PT-44.1: Exercise adventurer

Monday morning, training with J. We are still in our push-pull (not press-pull – somehow got it wrong last week) series of events and learned a couple of new machines and things today. Just a whole lot to talk about with a weekend of reading and thinking.

Key Takeaways

Coming in PT-44.2: Exercise adventurer.

What We Did

Coming in PT-44.2: Exercise adventurer.

How It Felt

Coming in PT-44.2: Exercise adventurer.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

The kitchen sink is rather full today, a byproduct of a weekend spent reading Facebook posts from fitness people J has recommended, liked prior posts, or just crossed my feed and kind of made sense. On top of which, I just had a semi-disconnected weekend, in that work-work and full-time job trauma drama were pretty distant. If anything, I was immersed in fitness-related stuff and not blogging about it. Until today, of course. And naturally, since I was thinking about it, I brought it up with J (and others) in my life in one communication forum or another. All great things.

An unfortunate quirk of mine is to read or hear things in big, broad, anonymous (as in I am just one of the great unseen masses to the author) forums and take them personally, as if this writer posting an opinion or sharing his/her thoughts or information is looming large and pointing fingers and highlighting every real and imagined fault in my better health quest. Hell, doesn’t even need to be related to my better health quest; it could be just my life in general and their framework of “living right.” While I know it is mostly my inner insecure person running in circles flailing her arms in an extremely agitated state, I want to chalk it up to my years of fire-and-brimstone southern baptist church attendance (from age 6 until I turned 12 and decided I no longer wished to associate with the hypocrites I saw there every Sunday and Wednesday), but the more rational, more balance side of me has to take what I have just read or heard in a podcast and really think about why it impacts me. Could be the writer or speaker is just correct in his assessments and opinions, or that I am or have been guilty of the less desirable behaviors he is describing. Anymore, it is only unhealthy for me if I only think I am guilty or continuing poor choice behavior patterns. There are an equal number of positive attributes I have adopted or trying to adopt in my own life. If I am going to turn the mirror on myself for negative behaviors, I need to be balanced and do the same for positive changes as well.

Such is the case this weekend with a post discussing consistency in the gym or with exercise. This post is from Alex Viada via Facebook (dated June 10, 2017):

Integral to consistency is sustainability.

Consistency doesn’t mean never skipping a day. Consistency means doing something today that will ensure you are still doing something next year, five years from now, ten years from now.

And that something you’re doing today may very well be taking a day off. Because dedication isn’t about obsession, it isn’t a sprint, it isn’t some senseless display of self-imposed sacrifice. It isn’t the “hustle” or the “grind”. It isn’t some other nonsense word that just reeks of burnout. Dedication is an ultramarathon, it’s a winding path forward, and it’s all too often taking a step back today to catch your breath, knowing you have the rest of your life to take the next thousand steps forward.

I am kind of madly in love with this post. Because it makes me feel like I finally get M’s simplified “do something every day” with exercise to make progress with getting fitter. For the most part, I have incorporated this into my life and lifestyle. For the most part, I am successful with this concept, or have been recently (about 21 months). Yet I know myself and know how slippery that slope is to backslide down into not going back to the gym for months and years once more. I have done it so many times before it’s impossible for me to feel like I have succeeded, even after almost 2 years (this month) of working with J, even knowing I just resigned and have another 36 weeks of sessions on the books. While hopefully J will be present and accounted for with each and every one of those purchased sessions, I know enough now to feel comfortable that I can and will find resources to help me make it work no matter who is writing future Lists or trying to teach me how to use a machine or another piece of equipment. Maybe I am less likely now than previous periods to fall off the wagon, the possibility exists. Considering my fitness pursuits in terms of sobriety, I am sort of a recovering non-exerciser who is on the path to staying clean and in the gym. It is a choice I make every day, including days to take a day off or go forth and dilly-dally pursuing things that are new, giving me grief, a lot more fun than others.

And that in itself was another topic of discussion. Pat Flynn, another fitness coach I follow on Facebook and am on his mailing list, had an email about Training v. Working Out. In my life, it’s mostly semantics, but the topic was intriguing enough that I had to forward the email to J, friend J, and a couple of other friends for their thoughts and opinions. Because I’m kind of geeky that way.

When I am speaking of training, I am talking about Mondays and Thursdays with J, going through a new or updated List, working on my skills, correcting and tweaking my form, adding more weight, or all of the above. Practice is what I do on my own time, pursuing a List of the day. There is no real structure to it; J does not say “do this, that, the other one between now and Thursday.” No, the only structure is that I try not to do the same List 2 days in a row. Sometimes it’s a huffy-puffy day, sometimes it’s an upper or lower day, sometimes it’s plexes day. I wander to and fro, but left to my own devices, I will nearly always gravitate toward the dumbbells. Because it has the fewest opportunities to be inconveniencing someone else in their pursuits.

As far as working out, that’s what I do on Wednesday evenings when hanging out with gym sistah K. I have usually already completed my List in the morning, so the evening time is following along with whatever she’s doing and having a pleasant gab-fest visit. Lately, she’s been doing barbell deadlifts, and while she is doing that, I am enthusiastically following along with my dumbbell Romanian deadlifts while keeping an eye on her efforts and being a supportive gym compadre. That’s me working out – following no particular program, pursuing no particular goal. Because when I first began my quest to overcome my gym crazy, a “work out” was what everyone else was doing. “Trying to keep up” was my goal with my own pursuits.

But back to Pat Flynn’s missive about training v. working out. Quoting definitions directly from his email (by the way, his blog is

Training – Working toward something specific.
Working Out – Trying to fatigue the muscles.

As I said, semantics to me. “Better health” is about the most specific goal I presently employ. Trying to fatigue muscles? In my mind and view, fatiguing muscles seems to still happen pretty naturally, for me, with no “trying” involved. I also understand my definition of fatigue is likely very different than what most of the target audience thinks, so again, this is all about semantics. But interesting semantics all the same. Because J and I never tend to speak in terms of labels, absolutes, and the like, I just meander along through our sessions and my practices without giving too much thought to how the process is described. I’m there. I’m working at something and trying for good form and technique. All good.

Such is the mush in my head about exercise, fitness, better health. Inside and outside the gym. J has neither the time nor the ability to cover all my interests in the hours we spend in session, so I do my research and reading outside the gym, then drag it in when I have questions or trip over something curious. I tend to follow or at least read fitpros J mentions or references, because my geek self likes to understand origins and how the depth of the expanding exercise library.

In our earliest days of training, I would occasionally look up an exercise to try and remember the shape and ways it was supposed to work. Except I very quickly learned that others on the internet may be doing the same glute bridge in some way that looked entirely different to me than when J demonstrated it. Now, I get that maybe their shape and size might have impacted the angles of their limbs, but back then – I was freaked out and vowing never to look up anything ever again.

These days, I do tend to read a lot about weight training and fitness in general; I like the exposure to different ideas and training modalities (another new term just recently acquired). My exercise and fitness education still feels pre-K level to me, but I’m okay with that. Joining the fitpro ranks is neither a goal nor even an objective for me; I am more a dilettante in wanting to know stuff for my own purposes. I enjoy having some less vague notion of what people are doing in the gym and my other fitness wanderings.

Knowledge is security for me. If I can understand it, I feel better about the process – any process – as a whole. There are training methods and sports pursuits that do not interest me at all, but it’s good for me to have somewhat factual basis for my thoughts and inclinations. I dislike organized sports because I find them boring, and because I do not play any, haven’t in years, and sucked at them when I did, largely because I lack the competitive spirit, killer instincts, and coaches who could spend enough time with me to inspire me to consistently practice and try to improve. Not a natural athlete, and after 2 years of training with J, it’s even more apparent that it takes swimming pools of sweat multiple days per week to see any improvements.

Even now, I don’t do well in exercise classes. I don’t mind being in the area and observing what other people are doing around me, but I don’t want to participate with them. It seems a least 48% of why I am not gaining traction in yoga, the other 52% being I am not bendy and any hopes I have of increasing my flexibility will require a lot more intent and persistence than I am willing to muster. One thing to be on my own, or training with J and falling off and out of the 1-legged everything at some point or another, and quite another to be in a class full of people doing everything reasonably well while I struggle mightily and still don’t get it.

Plus I just don’t like class situations, I think. I’m fine if it’s a social thing – going to yoga with a friend, test driving a class in the gym with a pal who wants company – but not my brand for everyday fitness.

Which brings me to crossfit. *sigh* I have several friends who love, adore, worship at the alter of crossfit. If I am addicted to my Lists and the gym, they are something worse with the crossfit. I have run out of words to say or plainer thoughts to share on the subject of why crossfit sounds like a Very Bad Idea for me personally, so we have reluctantly agreed to disagree about our methods and obsessions with fitness. Yet stuff still comes up from time to time, and I cannot resist sharing the links or information that crosses my path that supports my dubious position on the topic. This article  from the weekend (brought to my Facebook feed by Trevor Johnson) – I simply couldn’t resist forwarding it to all my crossfit-crazed friends. (Here is the link to Trevor’s HIFC Show #10 discussing this article and diet-related matters.)

All the crossfitters I know personally are mid-40s to mid-50s. They love it and  have tried many times to get me to consider trying it. Ummm, no thank you. I am far too paranoid about injury in my own gym pursuits to try something that sounds so wrong for me. Of those ladies (they are all women), one is presently recovering from shoulder surgery, another was out for weeks with an ankle injury, and yet another has had to take weeks off for recovery after a mishap or more serious gym tweak. Those tales alone are enough to keep me safely ensconced in my gym with my stretchy bands and dumbbells and machines and at home with my (borrowed for the month) 8 kg kettlebell.

I don’t know enough about crossfit to talk smack about it, yet I know enough to steer clear as not a good fit for me. I want them to be successful in their exercise pursuits, but I worry about long-term sustainability. So when they tree me about being a bad or unsupportive friend (not often, but it happens), I retreat to the “sustainability” argument. Having rebuilt joints may eventually be just as good and as stable as the original equipment, but I vastly prefer the idea of keeping my original equipment joints in good working order. And I have empirical evidence that crossfit can injury you and your joints. Badly. No thanks. Prefer my slow-mo, safe and sane exercise methods.

Yeah, kind of a busy exercise geekery weekend all swirling around in my head this morning. Some of this I chatted about with J, some of it I forgot until I opened this window with my notes about stuff I wanted to talk about today.

Then there is diet and healthy eating stuff. Oh my – this one has been building for the last few weeks.

So trainer J uses his own body like a test kitchen with regard to food and eating. Of the course of our training partnership I have watched him bulk up and lean down at various times. It’s fascinating to watch and to discuss in real time.

Last year it was veganism – J was a vegan much of 2016. This year there has been no real theme until recently, when he began a quest to pursue simpler, higher satiety food choices that are not hyperpalatable. He began what is affectionately known as the potato diet.

Now, this is something I can kinda/sorta get behind. Vegan? I might have starved to death, because I am such an insanely picky eater. Because I actually like potatoes, it is far easier for me to test and even copy a few of his meals with potatoes, vegetables, chicken apple sausage – delicious. However, since I tend to TRY to pursue a lower carb diet, I cannot eat as much or as many plain boiled potatoes for my primary fuel source. But the rest of it – the vegetables, the fruits, the protein powder – these are a lot of things I do already and could definitely amp up and increase my intake and search for food balance.

Listening to him discuss his experiences and alterations to his eating habits, its encouraging. Yeah, eating lots and lots of potatoes seems a bit extreme, particularly for me, but eating more fruit, eating more vegetables, and eating leaner meats and protein sources – these are things that make sense to me and my limited cooking interests.

More importantly, and interesting to the accountant within, the money saved on this version of feeding himself. After his first few weeks, his grocery bill is significantly less. Even a non-frugalista like me can appreciate that aspect of the calorie budgeting process.

Wow, long post already and not a word written about actual exercise today. Definitely a 2-post recap today.


#better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health

PT-43: Pulling forward

Thursday morning, training with J. First appointment of the day was 30 minutes earlier than usual, so J asked if I wanted to come in 30 minutes earlier, giving me a little extra time. All good things. Except first appointment had to cancel and we could have gone back to our usual start time – not a problem for me. All good points that fab trainer J is truly fabulous and generous with his time.

Key Takeaways

What I have learned from all my training sessions: there is good form and technique, some exercises are more effective or productive, but a “bad” exercise has yet to cross my Lists. Probably this is partly why I depend upon J so much; keep me from doing stupid stuff or acquiring even more bad habits. There are things I like less, there are things I will avoid whenever possible, but there is truly nothing that makes me feel physically poorly afterwards.

Perhaps someday I will also develop stronger preferences for things than I have to date. I am more a generalist and interested in everything until it either hurts me or bores me. And even if it bores me, I do it anyway because it’s good for me. Kind of like eating vegetables; I really don’t love most of them, but I eat them because they are good for me. I am always glad to be learning new skills, and learning the big barbell and how to use one effectively falls under this umbrella. Still don’t see myself as a powerlifter or even a serious weight lifter, and that’s okay. I do not need a defined goal to learn new skills.

Those stretchy bands! In the back of my mind I keep thinking they will someday be relegated to warm-up routines, yet they keep appearing and evolving into something more challenging and productive. Not sure why I think I want them to go away, but it just occurs to me from time to time that I should be done with them by now. My wanting them gone is probably most recently related to convenience; every time I want to use one for warmup or on a List, I have to go on a search and rescue mission throughout the gym. Annoying. (Yeah, me and my first world problems, I know).

Heavier weights – oh my, it’s so thrilling! I feel ridiculous admitting this to anyone else, but being able to actually use a bigger weight is exciting. I have never thought I was strong. Sometimes, schlepping crap at the office, I still feel kind of weak (but that could be related to the dress and heels and the awkwardness of of carrying boxes of files and records to and fro while trying to keep them away from my dress). The way things sneak up on me and while I am looking doubtful at the weights J suggests, next I know I am capable with them. Maybe not for higher rep ranges, but once upon a time what I use now was in the 6 to 8 rep range, too.

I am an exercise nerd. My fascination with the way things work – like my own body, for example – seems to know few boundaries. Is okay. I keep it mostly to myself.

What We Did

On our List today:

Barbell RDL (61)
High Tension Resist Rotation Press

1-leg DB RDL (25)
Pullover (35)

SB Hamstring Curls
Seated Cable Row

Seated Hamstring Curls
Dual Cable Lat Pulldown

How It Felt

We started with basic form for the barbell Romanian dead lift and getting the feels for the difference in weight distribution for a 41 lb. barbell and its significantly longer length when compared to a 25 or 30 lb. pair of dumbbells. It was okay, not horrible, not too scary. There were no other members right nearby either so I was not too concerned about accidentally bumping someone while moving it to and fro. After the first couple of times hinging with just the bar, J added light weight plates – a pair of 5 lb. plates for a set, then took those off and replaced them with a set of 10 lb. plates. While it feels very different than my beloved dumbbells, it is not unmanageable, and I am too inexperienced right now to have a strong preference one way or the other. Bad habit that happens with dumbbell RDLs (wanting to soften or bend knees on the rise back to the top rather than keep them straight) also reared its ugly head with the barbell. I think I could learn these, and if I am a bad fit for it, there will be no pouting or tears. Mostly it was fascinating how different the weight feels, almost lighter than similar amounts in dumbbells because it is so spread out.

We have not done the band resist rotation press in awhile, much less the high tension resist rotation press. Only real difference is I don’t remember stretching the band out quite so much, to the high tension. When I was doing it right, aka not leaning away from the band a bit too much to maintain the high tension, I definitely felt it in the abs and the obliques. Best cue EVER – rib tuck – also applies here as well. We were using the lightest yellow band and it was still challenging to keep it tensioned and press properly. These are effective; I was feeling my abs all Thursday afternoon.

Big, huge, honking triumph of the day: the 1-leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift with a single 25 lb. dumbbell. When J said to use the 25 as the offset weight, I am quite sure my expression was doubtful. Last 1-leg RDL was with a pair of dumbbells and I struggled – still struggle – with my balance on those. But J has the fully functional, big giant brain and watches people do all sorts of things all day long, so away we went. To my astonishment, I did not immediately fall over or drop the weight on the floor or my foot. Rear leg elevated and weight dropped gracefully for 5 or 6 reps. OMG! I have gained unexpected new balance overnight or am I just stronger now? Could be both. Either way, my excitement over the initial success nearly did me in as I grew more fatigued. But my goodness – I was standing on 1 leg with a 25 lb. dumbbell in my hand! Never imagined such a thing being possible for me. J is a genius.

The pullover is a standard, and I have been doing these with a 25 lb. dumbbell for several months. I kind of love them. I genuinely enjoy the flexibility that has built after months and months of doing pullovers. Today we started out with my standard 25 lb. dumbbell for warm-up and then proceeded on to the 35 lb. dumbbell for a 6 to 8 rep range. While I was extraordinarily aware of when I made the minimum reps, I continued on to the full 8. Because I don’t want to perceive myself as a complete slacker. The one factor I noticed about the weightier weight is the physical size of the 35 lb. dumbbell in my hand being larger than the 25. The way it’s held for the pullover, I could feel the edge of the 35 against my wrist far more than with the 25, the edge of which tends to land more at the edge of my palm. It was not a dealbreaker; I was not complaining to J that this was an unworkable weight because of it’s physical shape. No, I just had to adjust my handhold around the handle and the way my palms pressed against the weight itself. Little things, little tweaks can make the difference between success and less success. I am improving in self-diagnosing what’s a Very Big Deal and what just requires me to change my bit a bit to ensure I am not getting my wrists dug into by the weight. Yay me!

The stability ball hamstring curls are back. I was actually very pleased with my progress since the last time I recall doing these – hips were elevating higher and my curling in was better. However, and I laugh as I type this, J is encouraging to lift hips even higher and curl in just another half inch. I am definitely out of practice, but it feels like my recent streak of kettlebell swinging has done a lot for strengthening my glutes and hamstrings. J as coach is there to coach and instruct and ensure I continually push forward and wring every last drop of productivity out of each exercise. Except I am actually not sure my knee bends in another half inch no matter how high elevated or low hanging hips are off the ball. Like everything fitness and exercise, though, I believe persistent practice will make a difference. I will keep trying.

The seated cable row – every time I visit this machine I feel as if I am relearning technique and proper form all over again. Perhaps from my years of rowing machine rowing or just because my learning curve is steep on this, but there you have it: takes a set (or more) to get into the groove and pick up the right form. Okay, so today it was all about pulling elbows back as far as possible behind you. I am trying hard to remember not to lean back from the waist but utilize the upper back arch and pull with the shoulders and not with the arms. But since we are talking about elbows pulling back, it gets confusing. Always I am thinking about the arch – arch obsessed with this machine as well – and pulling with shoulders back, back, back and that will move elbows back. I need more practice. I cut myself some slack – so many Lists, so few practice days. But for the most I feel as if I understand and capable of performing the basic shape.

My arch obsession follows me around in the gym. It even applies to the seated hamstring curls machine. I understand the shape of this machine; I understand how it’s supposed to work. However, I am also never sure if I should be using lighter weight or heavier weight, and in truth it fluctuates depending on the day. Like the stability ball version, I am watching and thinking about that last half inch of the contraction and the movement. I find myself dilly-dallying with the weights to ensure I can actually feel that last half inch and make it happen. When I use a light enough load to make that last little bit, it feels awfully light for the rest of the movement. If I use an adequately weighty weight load to feel the work all through the movement, the last half inch thing becomes a no-go in the process. So my explorations continue. For today, though, I had a pretty good experience with the last half inch and could feel my hamstrings working that range of movement.

Finally, we moved to the dual cable lat pulldown machine. I always want to lean forward in the shrugged up starting position, where I should be leaned back slightly. Minor correction and easy enough to fix. The arch obsession continues here, with the arching with the upper back coming into full effect while pulling down and feeling a pinch between the shoulder blades. I think anyway. While I am pantomiming it here and writing this paragraph, I’m pretty sure there is a pinch there. But there is no weight involved, and we have had so many recent discussions about arch and pinch between shoulder blades I may be applying it too liberally. But I think I am right; I will have to test my theories in real time tomorrow in the gym.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

While I have had no urgent or burning desire to learn about using a barbell, my friend K has been had barbell deadlifts on her bucket list and has been killing them the last month, 6 weeks. I have been in the gym and hanging out with her on Wednesday evenings and cheering her on with this pursuit. I had asked J if maybe I too could learn the technique, because I want to be able to support my friend in her interests. And as I said, it is good to learn new skills and how to work with different tools.

My impression – I am neither doomed for failure or destined for hot pursuit of this particular type of equipment. My interest in all things exercise and fascination with learning will keep me interested, and working with K once a week will provide enough practice to feel as if I am intent on learning and refining my technique. She and I can dabble with them for awhile, and perhaps we will both develop a yearning to participate in a deadlifting class. Time will tell.

The longer I go with training and practices on my own, the happier I feel about the whole process. It was renewal time for me, so my next block of sessions is purchased, my session bank refreshed. Yay! Sometimes I think maybe there is not a lot more for me to learn, and I laugh at myself and my own silliness. I need only look at the session recaps to see that there is always something new to do, whether it is adding more weight or working on my form or just learning to push myself to keep going when I really wold rather just stop now, thank you.

Like everything else in life my discipline is imperfect, but I give myself good more for consistently trying to improve. Fears about just learning and reinforcing bad habits are very far in my rearview these days. I find myself thinking about offhand comments J might make to me – try to go lower in my squats, butt back butt back butt back in so many exercises, and I realize that the process is like an infinity band. The more I think I know, the more I realize how little I know. And I like that. I hate to imagine me at the end of the learning curve; in my mind that is my time to die.

Since we are venturing forward with weightier weights, it means working in the big boys’ room more often, because that’s where the heavier range of dumbbells live. After 2 years of training (it’s anniversary month! Unfortunately not quite a cake occasion, but maybe we bend the rules.) I would imagine my gym crazy completely conquered. But nope, I still feel the hairs of anxiety dancing on the back of my neck when I go in there by myself and the usual crowd of men and far more confident-looking women are there working. I give myself credit for improvement, but am realistic that it is still a thing. Oh well. Still plenty of time to strengthen my spine and ensure my big girl capris are in place.

Wow – coming up on 2 years. How different my life is now. I’m starting a list and a separate post to celebrate and commemorate. And maybe there is cake? Maybe.




#addictive, #better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health, #motivation

PT-41: Seminaring and embarking on new adventures

I love training days. Still. Especially now, after a few lumpy bumpy weeks with illness and vacation. But much of the tribe seems to be settling back in after the holiday weekend and vacations away, and of course J is back from both illness and his well-deserved time off. But we are back to noses to grindstone and getting back to work. I am ridiculously excited about the present day, while of course glad J and others had good times away and that J is completely recovered from the multi-week respiratory crud. Still going around in the gym, though, so hopefully it does not return for anyone else.

Key Takeaways

The more I learn, the more I realize there is so much more yet to learn. I have said this many times before, but with exercise and the better health quest, it is as if I am standing at the base of Mt. Everest and looking straight up without being able to even imagine what the summit is like. I know it’s there somewhere, but I am unlikely to reach it. Where that once would have filled me with a sense of “why bother?” and failure, now it’s is just something else to contemplate and file away into future potential thought files. Summit is not my objective, after all. Climbing, seeing what I see from each plateau, and staying present in my moments rather than dreaming of whatever else lies ahead. Having the summit as my destinations is like a goal to me – something that adds stress and pressure and drains and all joy from the process. Going forward, or sideways, or even backward on the journey is a better framework for my better health quest, because I do not wake up one day and voila! I have arrived at healthy. Healthy is here, healthy is now. Better version of healthy is tomorrow, or next week, next month, next year, five years down the road.

I know I don’t know everything in the gym. Hell, I am such a novice that barely knows anything and freely admit it. The construction and reasons why Lists are constructed the way they are constructed still mostly eludes me, although for the most part I can figure out which body part is working when, what kind of huffy-puffy response I’m seeking, and when something is not quite right and needs to be adjusted. These are things I know for me; I could not imagine tutoring or sharing what I know about me with anyone else. All good, because I have zero desire or inclination to challenge J for his crown in the gym. That said, I love my baseline knowledge level about me right now and how that base keeps elevating as the months pass.

The best advice about exercise I got from M and other friends who are or have been long-time fitness enthusiasts was to find an activity I like and pursue it consistently. I thought they were full of s–t – I hated sweat, I hated exercise, there was nothing I was ever going to like much less look forward to doing, it was all a big giant chore. Fast forward to now. Consistency is one of those things that I feel very boring about. Most days I get up, I go to the gym, I do something while there. Training days are always Very GREAT things, and the way I feel when there on my own and pursuing my Lists is what defines good practice, not so great practice. Sometimes I’m there and working for 2 hours, occasionally I can barely push myself for 30 minutes. But at least I’m there. I almost take that for granted. I should give myself a little more credit, as the last couple of weeks illustrated for me. While I have developed a sense of community that inspires me and makes me want to be there, I also do it because it feels abnormal not to exercise every single day anymore. I like me, feel better about myself after I have been through a sweat-fest of some sort where some muscles have moved and stretched and worked. Yoga is not doing it for me – not a flexie or bendy person – and for the effort I have to expend the payoff in feels is inadequate. As an accessory workout (new term I learned today), it’s fine and maybe, eventually will provide more satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. But it will never be something I can do most or even a few days per week.

Mind is going to undergo a bit of a reset with regard to rep ranges. Today we revisited heavier weight, shorter rep ranges, and where I am accustomed to 8 being my minimum on everything, the weightier weights have pushed it to the maximum. No sense of failure about it, more having to remember to stop at 8 even if I have potential to go to 12 or 15. Yep, me and my first world problems.

What We Did

With seminar discussion on a broad range of exercise and fitness-related topics, our List today is relatively brief. For each item we were going for a maximum of 8 reps (per side as applicable) and exploring increasing weight with each set to see where we are on the scale. Also, since this was an informal one-off type training day, there is no actual List for me to get the correct names of things, so I’m winging it and doing my best descriptive. At least I’m not using my personal nicknames for things; we did not do “pop tarts” yesterday, for example.

Squat machine (high set at 13 – maybe 130 lbs.)
Cable horizontal chops

Walking lunges (15 lb. DBs)
Planks off bench – arms bent/leg elevated and on elbows with step out, leg up, knee in

Chest press (sets with 20, 25, 30, and 35 lb. DBs)

Cable overhand face pulls
Cable overhead tricep extensions

How It Felt

I have a love-hate with the squat machine. Most of the time I like it well enough, and sometimes I actually do love it. But it feels different and like I’m trapped with this big giant collar-like structure. The times I hate it are when there is some baseline insecurity about what I’m doing, whether my form is correct under what feels like a lot of weight bearing down upon me. Probably I just need to ask more questions while I am involved with it, because my anxiety and dread about this machine is directly proportional to my concern about all I don’t know and could potentially being doing wrong. Problem is, I need to articulate said questions in the moment, or they escape me. Instead I am left thinking that it went really well with the increased volume of weight for 8 reps for the couple of sets, yet I am vaguely uncomfortable about it. Next time I will be hyper-vigilent about what I am feeling and ask if it’s right, wrong, or disaster is lurking. Probably not; probably it’s just me and my mind in overdrive and overthinking it.

Thursday night friend K and I were discussing chops using bands and cables – neither of us are super fans of these, and since I had been working at them earlier in the day, they were fresh in my mind. Frankly, the closest I usually come to really feeling these is the high-to-low version, if only because I have to serious tuck that rib to get the movement correctly. With the cable horizontal chops we did in training, I confess to not really feeling them, and I am 99.99% sure it is operator error. Or my obliques and core are mostly numb to the subtle nuances of exercise. It works best when I remember to tighten my abs and think of upper body as one twisting rotational unit versus pulling the cable with my arms and then following along with my core, but my focus is not always complete. I typically am not feeling it while in the motion, but sometimes I have some minor soreness the next day. Maybe the fat layer is obscuring all feeling in the area? I know something must be working, because I am starting to have more definable, positive curve in the area, but feels? Not quite there yet.

Walking lunges – I loathe you less, but hard to imagine a world where they crest onto a favorites list. Bumping up to 15 lb. dumbbells in each hand (from the 12 lb. pair I have been using for quite awhile) does make a difference, but so does the minor tweaking adjustment in form to sink the dragging behind leg more and stay ever so slightly more upright (I am quite sure J used other, more technical terms, but that’s the way mind interpreted and processed it). The experience with these is also colored by the aforementioned squat machine squats, with it’s largest ever (for me) volume of weight. Fatigue anyone?

We moved along to a new version of plank off the bench. Planks with a rear foot elevated and elbows slightly bent are a first for me and not quite as terrible as I was projecting. Maybe core is stronger than I realize. Maybe I was doing them wrong (highly unlikely with the laser-focused trainer eye engaged). Maybe my 20 to 30 second hold was actually only 2 or 3 seconds. Who knows? They were not terrible or awful, but planks leave idle mind to do the devil’s bidding and it tests the resilience of the locks on to negative girl’s cell door. Without even noticing I started thinking of all the ways I suck at planks, because I don’t always feel them working. As K articulated so perfectly – if we are doing all this work we want to feel something working. We also did a set of the now regular planks with the step out, leg up, knee in. At least with those legs are more active and moving about, requiring mind to pay attention and not wander.

Big excitement of the day was the flat bench chest press with the weightier weights. We went through several pairs of dumbbells – 20s, 25s, 30s – for 8 reps before arriving at the heaviest I have ever used for this exercise in the 35s. First set I went through 7 reps, second set my right arm started wobbling and threatening collapse on the way up from 6 – that was an interesting experience. But I was completely entranced by my ability to use the heavier weights. Of course I will not be trying those again on my own anytime soon, but I was thinking this morning that I might mosey upward into a 25 lb. standard for my warm up set and move along into the 30 lb. pair when doing the non-huffy puffy Lists. But I gotta say, it’s not the weights that have much of my attention and afterthought thinking – it’s the upper back arch while engaged and starting out with the weights overhead. I am finding it kind of tricky to lay on the bench, get the arch just so, and have weights up in the air all at the same time. It’s not impossible, but J has mentioned it since we were doing these with 10 lb. dumbbells, and I am trying to train myself to be mindful of it in my set-up. Remind myself this is a process and that I want a positive learning experience, not one where I’m squealing in pain and having to be placed on the injury bench.

On to the standing cable overhand facepull. I always smile at the name – facepull. It’s an accurate description, but still – facepull. Anyway, this is another of those shoulder exercises where I can tell my flexibility has increased through the months. When we started, I was continually perplexed by these, in that I could not understand how they were supposed to benefit me, yet I figured I was so grossly out of shape that they were invisibly benefitting me. I also did have the depth of understanding to even articulate a question about them. Now, I feel my shoulders and that contraction in my upper back between the shoulderblades. We have been doing the overhand version for awhile now and I think I have forgotten the other way to place my hands on the rope. Oh well; lots of training days left in the year if the other method appears on a List anytime soon.

And finally, the cable overhead triceps extensions. Not sure what I think about these, other than body should be straight yet leaned forward at a 45 degree angle. The actual work feels like work I enjoy, but I get distracted by my ponytail. I know – me and my first world problems. But thinking about this afterward, I can feel my triceps working, but also in the lats as well. Different than laying down on the bench with dumbbells in hand, yet the same sort of work-related feels.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Before we actually go started with the weights today, J and I had a half hour educational seminar. I am super spoiled – first Thursday of the month, and friend C is away at a monthly volunteer commitment, so the hour-long appointment she typically occupies was free for me/us to run off the clock and into overtime.


6/1/2017 – Whiteboard outlining our present and future training adventures.

We went over what we have done thus far in the last year or so of our List-making adventure: upper and lower splits, PHA-focused (aka huffy-puffy), and plexes that focus on particular body sections. Laid out on the whiteboard like that, I marvel at how much we have done, how many different exercises I have learned and the many ways I am able to exercise muscle groups using weights, bands, machines, etc.

Next we are heading into the land of push-pull exercises incorporating much of what I already know (rows, presses, squats, lunges, etc.) and advancing with weightier weights and a tighter rep range. We have done this before, bumped up the weights and shortened the rep range, but this already this feels different and new. Hence the seminar time. Plus, I’m an aspiring world-class exercise nerd; I completely dig this stuff.

We discussed the different exercises, the pushes and the pulls. Then there was the new terms: compound exercises (movements that engage 2 or more joints) and accessory exercises (smaller muscle groups like triceps and biceps). I always thought compound exercises were like poptarts – my term for power squat to overhead press and the like – which I suppose are more like exercise combinations. Present day rep ranges are typically 8 to 12, 12 to 15, 15 to infinity (or I have to stop). Weightier weight pushes and pulls with be smaller rep ranges, more like 6 to 8.

An interesting fact for me about using heavier weights: whereas J’s rep range for heavier might be 3 to 5 max, mine is more 6 to 8. Safety first always, and obviously he is far more experienced, comfortable, and has different objectives and reasons for wanting to lift more all at once. One of the (many, many, many) topics we touched upon and covered is the different styles of weight lifting and body building and reasons for doing (lots) more weight, less reps (aesthetic, build muscle) versus my version of more weight, less reps (than typical for me). Having been recently reading and following several fitpros on Facebook and elsewhere, the light suddenly comes on about what they are talking about with respect to their own training and what they present as best or better practices. While I was already aware much of that stuff is not applicable to me now (and maybe not ever), it is nice to get it into a context that I can actually understand and see how the principles fit in the bigger picture puzzle.

And because my doc runs a fat loss support group and I try to stay involved, I read the posts from other members including the monthly challenges. This month, the challenge is to do 300 kettlebell swings per day – definitely not something I would consider trying without discussing it with J in advance. On my List where these appear, I typically end up doing 15, setting the kettlebell on the ground and glaring at it, then picking it back up and doing another 15 to complete my set. So 300 per day? Daunting to say the least.

J did not tell me it is a terrible idea, but he did suggest (1) using the lightest weight (at 8 kg) kettlebell and (2) perhaps start at 100 per day and work my way up. I had already borrowed an 8 kg kettlebell from a friend (for whom this is now too light) to do whatever volume of swings possible in the backyard rather than trying to squeeze 300 before, during, and after my morning practices or training sessions. So I’m giving it a whirl.

Tonight I went back to the gym and hung out with friend K and got 100 done over the course of our meandering conversation. Tomorrow I will add a bunch into my warm-up and during my practice. I think I may actually be able to do this challenge. M is so helpful in my fitness efforts. Upon seeing the new addition to the back deck and hearing my hopeful intentions about this month’s challenge, he immediately suggested doing them facing the swimming pool, so if I lose control the kettlebell lands in the water rather than the side of the house or worse. Appreciate that vote of confidence! But it’s true – that vision is part of my recurring nightmare of Very Bad Things that can happen with heavy objects flying through the air.

So, while I am working on glutes and hamstrings of steel with an overload of kettlebell swinging, I am also looking forward to the next chapter in my weights adventure with trainer J.

Even on a briefer workload training day, we cover a lot of ground and get quite a bit done with the overtime session. I am excited about the idea of bumping up with weights I am using and seeing how it feels as we move along. The process and evolution feels very organic, as if this is the natural progression of the journey.

Watching the power lifting ladies group last night, I really do admire their abilities and the type of focused dedication that got them to this place and level. However, I also recognize that I no longer feel like less because I am not there now and have no genuine aspirations to train to lift in the same ways. Part of the learning curve for me is to abandon the idea that having different personal objectives and being on a parallel journey does not make me less than others pursuing strength or a particular aesthetic. I always believe it’s possible to be supportive and encouraging to others with different dreams, yet for me to fall away from the established norm made me wrong, lazy, or worse. As I have noted many times before, my confidence has grown and strengthened as well. Thankfully I am a very different sort of thinker and self-supporter than I was when I started 2 years ago. In fact, this month hosts an anniversary of sorts – 2 years since my first training session with J.

It has been a long and winding road, full of surprises and triumphs, buckets of sweat and puddles of tears. I have made new friends and developed different interests. I started to recognize and believe that I do have strength and stamina and stick-with-it-ness heretofore unimagined.

Whoda thunk? Certainly not me. And I have never been so pleased to be wrong about how weak I truly am.

#emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #flexibility, #friends, #growth, #gym, #happy, #health, #inspiration, #knowledge, #mental-health

A little (boatloads!) help from my friends

Trainer J is back from his vacation and was back in uniform at the gym today. Friend C also returned from her week away, back in her usual Tuesday training time.

And I am beyond happy to see them both.

While glad they both were away and had a good time on their respective trips, I am so selfishly glad my Tuesday was more typical and normal and they were where present at their usual time. Honestly, I had not realized how dependent I am on the day-to-day social contact in the club until nearly all my tribe is away at once. I soldiered onward on my own; I even took a couple of days off myself. But while I typically go through my practice on my own, it’s nice seeing others I know go through their routines or to get a glimpse of what J is teaching someone else. There is just enormous comfort for me in the routine and typical predictability of the days.

Plus I just missed them.

I went through a lower body routine today that has been lying fallow for a few weeks, neglected in favor of the newer plexes and huffy puffy Lists. While I thought the yoga might help with the general tight soreness in my glutes and hamstrings, the opposite seemed to be true. But today, after seeing my pals and having my gym right itself once more, I had renewed focus and went through my List with no issues. If anything, it seems to have been the right call; my glutes and legs feel far more limber from the more focused work.

Or I’m just a lot more relaxed because the summer is shaping up and the week will be back to normal tomorrow.

I feel almost guilty for being so happy they are back. But absence made the heart grow fonder in this case, and since I love and adore both these folks, I am completely unphased by admitting my delight at their return.

Friend J asked me yesterday what I would do when things do change, when trainer J moves along to his next great adventure. I’ll miss him, of course, but a more permanent move creates a new normal. Vacation, mine or someone else’s, is like a temporary placeholder until things get back to normal normal. I could almost hear him shaking his head and trying to suppress a laugh on the telephone, but that’s okay. I am patiently awaiting his return and the restart of my next rendition of that normal as well.

It has been a fantastic day thus far.

#emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #inspiration, #mental-health

PT-40: Weeee! Rocking skills review

Monday morning training with J. While it was technically a huffy-puffy List review and revision, it was long enough ago that it kind of felt more like a regular List review yet with more emphasis on individual exercise skills updates and enhancements.

Key Takeaways

It does not seem to matter if I have been doing an exercise 20 months or 20 seconds, there is always something to tweak or new to learn. Personally, I find this exciting and keeps my interest in the journey fresh and focused.

My fatigue fog is dissipating. While not discouraged or feeling poorly about my better health pursuit, shaving sleep and shorting myself on time, patience, and ultimately best effort in practices has contributed to my overall malaise with the exercise.

While my nemesis stable is alive and well, so is my favorites List as well. There are some basics that feel so far out of reach for self-assured competency (looking at you, every push-up method known to man), and still others that make me know time, patience, and consistent practice will eventually cure. I have haunting memories of trying to do sit-ups in junior high and being mortified at how impossible they were for me. I am working steadily toward erasing those memories and replacing them with new ones of me being able to do a whole set comfortably. Someday soon – it will happen.

Something I like about me – I am okay stepping backward and taking apart an exercise I have been doing and learning its pieces and parts to make myself improve. Sometimes the big picture fluidity eludes me and J has to go back to basics and break things down into building blocks so I can improve and advance to some other level.

What We Did

Huffy-puffy go-go-go pacing for 3 sets of each block:

Dumbbell Bulgarian split squats (body weight only)
1-arm dumbbell row (25 lb. DB)
Plank off bench with step-outs, kickbacks, knee-in

Alternating dumbbell step-back to RDL hinge (15 lb. DBs)
Dumbbell chest press (20 lb. DBs)
Alternating Otis-up/chopper sit-ups

Alternating lateral lunges with bicep curl (15 lb. DBs)
Dumbbell pullovers (25 lb. DB)
Dumbbell triceps extensions (10 lb. DBs)

How It Felt

Maybe I am the one-off weirdo in the exercise and fitness world that actually likes Bulgarian split squats. Or perhaps I have not crested the part that makes them so deplorable. Or option 3 is that it took me so long to feel decently skilled at them that I am mistaking my gratitude for developing the strength and agility for actual enjoyment. Whatever. Right now they are not that bad or terribly unpleasant; they have safely been released back into the wild from the nemesis stable. I like the part where foot slides itself into proper position much of the time without me having to stop, restart, test repeatedly over and over again. Lately we have been doing bodyweight, but this next 10 days or so I will get the 5 lb. dumbbells off the rack and experiment and test my new-found skill. Worst outcome I will allow is that the teeter-totter balance effect returns and I have to try a lot harder to get back to where I am right now. There are much worse outcomes.

From there we went to 1-arm dumbbell rows on the bench. Kind of feels like I’m almost hugging the incline bench with my knee supported and my elbow resting on the incline slant, and I am somewhat undecided whether I like it better that way or with my arm stretched out to get the bend angle right. Rows of all stripes are enjoyable. In the realm of huffy-puffy Lists, the weight is generally manageable for a higher (for me, more than 8) rep set. We have done these in various configurations, this incline bench shape the latest. After doing these in their various forms, I always walk away feeling pleased with myself for the effort and like I have some sort of bodacious shoulders in the workshop under construction.

The planks off the bench with step out/up/knee in remain a challenge. Find myself moving along thinking rib tuck! Rib Tuck! RIB tuck, damnit! Which is what I always think when doing planks or anything plank-based. But it occurred to me this morning that in my mind chant should be amended to tighten glutes/rib tuck/tighten glutes. I do not seem to have the habit of doing both simultaneously and can feel varying degrees of engagement of the wrong spots (low back) or lack of engagement (abs). When I get my focus dialed in on the tightening glutes and abs (rib tuck), my efforts are far more successful and fatiguing. That said, I do like these more than your standard plank, because it gives mind something to do besides count the seconds and come up with all the weenie-whining reasons why time passes too slowly, all of which revolve around how much I hate planks because they are so difficult.

Of the bigger ah-ha moments today relates to the alternating dumbbell step-back to RDL hinge movement. Today J suggested I try turning the rear foot more inward and see how that felt. When he said it, my mind’s knee-jerk was it would not make much difference or would feel wrong. However, made a significant difference in how the muscles fired and actually felt more natural to me. Whoda thunk? Seriously, I spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about what my feet are doing while going through my Lists every day, because every time J has made an adjustment, correction, or suggestion about foot placement, it has made some kind of difference for me. By the end of the third set, I was still having to consciously think about that inward turn when stepping back. However, I could immediately tell the difference when it was straight and forward-pointing as well.

Not a whole lot of new stuff to report about dumbbell chest presses – still love them, still focused on arching back, and feeling a bit as if I am slacking on this – but my chest muscles this many hours later say I did reasonable work this morning. Between the arch, ensuring elbow does not unbend completely at the top, and keeping weights above the eyes makes these an enduring challenge and a favorite. Because we are using higher-rep weights, these go pretty smoothly for the full range for the huffy-puffy experience.

Working really, really hard at not hating floor sit-ups, a battle I am actually winning. Ever since I saw a really fit man in the gym doing sit-ups (at a really brisk pace) with his feet secured under a piece of equipment, I have felt infinitely better about using the bench this way. Besides, for the first time in my entire life I feel like I am succeeding and doing these correctly, if not terribly efficiently and at a good, steady clip. Today we reviewed alternating the Otis-ups/chopper sit-ups. For the most part, I have the shape and movement pretty well down, but it has been a bit of a trial and error process. I have gone from somehow arching/twisting lower back up to rounding shoulders and sort of curling up to our present rendition of straight up pulling with abs for the Otis-ups, then following the same pattern with the chop-turn at the top and leading with the opposite arm (right arm across to the left, left arm in the air, and vice versa). No low back ache (at all) today, but definitely feeling like I have been doing something with my core. So happy about that.

I have had an ongoing hate-intensely dislike relationship with lateral lunges. Cannot truly explain why, except they are hard and I’m ridiculously clumsy and feel off-balance stepping sideways. So what do I do? Avoid them like the walking dead. If they appear on a List, I do the bare minimum. Or less. Because I despise them that much. Today, maybe there is hope for reconciliation. Today’s bigger ah-ha moment came with deconstruction and an innocuous (for everyone else) foot placement adjustment became total game changers for me. J, still recovering from his walking pneumonia and unable to exercise much himself, enthusiastically demonstrated the lateral lunge with bicep curl for me. My heart sank a little, because the day had been going so very well up to that point. But I was wearing my big-girl leggings and pulled them up and stepped up to the plate. We went through a few, with some encouraging coaching about butt back first, then knee bend and into the lunge. As is typical, I struggled. But then he suggested I try turning my foot outward more, then butt back, then knee bend with the lunge part lean forward, weights over the knee. It was like I was standing in pouring rain, then clouds parted and the sun came out – suddenly I got it. Epiphany moment! The foot placement made my knee and hip align more correctly, leading with the butt back and into the knee bend/lunge part suddenly made these make sense. Coming back up to center, bicep curls were fine. Repeat on the other side, and it still worked. I feel clunky and mechanical right now, but there is genuine hope of making friends eventually. Of all the various types of lunges I have learned, these have been the worst. Maybe now they will not be so bad, and with some practice I will become more fluid with them. Again, foot placement – whoda thunk?

Love me some dumbbell pullovers, they of the whole body work to make the exercise work. I know I am pulling the weight overhead with arms and working my shoulders, but I feel it in my glutes, abs, whole body lying on the bench during and after the set is concluded. We went back to a 25 lb. dumbbell today, because this was a huffy-puffy List and was all about the max reps and working the heart, but since I learned about the pretensioning the rest of the body to maximize the work, it feels like a lighter weight and I feel capable of significantly more reps. While I go through these on a List a few times each week, I marvel at the way my shoulders actually flex and move now in their range of motion. Another of those realizations that continue to surprise and delight me.

Since successfully learning and not having to convince myself that doing dumbbell triceps extensions lying on the gym floor is no big deal, I now have mixed feelings about them when I go through the regular on-the-bench version. They feel a little different on the bench, like here is more room for error, but hey me, we’ve been successfully going through these for almost 2 years without mishap. Probably it’s the lovely of the satisfying little thud of the weight on the floor or the effort expended pressing the small of the back flat to the ground, because I find maxing out a set of these on the bench to leave me feeling like a job well done. It’s truly the little things that make me think about it, and next opportunity I get, I will try a set on the floor for comparison purposes. My curious mind wants to know about these things.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

In the almost two years we have been working together, the pendulum of how I view myself as a client has completely swung. In the beginning I saw myself as the special needs client, the sole tribe member who needed extra help with everything and did not progress satisfactorily and was constantly on the bubble of being fired from the tribe. Negative girl’s expert  hand at work.

Warming up this morning I was pondering that I am a ridiculously easy-going tribe member and that J’s job might be more interesting if everyone had more interest in the minutia of the exercise and training process. Then I was a little ashamed of my big giant ego swelling and attempting to smother everyone else in its hot air enormity, because we are all very different in how we learn and what we hope to achieve from the training and learning process.

More than my curiosity and interest in what I am learning and how my body’s pieces and parts are supposed to work, I don’t care much at all what we do each session. We can learn new things, or start the process of learning new things. We can review older Lists. We can go throguh a get down in the weeds and examine the soil type review of individual exercises and critique the living daylights out of it. Honestly, I don’t care much at all what happens to be on the agenda. And if by some wild hair I have a burning question or ongoing trauma drama with something, I speak up and we will go through it. Very give and take. J wants to take a week or weeks off from writing new training plans it will be fine. Because there is always an enhancement or improvement to discern going through and reviewing a List all over again.

This is week 2 of 3 where we train together in a single session due to illness and vacation plans. My creature-of-habit-ness craves structure and repetitive patterns, so I am really into List on Monday, review List on Thursday pattern we have established. When it is only a single training session week, skills review works fine for me. Always I learn something from the time we spend working, and its value is not limited to just learning how to lift a weight. Our ranging conversations expose me different ideas and the exposure helps with my mental focus during my time on my own working through a List. I see Bulgarian split squats and my mind will go through not only the cues for this but the general gist of everything else we talked about. Frequently it is what we did over the weekend, or something we are reading, what’s going on in my world, what’s going on in his.

Family, friendships, relationships of all stripes are important to me to varying degrees. The closer I am to someone, the more inroads and interest I develop in what interests them. J, being a philosophy major in college, is a knowledge junkie, a quality I value and appreciate about him. It’s not limited to exercise and fitness or philosophy-related topics; he is an equal opportunity learner and seems to have a diverse interest in examining and making decisions about the various perspectives on nearly everything. So our conversations are very free-ranging, and I take his recommendations seriously about what he is reading and pronouncing as worthwhile of pursuit. Unfortunately I do not have the amount of time or energy to pursue knowledge on the same level, and our interests are interactions with others are diverse as well, but I do listen to his suggestions and use what time I have available to investigate further. Sometimes things stick and become part of my own repertoire – the couple of fitness pros on Facebook are direct introductions from J’s comments and likes and because they seem like sensible people who exhibit common sense that makes sense to me.

My point here, we’re not always talking exercise; to other members walking by, it may look like we’re standing around shooting the breeze. Not that I care a whit. But it struck me today how if the cueing has evolved into its own soundtrack, the rest of our conversation is the background music that accompanies it. It makes retention of what I am supposed to be doing and how do it more productive.

Over and over I stress the importance of how personal and unique our individual better health journeys. In spite of that, I still periodically cross paths in my own life with people who have no comprehension of how difficult it is to learn the fine little details that enhance and improve things I already know pretty well. And that’s okay. Some of my friends are immersed in either cardio-based pursuits or Crossfit, both of which seem so far removed from my daily gym experience. We are different; I can deal with that and slowly, eventually, kicking and screaming they will as well.

Tiny details are huge in my better health quest and always have been. Telling the vast majority of my friends about the details of turning my foot in on an RDL hinge or out on a lateral lunge – sometimes I feel as if I am speaking in tongues to them. Mostly it’s okay; I  can accept that we are different in our pursuits. The upside of our differences: it has forced me out of my own comfort zone of close friends and to expand my circles beyond was is neat and comfortable and safe. I am socially awkward and feel inept in personal interactions so much of the time, and it is this that makes that makes me feel unsure and on so many fronts.

But the fronts I found so scary when I started are not the same things that give me anxiety and feel like the ground beneath my feet is uncertain right now. Things is, my limbs are stronger, my balance more confident, and if the earth moves beneath my feet, I am better prepared and equipped to cope with those surprises. Every day my world feels a little more solid, the ground a little firmer, my whole body stronger and my balance truer.

It matters less and less to me that close friends do not get my “wow!” factor with a tweak of the foot and the deconstruction and smoothing the pieces and parts to string it all back together. I don’t need their affirmations or understanding of what rocks aspects of my better health quest world – we can still be friends. I love that I get my own wow! factor and can appreciate the quirks of my method of learning and retaining details.

Progress is not just working on shedding fat and growing pretty muscles. But it sure helps make the better health quest come together.

#better-health, #emotional-health, #exercise, #family, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #mental-health

PT-35: May -plexes last forever

Monday morning, training with J, short-on-sleep edition. I did not get to bed until after midnight and slept an extra 35 minutes past the 4 a.m. alarm. Ugh. I hate when I do that to myself. The stress of being late for training haunts me, plus I do like a minimum 10 minute warm-up time.

Key Takeaways

Even functioning on 4 hours sleep, I am capable of doing a full series of a plexes. Well, almost. There are 4 exercises per block and 4 blocks, which even at peak efficiency takes some time. While List guidance suggests 2 to 4 sets of each, we split the difference and did 3 of the first 3 blocks and 1 of the final, partly because J needed to prep for a consultation at 8 (and it was already 7:20 when we finished) and partly because I was dying on the bench. While this was not a huffy-puffy-themed List, there was plenty of huffing and puffing and not enough breath to blow up a dandelion. Yep, feeling the fatigue today.

I will like this List so much better and will hopefully not be dying quite so early on a full night of sleep. Allergies are awful this year as well, and while I have not had the congestion crud J has been battling back for almost 2 weeks, my sinuses sweat and I am blowing my nose regularly. When I am trying valiantly to keep up, it is well beyond the realm of annoying.

Certain exercises vex me still (looking at you, low-to-high band chops). This is a minor attack of the shoulds, as in I should be a lot more proficient at these. There is some maturity in this process and how I view it, though, because my vexation is limited to a very small handful of exercises. Suddenly I realize that’s not just a something, that’s a lot of something significant. I should will graciously accept the mindset win and resolve to continue to pursue the nemesis stable.

I confess to not always writing these recaps in linear order. Sometimes I am so ridiculously excited about an exercise on a List that I open my recap template, copy and paste the List of the day (if it’s available) into its section, and then skip straight to “what we did” and write about the object of my excitement. The things I feel less enthusiasm about, they get done last. And if it has been a particularly thoughtful day, I do kitchen sink thoughts. But anyway.

What We Did

The List from today’s session:

QUAD-PLEX 1 (3 sets today)
DB Bent Over Rows (20 lb. DBs)
Triceps DB Extensions (12 lb. DBs
2-DB 1-leg RDLs (12 lb. DBs)
Mini Band Lateral Walks w/ Goblet Holds (20 lb. DB)

QUAD-PLEX 2 (3 sets today)
Seated Standing Band Rows (extra stretch) (purple band)
Bench Triceps Dips
DB Alt. Front Raises w/ Contralateral Steps (8 lb. DBs)
Pushups off DBs on Bench

QUAD-PLEX 3 (3 sets today)
1-arm DB Rows (incline tripod) (30 lb. DB)
Band Triceps Kickbacks (w/ slight torso rotation) (green band)
Band Squat to Rows (red band)
Low-to-High  Band Choppers (yellow band)

QUAD-PLEX 4 (only 1 set today from severe ass-kicking fatigue and time constraints)
DB Pullovers
Alt Band Archers
Bench Reverse Crunches
1-legged Hip Thrust (off bench)

How It Felt

Ever since J created/stated the new cue that the dumbbell bent over rows are like (extreme paraphrasing going on here – what he said, what I heard, and how it has bloomed in my mind are potentially 3 different things) an upside down bench fly in shape, I am thinking about spreading the rib cage while pulling the weights up and back with the shoulder, keeping chin tucked, and tailbone up, resulting in kind of the high back arch that I strive to achieve lying down on the bench. For the most part, I think I have these down pretty well. But (and isn’t there always a “but” in such statements?) I think there is room for improvement. I try to explore the different places and ways to pull the weight back – elbow bent more and weights higher toward the shoulder, elbows at some great angle degree and weights pulled back more toward hip – to see how it feels differently. In the moment of doing the actual work, such explorations tends to fall by the wayside fairly quickly and what has been practiced most – pulling toward the hip – takes over.

The triceps dumbbell extensions are another that I feel competent and proficient with, and I have this debate in my mind at least once a week about whether or not it is time to try a heavier weight. But not today apparently. Today I was happily plugging along with my 12 lb. dumbbells and getting through my sets with barely a huff or a puff. I also had reinforced today my reluctance to try heavier weights on my own. Maybe it is not a caution that will last forever, but for now, it seems prudent.

Today was the 2-dumbbell 1-legged Romanian deadlift, and I console remind myself of the distance I have gone through to get this far. The weeble-wobble is still with me. And it’s a little – okay A LOT – frustrating sometimes. But I have to keep in mind that I have been among the clumsiest person in America most of my life and now rarely trip over the grout in the tile anymore. I think patience for building the skills to hold weights and deadlift hinge on one leg is warranted.

Intriguing new twist today from the test kitchen: the mini band lateral walks with dumbbell goblet holds. Sometimes J’s creativity spikes in the middle of our sessions, and today he dreamed up adding a 20 lb. dumbbell to a lateral walk to the mini bands across the room. Weird thing, the impact on the abs. I mean, at the time it felt like something going on, but in conjunction with other stuff we did today, I feel my abs. And my lats. And even my forearms from pressing my hands against the sides of the dumbbells. It doesn’t seem like it should impact abs, but it does. Plus it makes it easier to keep the upper body still and avoid that side-to-side sway. More time and study is needed with this. Plus, while the test kitchen is super fun, instant pudding, on-the-spot test kitchen is way more interesting. I do believe this was my first opportunity to observe the process of how it’s done up close and personal. (Yes, such a exercise geek.)

Instead of dragging the bench and doing seated bench rows, we opted for standing bench rows instead. Still plenty of stretch in that. Still lots of work going on even if it is not the breakneck pace of huffy-puffy on steroids. With the heavier/heaviest band, I need to force myself to keep shoulders back and chest up while pulling for the row. With my head a minor mess the last month, I find myself questioning my habits and motivations. It is so easy to stay in my comfort zone, with my lighter bands. Chatting with another friend earlier today, he reminds me this is why I have fabulous, knowledgeable coaching I trust. Left to my own devices, it’s unlikely I would have ever picked up anything heavier than an 8 lb. dumbbell.

And highly unlikely I would ever even know about much less attempt the bench triceps dips. These are on the vexation list, because while I know what I should be doing – keeping my shoulders back as well as bending elbows to lower and straighten elbows to raise – is not quite the same as actually doing it correctly. Getting those elbows working right while keeping shoulders tucked back behind the ears is hard. But if I have learned anything, it is that I am not a natural athlete and these skills take time to learn and then to perfect improve and enhance.

The dumbbell alternating front raises with contralateral steps are part of the dumbbell matrix List, which I typically do with 5 lb. dumbbells. I felt each and every one of those extra 3 lbs. going through them this morning. Still, good feelings. I have grown accustomed to a certain tempo and pacing with the dumbbell matrix, and the extra weight changed the formula and dynamic for me. Better and best ways possible. But trying hard to stand up straight and keep the abs and glutes tight while going through these, and honestly, I think that’s part of the reason why the dynamic has changed as well. Or maybe my understanding of how it is all supposed to work is deepening. Good outcomes, either.

My arch nemesis, the pushup, returns today with the pushups off dumbbells on bench. Rib tucks, abs tight, trying so hard to bend my elbows and feel the pinch between my shoulder blades and the contraction across the upper chest. I struggle still with these, all of them, and in the back of my mind I was thinking about a couple or few mini sets are in order. Or getting back in the habit of doing as many as I can every single day at the end of my List of the day. While in my head I know there must be some improvement, they just still feel so darn hard.

Learned a neat new trick today for doing 1-arm dumbbell rows – the incline tripod, as J calls it. Essentially, instead of standing split stance leaning against the back of an incline bench or box, I put my knee on the seat of the incline bench and my hand on the back support area and row that way. It is a lot more stable-feeling, especially with the heavier dumbbell territory we’re meandering toward. Still my favorite row of the variations I have learned to date, although today that 30 lb. dumbbell felt overly heavy and my rep range was in the vicinity of 8 minimums. Then I realized we were on third block, not first or even second. Fatigue, my old friend. Makes me feel better that I was just getting tired and not officially backsliding.

It still amazes me how the tiniest of tweaks will wake up an exercise for me. Such is the case with the band triceps kickbacks today. We have done these many times before, and always they were fine, but nothing especially special or to write home about. Then today we added this slight rotation and voila! new depth of feeling in the tricep. Not sure exactly why, but the arm positioning change, while subtle, suddenly wakes up the area into something that feels like a lot more significant tricep work going on.

Band squat-to-rows combine the best of both worlds. Squats are squats no matter how many variations we go through, and the same is true of the rows. But I find myself going through them with basic squat and row cues running through my head. For the most part these are relatively routine. But the heavier band – it’s appropriate. I have grown too comfortable with the medium green one.

All versions of the low-to-high band choppers are complicated. I’m getting there with the basic shape, but with my uncoordinated distaste for the lateral lunge it is challenging. I will keep plugging away at these, with the lightest yellow band. Thinking about it now, I can see the way these are supposed to work. Implementing the shape and making it a reality, it is going to take patience and practice.

Big triumph of the day is the dumbbell pullover. After a really long time using a 25 lb. dumbbell on these, today I bumped it up to the 30 lb. dumbbell, primarily out of convenience. The 30 was right in front of me, along with a pair of 12s, and rather than walk the 10 feet to get a 25, I almost impulsively decided to try the heavier weight under J’s supervision. Handled it just fine, especially since our new thing is to tighten the lats and abs and pull the weight up over the head. I’m pleased that I took the risk and tried the weightier weight.

After a lengthy absence, the alternating band archer rows have returned. I love these and had forgotten how much I enjoy the simple rhythm of going through them. Probably if I were someone who danced or enjoyed dancing, I would not think this, but archer rows are about as close to dancing as I can potentially imagine.

It has been awhile since we have done bench reverse crunches. Between Otis ups and the other types of crunches, I had completely forgotten how to do the reverse version. Once I remembered to hang on to the top of the bench I was laying on, I did a lot better and remembered how to do these. And damn, they are effective.

There is something unpleasant about glute bridges and hip thrusts. The 1-legged hip thrust off the bench are particularly unpleasant and I have not missed them much at all. On the other hand, it seems more and more important to me that my hips and bones be strong. Weight lifting is part of that, and learning to perform these and other unpleasantness, forcing myself to do these: it is so hard, but it is also why I tend to frame this and other things that I dislike as components of my better health quest. Put that way, trying to remove whatever ego or pride or sense of should from the equation, makes it easier to stay the course and try to get through the less desirables.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Completely, totally irrelevant to today’s training session, but I am still semi-obsessed with the learning curve of the kettlebell swings. While typing this paragraph, I am listening to (and potentially should be watching closely) a tutorial on KB swing mistakes. Mostly I am aware of the mistakes he talks about – “squatty” swings where butt comes down rather than back and knees go forward (should be more of a hinge), back rounds rather than being neutral spine, and trying to drive the KB up with the momentum of hips forward rather than arms and upper body. But of course, anything like this has me immediately thinking of my own form and technique and wondering how many of these things I am doing when I try it on my own in practice. Which is why I probably should not listen to other experts correcting form because it plants seeds in my head that coach J may be yanking out by the roots and then applying Round Up to ensure the weeds are eradicated.

In my head, it does not seem like this much time has passed or that I am capable of doing what I am doing. I question it and everything else, frequently with this sense of awe. My sense of hope for the future, of a different outcome than what I anticipated when I began. Perhaps it was lack of faith in myself and my track record of not sticking with a program for an extended period of time.

My sense of the shoulds persists, although at a much lower volume and intensity. Exercise grows more complicated, in the nicest possible ways, and the workload I am capable of increases. I am still not so tough, not so disciplined, kind of wild and woolly in my rep and set counts.  The friends I have made in the gym, the other tribe and members who I see and have seen pretty much daily over the last 2 years – it is inspiring and somehow comforting to know my better health quest is not unique or even uncommon. Our practices and pursuits may differ, but the faces I recognize and see so regularly are seeking what they are seeking. Just seeing others working at their own goals and objectives makes me feel better, part of something, that makes it make sense.

For every friend past and present that does not get what I am doing or why I am doing it, there are at least a large handful of complete strangers trying and working for something others in my life may never really understand. It saddens me, but day after day after day, it saddens me less and less and less. Because for those I care for and about, those I love most, those I like and respect, I trust their choices even when I disagree with them. None of use are precisely alike and agreeing to disagree is the mature thing to do in my book. I have always tried to be a good and honorable community member, and my failure to understand is part of that.

But I know it is all about choices and I cannot force anyone to continue to have a healthy interaction and relationship with me. And my definition of a healthy relationship is not one where someone questions or is critical, sarcastic, or negative about my endeavors and lifestyle choices. As I get healthier, my tolerance for their bullshit has decreased as well. It is hard to listen to complaints about issues and problems that may be controlled by better choices. It has always been an issue for me, listening to the same situations and cycles repeating itself over and over again is hard. I have had to do a lot to break my own self-destructive cycles, and it has not been walk in the park or anything resembling easy or a cakewalk. And I am not especially disciplined, or brave, or courageous in these endeavors. It is just my life, my choices, the same choices I have to make each and every day about a zillion different aspects of life and living.

Friendship and other relationships – we are human beings and it seems our tendency is to complicate every aspect of our lives. I suppose when our lives diverge and become so different that we have to put barriers over things we can talk about makes it difficult to continue as status quo.

Part of me feels like a snake shedding his skin, that I am walking away from relationships and things that make no sense and don’t work in my life anymore. The exercise – maybe it burns fat, builds muscle, makes me stronger and feel better. All those things are good and amazing. More than anything else, it is slowly, surely rebuilding my self-respect, something I did not realize I lacked so acutely until the process of recovering it became more real for me.

I have no idea why anyone reads this blog, and my hope is you get something from my musings and the lessons I learn each and every week. I blog for me, to have a record of my progress with the pieces of myself that I reclaim with every session and every practice and every tiny step toward recovering the me I was meant to be. At almost 56, I am still learning about myself. I know my history all too well, know my experiences, yet who I am and will be a year, or 5, or 10, or 20 remains a mystery.

Exercise, my better health quest – it gives me options to unwrap the mysteries of who I will become. And for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone who professes to care for and about me disparages those efforts. But self-protection I also understand, and the need to distance and disconnect from the real voices that make me like disparage and like my emerging self even less.

These are not the thoughts I want tinging my training days. Or any other days in the rest of my life. So progress sometimes means stepping back and letting go of things once very important to me. Priorities matter, and mine have changed.

Taking care of me, my family, my tribe is always first and foremost. Selfish is a term bandied about routinely, and for much of my life I have tried very hard to avoid being painted with that brush. Nowadays, I embrace it. I am better taking care of me first, to make me strong enough to take care of others as well.

And anymore, those who cannot or will not understand selfish in this context really have no place in my life. There is not enough time left to waste waiting around for that maturity or understanding to develop.

It’s both sad and liberating at the same time.

#better-health, #emotional-health, #exercise, #family, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #hope, #mental-health, #tribe

PT-26: Basics, beyond, and back again

Thursday morning, training with J. And it was glorious. And I’m sure there are folks out there reading that wishing I would come up with other adjectives to describe our sessions, or that I would talk smack and be realistic about how hard, painful, and whatever other negative word people use about exercise. Funny, I was once one of them, and yet I cannot come up with a harsh word to say about training days. Progress.

Key Takeaways

I still love, Love, LOVE review days. J confessed this morning that he never knows what to expect with review days, whether there will be little or nothing to talk about or if there will be significant corrections and/or enhancements. Me, I don’t care much one way or the other, except maybe the less corrective action days might be boring for him to watch me go through the List of the day almost flawlessly. I must admit, the idea of that makes me laugh. The idea of us having nothing to talk about makes me laugh even harder.

One of the biggest lessons from these many months of training, every body, every person has different skills and abilities. “Almost flawless” for me with an exercise might be less desirable form for someone stronger, more experienced with exercise, or more flexible. If comparison is the thief of joy, it is also a source of depression and despair and an inferiority complex for me. I do observe other members, and I like seeing what they do, how they are doing it, the expressions on their faces. The best are those who concentrate so fiercely, or who smile as if they are having a lot of fun in the process. Either way, it makes me feel encouraged. While I do not have the trainer eye (thankfully), I now understand enough to wonder when I see someone doing something different or that J has specifically cautioned me against or is working to train me away from. There is no sneering in my head about how wrong they are and how they should hire J to teach them correctly, because I have no idea how it feels to their particular body. Always I hope they are not going to hurt themselves.

But I do not feel inferior or superior or as if I am somehow losing or gaining in the process. On the drive home, I posited that my better health adventure, the exercise leg of it, is akin to tunneling the through the thickest part of the biggest glacier using an ice cream scoop. It takes a long time to make much discernable progress. However, as my pile of perfectly shaped snowballs will attest, I am doing something and I am making progress, even if it seems like I have barely made a dent in this big giant project. All the thoughts of what I would do with that pile of snowballs, who would be unsafe from my aim and whether or not I would have some catapulting device to extend my range – well, let us just say I am grinning enormously imagining the havoc I would wreak on a few select folks and leave it at that.

Practice continues the big dividing line between me improving and me wondering why I am not improving. This week I was had a practice with the huffy-puffy of last week, and for the most part all went well. It IS huffy-puffy kind of work, and even my fancy-smancy FitBit watch agrees there is a big difference in heart rates from trying for the peppier pacing. From review week, to trying on my own, I am better at it. In my mind there is always room for improvement, whether it is better form, weightier-weight, or simply focusing and going for higher intensity (aka: more oomph in the huffy-puffy), yet I feel great about my effort. This is so foreign to me, still new enough to make me stop and realize how far I have come from the exercise-hating negative girl who wanted to die of embarrassment every session.

What We Did

Review of Monday’s huffy-puffy List revisit and all sorts of new enhancements:

A1  Front Squat to Overhead Press
A2  Bent-over DB Row
A3  Alternating chopper sit-ups, Otis ups (all together)

B1  DB Walking Lunges
B2  Bench Pushups w/ DB Handle Assists
B3  Squat to ball slams

C1  Kettlebell swings
C2  Bench Triceps Dips
C3  Lateral lunges with bicep curl

How It Felt

We added a mini band below the knees to make the front squat to overhead press more challenging and it works. I tend to break Lists up into what I know best (and therefore find easier) to what is most challenging. This particular exercise falls into the first category, but it still requires focus to ensure I am feeling muscle engagement. I particularly like these for the hypnotic effects of the down-up-down-up rhythm that comes from doing movements I know separately really well.

New favorite thing: bent-over dumbbell row. Because today J introduced me to the new trick of resting the top of my forehead on the bench. I know, sounds kind of weird, but surprisingly, shockingly effective. Who knew so much of my energy was expended on this exercise in holding my upper body in place while pulling the weights? When he first mentioned this, we were standing near the bench, which was in its flat position. All I could think at first was far I would have to bend at the waist to rest my forehead on it. Then he adjusted it to the incline position and demonstrated what he meant. Could be another of those life-changing tweaks, and it was even better when I put my towel over the end.

As a corollary to that, we tried a set of the bent over reverse flys with the forehead supported on the bench. I found this immediately cured my head-bobbing problem. Without the bench, I have this tendency to want to raise my head and upper body as I am pulling the weights upward. The counter balance of pressing my forehead against the bench keeps me from bobbing and allows me to feel the work in my back and shoulders.

J combined the alternating chopper sit-ups with the Otis ups, so this went left-right-Otis up. Still not loving them, but discovered that moving my feet closer to the glutes made them so much more productive. Still not a lot of stamina with these, still need to secure my feet under the bench or something, but I understand how these are supposed to work with the tall spine coming up and the slow and controlled descent back to the mat. Do I like them? Not much at all, actually. But I will persevere. Today we were at 5 of these bad boys, and I am determined to be up to 8 of these by this time next week. May take more time and throw a wrench in the peppy pacing, but I will be working on both my technique and mileage, probably even outside this huffy-puffy List.

If pride is a sin, I am so going to burn for this one. The dumbbell walking lunges – I am ridiculously proud of how far I have come doing these. Monday we went from lunge, stop in the middle, lunge to lunge, lunge, lunge. From my initial lunge anxiety to this? I am so pleased. Occurred to me today that the mini band forward walks have helped enormously, and even with the critical trainer eye from J, he could find very little to correct about my form and technique. I could do better keeping my shoulders back, which I knew from the way the weights sometimes swing. But not bad. And yeah, 12 hours later I am still feeling those lunges in my legs.

The bench pushups with dumbbell handle assists continue to vex me, but I am up to 10 consecutive. However, I am still working on these. Today’s big trick was looking at my set-up in the mirror, to ensure shoulders are over the weights on the bench, and flaring the elbows to get more emphasis on the chest muscles. That, plus the rib tuck reminder and staying more plank position, it is enough to ensure I get back to my practice of 10 pushups per day.

While I intellectually understand how to do the squat to ball slams, actually implementing it is not so simple. This is one of those exercises that I see all sorts of folks doing all around me in the gym, yet I struggle. This is another of those break it down into simple pieces and parts, master each, and then put them all together into one smooth sequence. So much easier in my head than in reality. However, I figured out today that the slam part should be happening later to get the ball landed where I want it, and I also figured out that I want to be enroute back to the squat when I do throw it down. But putting all that together – harder than it reads. At least today I have a better picture of the shape of it and how it’s supposed look and to feel. Additional practice is required, but I will learn and master them.

There is this big giant disconnect with kettlebell swings. I mean, I see people doing them everywhere in the gym. The thin and fit members, the heavier and seemingly less fit members, the older members. Probably if I looked in the childcare there would be small people doing kettlebell swings. From my casual observations, these did not look all that difficult. From my personal experience, these are damn technical and there is a lot more to them than meets the naked eye. I was pretty thrilled to realize today that the stamped number on the side of the turquoise kettlebell we are using was actually kilograms, so it is more like 25 lbs. rather than the 12 I thought I was swinging. But with my efforts, it is always something – lock the knees, press forward with the hips, rib tuck/turtle back. Kettlebell is supposed to “float” to the top with the hip press and with a rib tuck/turtle back. So first I did pretty well with the locking the knees, but was pulling more with the arms and not pressing forward with the hips for the floating effect. Then I did better with the locked knees and the hips pressing forward, but the rib tuck/turtle back got lost. Each set I would do 8 to 10 reps, stop for correction/instruction, then try again for another 8 to 10 reps. As I said, for me, these are technically advanced. I am getting there, but definitely want to work more on my “float” technique and my rib tuck/turtle back, all the while keeping glutes and abs tight to protect the lower back. Geez, what was I thinking that these looked easy?

Another favorite on this List is the bench triceps dips. Still imperfect in form and execution, but learning a lot and with more practice will certainly be feeling far more confident. There is a machine version of these on another List, but the shape feels different. Today’s big bonus takeaway is work the thoracic arch – shoulders back and chest up and forward while dipping down. I also get the feet positioning better – a little further outward but not yet with the legs completely stretched out. Big key on this for me is to not use the hips for the dip part, to lower and raise using the arms and triceps. With all the tricep exercises I know, each has its own rhythm and shape and idiosyncrasies. These feel far less complex, or somehow more familiar than other things on this List.

Lateral lunges, how I loathe thee. All of them. There is something about stepping side-to-side that makes it really hard for me to feel completely comfortable and confident. That said, however, there is some subtle nuances to these that let me know I know more than I realize. Today J was watching and reminded me of the difference between a reaching lateral lunge and a regular lateral lunge. The reaching is more lean forward, rounded back, forward reach, whereas a regular lateral lunge is butt back, back more straight and upright as if in a squat, dumbbells resting on either side of the knee. I understand the differences, and I can implement them. These are meant to be the regular lateral lunges, then stop at the top with, bicep curl, repeat on the other side. It has been awhile since the difference has come up in training, because I think the vast majority of later lunges of late have either been reaching lunges or choice between lateral lunges and lateral reaching lunges. Looking forward to getting back to this List and working on this brand of lateral lunge.

Practices Between Now and Monday

I am planning a rerun through this List tomorrow to cement my new-found tricks, corrections, and enhancements. While the kettlebell swings and squat to ball slams before the teaching fades too far in memory. Plus the alternating chopper sit-ups and Otis ups; new productive things to replicate and see if I can improve over my 5 reps. Besides, the little professor inside my head is chomping at the bit to get back and try again, and I would have been joining my friend K for practice tonight had M and I not made plans to Costco shop for produce tonight.

Saturday is a toss up between last week’s huffy puffy and a lower body List downstairs. Sunday for sure is upper body, because I slacked off yesterday and did not get as much done as I had hoped. But oh well; I will get my practices in for the week.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

In conversations, J and I have randomly discussed the mental health benefits of exercise. While I have my periodic funks that just come with the cycles of life and its issues, I am not especially prone to depression. Since buckling down, settling down into a regular schedule of sleep, exercise, better eating habits, I feel there is some fresh insulation surrounding me from the harder days that come with life and living. The good stuff seems better, richer, far more meaningful; the hard stuff less painful, bitter, and emotionally paralyzing . My ability to bounce back and roll with the punches has improved.

Every session, I wonder how why and how it continues to be so much fun. I wonder why others in the tribe are not as jazzed as I am about training, or about coming to the gym and getting to practice what they learn. This morning something was said about the depth of my exercise library, about how being beyond basics, and it started me diving down the rabbit hole of exercise and the evolving journey. Especially interesting to me because so much of what I do, what is on my Lists, is very much about basics. Squats, lunges, presses, rows, push-ups – these are all still on my Lists and things I do week after week after week. That said, there seems to be bazillions of variations available, and I have learned that mastering the basics is critical before trying to advance. Because I trust J’s judgment about my readiness or capability, I never worry about learning new stuff I might see others doing in the gym. I absolutely believe he introduces me to things based on my ability to succeed.

My desk is wood so I can say this because I have wood available to superstitiously knock upon: my getting this far in the gym without injury is remarkable. Very early on in the process, prior to my getting more serious about my consistency, I had a dalliance with plantar fasciitis. It was from being on vacation, hiking in the wrong shoes and stepping on one too many rocks and roots. It kinda/sorta sidelined me for a couple of weeks, but really hard to tell because I was showing up for sessions and not doing much else in between, so how sidelined could I truly be at the point? For me the plantar fasciitis was merely a reasonable excuse to indulge my gym crazy.

Since then, though – I have given this a lot of thought. I show up nearly every day, I go through a List, and I have learned to listen to both the cues running through my head and the feedback from body about what I am doing in the moment. Plenty of times when I am not feeling it the way I believe I should be feeling it, or something hurts and needs to be investigated. After months and months and months of drills on the basics, I now have an intuitive reaction when something is going wrong. Maybe I’m not leaning enough, or maybe the rib tuck is untucked, or maybe the arch is not quite there yet, or maybe I just need to set the weight down and go through the pieces and parts and feel what body is trying to communicate without the distraction of weights in my hands.

Prime example today: once upon a time, I truly believed a kettlebell swing was a basic movement. Then J finally taught me how to do one and I realized either everyone else took to them more quickly than I have or they may be doing various things wrong. It is certainly not up to me to judge anyone else’s form and technique. What I do know is that I may be on slo-mo with this one for awhile to come, because for me it’s a lot more technical that it appears and has a lot of little moving pieces and parts that I have to master before I will feel confident and capable with this exercise.

But everyone around me in all shapes and sizes are doing KB swings, and from my perch they look fairly simple. Now I know they are far more challenging for me than a lot of other things, and J was right 18 months ago when he said it would be “awhile” before he taught me how to do them. If I were impatient and insisted he probably would have acquiesced and gone ahead and done so long before this, but I trust his judgment and there was a lot of other stuff to fill my practice hours. I worked at the same foundational basics for almost 5 months before we advanced to something new (dumbbell Lists A and B) and then worked at those for another 4 or 5 months as well. Looking back, I occasionally still run that old List just for fun. Where I was using 10 and 15 lb. dumbbells this time last year I am now using 20, 25, and 30 lb. dumbbells, so there has been progress. But each of those “basic” exercises still appear regularly on my Lists now.

Every now and again, something sparks old thoughts and ideas and wonderings from way back when. I was not quite bored with the old Lists when we moved on to other things, but I recognize the transitional period between coming in to meet with J once a week and coming in to meet with J once (then twice) per week and practicing on my own every other day of the week. I got better, improved my skill, yet was afraid to try weightier weights on my own. Sometimes I am still anxious about trying weightier weights on my own and will wait to run through it with J before trying on my own. And doing the same 2 Lists over and over did become sort of boring after awhile.

Now I have lots and lots of Lists, yet I tend to return to the same 3 or 4 all the time. I do upper, or I do lower, or I do huffy-puffy, and my choices are always influenced by equipment and space availability. That natural selection process works out fine for me. On Wednesday nights, when I go into the gym to practice with friend K, I mostly don’t care what we do, because I have already done something that morning and enjoy her company and hearing about her experiences with her Lists.

Thinking basics and exercise library, I recognize how far I have come in listening to and trusting information body is communicating. Yeah, I still hear the “Feed me a cookie! Ice cream! Junk food!” but I also know when something is not quite right or if the humming in my mind is truly the sign of all being well and not me trying to block out the icky sounds coming from someone else nearby.

I am really glad to have spent so much time learning and mastering the basics. Thinking back on it, the many, many hours of practice made the task of becoming someone who exercises regularly a lot more productive. J is a fantastic trainer and teacher, but in truth I had to do the heavy lifting and make myself put in the time it took to make good form happen.

Today, I am really glad my tribe sister made the comment. While I need few reminders of how far I have come or how far out in front of me the road ahead stretches, none of that matters if I the foundational basics that are now automatic enough to almost seem second nature to me. As I learned again today, having such a strong understanding, confidence, and yes, ability with the basics allows me grasp and (eventually) learn the subtle nuances of other exercises that are beyond basics.

I would not be here right now if I had not worked so hard to get mind and body in sync to let me learn how to exercise productively.

“Productive” is my new word with regard to exercise. The word “easy” is not one that I use when it comes to my Lists. When I make a change and something seems to work better, it’s not easier, it’s productive. Where I once thought never was me with regard to improvement and learning, I now think in terms of yet – I am not there yet.

Adjustments to my eating habits and pursuing a consistent exercise regimen are critical to my better health quest. But I remember today why my improved mindset is cornerstone of anything and everything I do to improve my health. With me, for me, changing my outlook and mindset from one of all my shortcomings to all my present (and future) accomplishments is key to stepping up my game.

I love the person I am becoming. I love that I get up and go to the gym at least 6 days per week. I was realizing today how many hours I have logged working at the basics and beyond. How many squats, lunges, rows, presses, and pulling exercises have I done this week alone? This month? This year so far? Throughout 2016?

Put that way, it’s a lot of hours. I asked M about it – did he think I spent a lot or maybe too many hours pursuing my better health objectives? M, being a “happy wife, happy life” kind of guy, knows the right answer and is genuine about it. Anymore, the exercise makes me happy and brings balance, so no, not at all. And it is true – M will never complain about how much time I spend in the gym practicing or in training sessions. None of us know how many years we have left, how much time. What M and I both know, though, is that every hour I log in practice and training and making better, healthier food choices allows me a lot more freedom to pursue activities we both enjoy.

That means almost everything to me, because I love my husband, family, friends and want a whole lot more time and adventure with them. And I want it to be on my terms. In good health and with more energy than being a diabetic invalid would provide me.

Days like today, I recognize that my ego is also stoked by having an exceptionally excellent session where I learn new things and they start to gel for me. My technique is still evolving with the kettlebell swings and the squat to ball slams (who would ever think that slamming a ball onto the ground would turn out of be so complicated?) yet I am not beating myself up for not getting it or embarrassed about feeling less capable. Nope, I am more fascinated by the technicalities of both exercises and almost the science behind the release point of the ball for slamming. I watch J demonstrate and as always, he makes it look so easy. Someday it will be easier for me, because I know how to squat, I know how to raise the ball overhead, and I will get the rhythm down of when to release the ball so the slam lands where I want it. Practice will carry me over the finish line in good time.

And for me, that is the key thing: practice, practice, practice. It took some time to figure out how to work my Lists, to remember the cues, to “feel” the exercises and the muscles working. I do not always get it right, but even breaking me of poor habits acquired through practice on my own seems easier now than it was when I first began.

As I said to J this morning, progress happens in mysterious ways. It is not always measurable with scales, tape measures, pounds or kilograms lifted, reps and sets completed. I do not even measure it by hours spent in practice much of the time. The fact that I rarely feel discouraged about anything I am doing in the gym or within the confines of my better health quest is an excellent choice I make every single day. It has been awhile since I have defined myself by what I cannot do and applied myself toward perfecting my skills with everything I can.

Mind now trends in a positive direction, with better word choices and self talk when it comes to challenges and pathways to improvement. Progress? You betcha!

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