifting weightier weights and taking more rest breaks. Or putting myself into mechanical Hell by doing straight cardio.
But mostly I’m starting to thinking a run through huffy puffy-ville and then a List of the day could be in order. Maybe lighter huffy puffy – only 2 sets rather than 3 – or something. A work in progress.
With the emotional funk nipping at my heels for various reasons or conking me over the head and pinning me to the floor, exercise is my one true weapon against it. Well, I suppose I could abuse food and/or drugs and alcohol as well, but that tends to conflict with my hyper-responsible self and my need for some measures of self-control. Regular exercise and challenging myself offers tangible benefits that do not wear off quite so quickly as shopping. And since I have an entire pile of stuff going to a worthy cause, the exercise does not abuse the emerging minimalist within me.
Plus, I get ridiculously excited about the improvements I can actually perceive. While I judge my work this morning as sort of “meh” to an alarming “OMG! I must practice!” range of reactions, what I know is it’s one training day out of many ahead in the future. I will practice. I will improve or regain my footing back to my normal range. There is no need for me to panic or be upset that my imperfection on stuff I should know well is judged (by me) to be so far off the mark.
Yesterday was a bad day, and it’s been a couple of weeks of restless nights of sleep. Today I was driving out of the gym parking lot and heard the Cobie Caillat song “Never Gonna Let You Down” and it made me smile and cry all over again. I miss my friend J so much, but while he would never enjoy such a sappy, sentimental chick tune, it is something I’s send him in an email and he’d reply with something profanity laden that was his love language. It reminds me of him and the type of person and friend he was for me and many others.
I do the quite literally do all the heavy lifting to make progress, to move forward, to advance, to improve my overall health, strength, and competency with moving weight to and fro. And while I do it for me and jokingly refer to the effort as all about me, it’s not just about me. It has and does take a village to get me from there to here, everyone from trainer J and my medical experts to the friends I’ve made in the gym and beyond to the folks who read this little blog. It all matters to me. It is the weight of knowing that people care for and about me and my effort that helps me peel myself up off the floor and trying again when I just want to stay where I’d landed.
Grief sucks. Sometimes the days are hard. But I keep going, trying to be better. And I succeed.
I am very proud of that measure of progress.