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-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!

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

Older Lists: YOWZA!

I have an entire file of Lists from the last 21 months of training. From the very first session through to yesterday, I have quite a pile of Lists to choose from on practice days.

Mostly I keep these for historical reference. I am going to be scanning those I do not have in my electronic dropbox file and discarding the papers. Those that I still pursue or plan to pursue in the near term I carry in my gym bag. The rest? Well, it’s extremely gratifying to see how far my adventure has taken me, but time to set that tangible reminder aside and just admire it in electronic form.

The Lists I carry around with me in my gym bag include the upper/lower splits we were pursuing in the final months of 2016, and a series of quad-plexes for various body parts that J developed and trained with me on over the summer. It was our first venture into body part splits, and I can still remember the ouch factor as I was learning and trying to build some endurance for maximum reps for more than one or two sets at time.

Recently my attention has been focused on what we do during training days and the more recent upper/lower splits Lists. Except today I decide to mix things up and go retro to the summer throwback List and to write about the experience. This is sort of a bonus training recap, although probably not as long and detailed as my typical session reports.

What Day 1 includes (as designed and written by J):

1.  Full Squats (DB Optional) or BB (3 sets, 12-15 reps)
2.  Lower Body Inchworm (2-3 sets, 5-10 reps)

1.  Squat Jumps (2-4 sets, 15-25 reps)
2.  Step Ups (single leg) (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)
3.  Bulgarians (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)
4.  Alt Lateral Lunge w/ Reach (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)

1.  Stiff Legged DB Deadlifts off Box (2-4, 15-20 reps)
2.  Stability Ball Leg Curls (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)
3.  Curtsy Lunges w/ Floor Touch (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)
4.  1-legged Glute Bridges (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)

1.  1-legged DB Asymmetrical Split Squat (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)
2.  DB Sumo Squats (2-4 sets, 20-25 rep)
3.  Anterior Reaches (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)
4.  Mini Band Swinging Hip Abductions (2-4 sets, 15-20/side)

What I actually did looks a little different, though.

I cannot actually remember what full squats are like, if they are somehow different than power squats, so I did the variety pack of squats – a 15 rep set of bodyweight power squats, then a set of goblet squats and sumo squats, each with a 15 lb. kettlebell. Probably close enough to not maim me for life.

Hate, hate, hate the lower body inchworms, so I did the sapre minimum of 2 sets of 5. My animosity toward them does not make them get easier or me improving.

On the quad-plexes, I went through 2 full sets of each and hoped for maximum reps, but was not always successful.

I was not in a jumping frame of mind for the squat jumps, so pulled out a lighter set of 20 lb. dumbbells (usually use 30 lb. set) with a mind toward maximum reps of power squats. Let me tell you, even with a lighter than usual set of dumbbells doing 25 of those bad boys in a hit is a lot of work. Not so much my legs feeling the brunt of the work so much as my hands gripping and holding onto the weight. If I am going to substitute, I force myself to do max reps indicated on the List. It’s a rule.

The step-ups (single leg) (versus alternating) were not so bad, especially since I was not hip hinging once on top of the box. Today I tried to focus on the step-down portion, where I did not just collapse and drop off the edge of the box and onto my foot. I tried instead to have some minimal amount of control over my descent, with mixed results, mostly that I did not land quite so hard on my foot. But I was pretty pleased with my effort – 20 per side for 2 sets.

Is there anyone in the whole entire world that likes Bulgarians? While I know I do better with these, I still felt a bit like the tilt-a-whirl with balance toward the end of the second go-round. Since this List did not specify dumbbell or weight accompaniments, I went for the 20 reps and in the peppier pacing we have been pursuing of late. My best effort was 18 straight without stopping for a quick breather, but I was so huffy-puffy at that point it truly was necessary. My lean is improving, too, because there was zero back ache afterwards. Yay me!

Whatever my deal is with lateral lunges with reach (or without), I am very wary of them and obsess over what my knees are doing. I have been working hard at the smooth return to standing, and sometimes I think I may have my foot in the wrong position so that it make my knee squeak ever so softly when I push back upright. Forced myself to do the entire 20 with 8 lb. weights in my hands, and boy howdy was I glad to take a rest break and big giant gulps of water between sets.

Not sure why the stiff legged dumbbell deadlifts off box require a box – could not recall the details and decided to skip the box. With the higher than usual rep count, I used the lighter 25 lb. dumbbells (usual for me is 30 or 35 lb. set) and went for the max, standing on the floor. Still working at holding the weights to trace the front of the legs, but mostly improving and not letting them drift off and dangle from the shoulders.

If there is a way to do stability ball leg curls so there are individual sides I surely do not remember, so assumed typo and did them the normal way. I keep thinking these get easier in time, but not happening for me. They are effective, thouhg.

I have been working at my curtsy lunges as part of the dumbbell matrix, but today I did just the body weight version with the reach across floor touch. No matter how I do these, I feel that icepick-in-the-side-ass every single time. But like the Bulgarians, my rib-tucking lean is improving and no lower back irritation from these. I did make the max reps of 20 per side on the first set, settled for 18 on the second side and called it good enough.

So exhausting are the leg curls and curtsy lunges, I made the executive decision to do glute bridges on the stability ball rather than 1-legged glute bridges. Since I was using both legs, I decided to shoot for double max reps, because I was using both legs and again, substituting means max reps are required, because it’s a rule. In theory it seemed terribly sensible. In practice and reality, I worked really hard to do good glute bridges and 40 reps later, I was so grateful to already be lying on the floor to catch my breath between sets.

It has been awhile since split squats of any stripe have appeared, but I remember the 1-legged dumbbell asymmetrical split squat from summer where we went through this List and I put forth a lot of effort with practice on it. Today I used an 8 lb. dumbbell, because I honestly cannot recall what I was using 5 months ago. It worked out fine and had no difficulty making the 20 reps per side.

The dumbbell sumo squats are part of the regular rotation. Today I used the 25 lb. dumbbell – lighter than my usual 30, but rep counts are higher. Surprisingly competent with them, although sweaty and gross does not even being to cover it. The sumos are my favorite of the squat variety; they seem to make sense to me and I can definitely feel those muscles working.

With anterior reaches, I nearly always prefer the walking version to the static, stand-in-place edition. Got my trusty 8 lb. dumbbells and traveled to and fro across the room until my count reached 40 (20 per side). My work with the dumbbell matrix is showing, because it was tedious going back and forth across the room to hit the magic number, it was not as hard or exhausting as I recall when last I went through this List.

It has been months since I actually used my mini bands, and today with the mini band swinging hip abductions, I realize my legs are stronger than the last time I used them. No issues at all with the heavy band around my ankles doing these, and next time I will definitely upgrade to the extra heavy or double up. I thought I might be sad about that, feeling as if I have sort of outgrown the band that once seemed so hard. But nope – exhilarated that I can actually perceive progress.

While I did not go through this precisely as ordered, I did stick close enough to feel the impact and the overall burn from the sheer volume of work. Huffy and puffy? Let us just say that those fairy tale pigs in the straw and stick houses had absolutely nothing to fear from me when I was done this morning. I walked out of the gym with soaked clothes and had to peel them off me before showering as if I had been standing outside in the rain and gotten soaked to the skin that way.

This was day 1 of the a series of Lists that J wrote for various body parts, and I am suddenly remembering why I once allotted 2 hours daily for practice. Because at first, no way, no how was I getting through even 2 sets of this List within my then typical 75 to 90 minute practice time. Even skipping my usual warm-up I would still be shaving sets or entire blocks off to get out of the gym on time.

It is intensely satisfying to go back to Lists that were once so very challenging and finding they still challenge me – this one completely kicked my ass this morning. Yet, I am so much stronger and yes, fitter, than the last time I remember going through this. Huffy and puffy when I left the gym, but not feeling completely wiped out and wondering how much additional time I should plan on to get through it next time. This morning I found I am more efficient now, my need to slow down, sit down, or just completely stop for a period between exercises or sets has decreased.

So gratifying. So delightful to see and feel that I have made some measurable progress.

While I went small or not at all with added weight today, it was good to test these waters again and see how it felt. Warm-up and 2 full sets took 90 minutes today, but perhaps I shall do better once I refamiliarize myself with the order.

I do not feel as if I faltered or even failed today. When I left the club this morning, I was walking pretty normally and without wincing. Several hours later and sitting at my desk, my glutes and legs are turning to stone. I am having to stand up and walk around to be able to continue to get up and move around, my lower half so sore from the fairly mild thrashing I put it through this morning. I phrase it that way because there was a time when I would get through 3 or even 4 sets of this List on a weekend day. Now, just returning to it after a several month absence, I feel like I have been bench surfing during my hours at the gym pursuing other Lists. Makes me grin hugely that they still have that much punch with so much new stuff in between.

For February I shall be back in this particular series of Lists on practice days, because there is enough overlap with the other exercises we are pursuing in training sessions to allow me to feel as if I am working at trouble spots or things I have forgotten about from lack of use.

It was an excellent practice, though. Anymore, anything that makes me think my limbs are made of curing cement from my early morning efforts is a Very Good Thing.

#exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #motivation, #positivity, #progress

Ready, set, start – and then keep going

No secret to anyone who knows me that I am a born-again exercise advocate who walks the walk as well as talks the talk. Unless I am conversing with someone who understand my usage of the words “addict” and “obsessive,” I rarely use those terms to describe my relationship with exercise, but in real ways yes, I am both an addicted to and obsessed with this process. In the best ways possible.

This was not always the case, though, and I am frequently asked how I got started and went from couch potato to regularly reporting to the gym 6 days per week. It is as if there is some secret formula or regimen I am following, something well beyond the pain and suffering that one must endure to get from there to here. Nope. Sorry to say, I did not get to skip the pain and suffering part, but your mileage may vary and your experience be completely different than my own. But the question comes up so routinely I thought it would be easier (for me) to summarize what I typically say in response.

Make small commitments at first. The commitment to exercise is not an easy one, especially if you are presently sedentary or taking steps to pursue a new or different forms of exercise. There is a lot more involved with deciding to pursue a healthier lifestyle and changing our habits; it goes well beyond the initial decision to do so. Rather than thinking in terms of going to the gym 3 days per week for 45 minutes, shoot for a decision on the days and a time for being in the gym period. While there, whether for 4 minutes of 45 minutes, exercise as much as you can currently handle.

When first starting out with the gym and working with trainer J, not much in my life or lifestyle changed immediately. While I was making our weekly sessions (at that time 8:30 on Thursday mornings), I was still keeping the same late bedtime hours and being very half-assed about my effort to get to the gym. About 3 months into our training partnership, J said he’d like to see me at least twice between that Thursday and the next Thursday. While I knew he did not say it with an “or else!” implied, that’s how I took it, and I took it seriously. For me, I had been kinda/sorta working at this for 3 months. For me personally, I decided that I needed to be in the gym daily for 30 days straight to make it a habit, and that’s what I did. Knowing myself, exercise had to happen before work and immediately began the process of shaking up my priorities to make room for the exercise every morning. I cannot stress enough how making the commitment and sticking with it for at the first 30 days was a process, not something that I just decided to do and it went smoothly straight out of the gate. Whatever your timetable, make small commitments, maybe 2 or 3 days per week for 30 minutes, and adjust to that before adding more to your workload. Consistency of getting to the gym and doing what you can is the only objective at first. Allow yourself to enjoy the initial small success before trying to expand into more days, longer times, additional exercise loading.

Be realistic about sacrifices. Whenever undertaking something personally painful, you have to be realistic about the trade-offs within the life you are presently living. We think it is not going to be that hard, that it’s “only” 30 minutes or an hour a few days per week. What are you doing with that 30 minutes or hour each day now? You are unlikely to be staring into space trying to figure out how to fill that time with activity. Most likely you have life commitments that expand and consume every waking minute of most days. Consider the things you will have to reprioritize or reschedule to make exercise a part of your life on a consistent basis. Plan for it. Schedule it. If you have to, make it a sacred space, something that only gets cancelled or rescheduled if there is a genuine emergency.

I typically spend a minimum of 90 minutes in the gym 6 days per week, plus another 20 minutes driving back and forth. I must get my exercise completed before my workdays begins, because (1) the gym is not that busy and I am less distracted by people everywhere, (2) my energy and focus is better first thing in the morning, and (3) once done with work, last thing I want to do is leave the house again. I allot 2 hours per day, 7 days per week, for exercise, and since most days I am at the office by 9, I have to be in the gym no later than 5:45 on those days. Before I undertook this schedule, I rarely woke up or got out of bed before 7 during the week, 8 or 9 on weekends. Almost immediately upon adopting this schedule I had to recondition my sleeping habits, or be cranky zombie during my waking hours. I had to manage my self-employment workload to ensure I did not miss deadlines due to my altered sleep schedule. My 11 p.m. to midnight sleep time quickly became 9 to 10 p.m. instead. The hours I once spent working on my self-employment jobs, reading, surfing the net, dawdling with other things I cannot even recall now had to be evaluated and reprioritized in favor of the exercise. It was not an easy transition, and it intensified my “I hate exercise” feelings at first.

Pursuing consistency in my exercise efforts is all about me. The choice to exercise for whatever reason may start because we want to lose weight or reshape our shape or spend more time with our significant other or active friends. As a starting point, it’s better than not getting up and off the couch. But honestly, for the long haul, you have to do this for yourself for reasons and motivations that are personal for you. Ask for help, ask for support, request accountability – but know that you, and only you, can do the heavy lifting to make real changes happen.

I won’t lie – M’s compliments and encouragement mean the world to me, as do J’s and other members I have met in the gym. There are friends I love and adore who are eager to hear about my fitness adventures and will actually text or email me if my recaps do not appear on Mondays and Thursdays by a certain time. Their genuine interest both humbles and inspires me, and it makes me sure that I am on the right path. There are also friends I have had to leave behind because I am taking care of myself and on a quest to improve my overall health. Why what I see as such a positive effort for me has turned them into toxic, angry, hostile forces in my life remains a mystery, but it is a reality I have dealt with and may possibly face again in the future. But no matter how nice the kudos and admiring words are and how GREAT they make me feel, this effort to be consistent and work hard is all about me and what I think, how I feel, my personal priorities and objectives. It is truly foreign for me to think so self-centrically, but I found that depending upon others to validate and recognize my hard work and effort had this weirdly discounting effect within my own head. The more I tried to tell them how great I feel about my pursuits, the hollower their replies and encouragement became in my own ears. Please understand, those in my own family and tribe of close friends (J included) have never been anything but completely sincere in their comments, but the more I spoke out loud with them about my challenges and overcoming them, the less I “heard” their genuine praise and joy in my success. Initially I began writing about my better health pursuits to give myself safe space to talk about it without creating this weird dichotomy that felt like an echo chamber of insincerity. Now I write about it because it has become a way to process the things I learn about how my own body works and responds to the workload I put upon it, and I have a record of where I have been and can see my progress forward. Plus I now have enough direct experience with the ups and downs of the journey to speak about what works for me.

Listening to body. Body understands what it needs and asks for it. Interpreting those requests and demands, though, can be a huge challenge. Especially after extended periods (in my case, most of my life) of ignoring reasonable requests. When first getting started with exercise, muscle aches are common, even expected. But as time goes on and muscles become accustomed to the workload, the aches tend to fade away. Stick with the exercise, and body and mind begin working together. Body starts asking for movement and opportunities to work, mind feels and enjoys the benefits. I do not think our bodies were designed for us to spend our lives sitting in chairs staring at computers screens for the majority of our days.

Whether I am hearing it clearly or not is an evolving process. At first all I could hear was pleas to stop. Stop pushing. Stop trying. Stop moving – now! Return to the couch. If we are going to lie on the floor let’s take a nap, not do those awful bridge things or worse, planks. Or the demands for sugar. I want a cookie, a soda, a donut, a piece of cake. Chocolate – feed me chocolate! Yeah, when J would suggest I “listen to my body” that negative noise was all I heard at first. There is a certain addictive craving for exercise now; it is the motivation that keeps me trying long after I am so sure (like 4 reps into a first set) I am absolutely done. I may walk into the gym feeling tired and completely out of it, but it rarely takes long for mind and body to get in sync and be working together and the feeling-good chemicals to be coursing through my system. At the same time, when I am consistently lagging, feeling flat, and tired, and distracted, I can accurately pinpoint when and how much sleep shaving I have been doing, how much crap I have been eating, and how long it has been since my last rest day. Body is telling me it is time to take a brief break – a complete day off of exercise or a change of pace with yoga or pilates is all it typically takes to refresh and recharge me. After so many years of not listening to body or listening through the filter of marketing about what body should want and desire, hearing my body’s requests is like a very tiny, quiet voice through a poor cell phone connection. Regular, consistent exercise must strengthen and embolden it, because I tend to get the message a lot more quickly. Only occasionally does it have to scream to get my attention.

Motivation may change and become clearer as your habits evolve. Maybe you want to start exercising because of a special event – a wedding, a reunion, a date with someone you met online. Your motivation is to lose weight and reshape your shape for this event that could be a few days, weeks, months into the future. The future event is your impetus to get started getting moving. Thing is, weight loss and reshaping our shapes does not always happen in linear and mathematical fashion, and such temporary, transitory motivation could be discouraging and disheartening. Anything that actually gets you up and moving is good, but finding the thing or things that keep you moving forward may not be immediately or readily apparent. Be open to new ideas and sources to inspire or keep you engaged in this process.

When I first began, I thought losing weight was my goal. Weight loss is a huge boon to diabetics, so the exercise would help me drop some weight, and since I was working hard and enduring this painful process of purposefully making myself sweaty and gross, it would influence and impact my eating. I felt sure the initial few pounds I dropped would motivate me. Except, the scale refused to cooperate. I would weigh myself and want to cry because there was no change or worse, I had gained weight in the week. It went from weight loss as motivation and scale as my measuring stick to weight loss never happening and scale as my enemy. It was me at my lowest and my worst, and the only thing that worked was throwing the scale away. Without that number dogging me and eroding my self-esteem, my exercise efforts improved. Then I started having blood sugar crashes, because I was now in the gym 6 or 7 days per week and still injecting the same amounts of insulin as when I was completely sedentary. I had to reduce my insulin dosage, which was this amazing magical thing that had never even occurred to me might be possible. Suddenly the motivation of better health loomed large on my horizon. Ultimately control of my diabetes was what I want, but I believed weight loss way key to that. No, regular exercise and better food choices are key to that.

Exercise is a daily choice. In its simplest form, exercise is a choice. To go to the gym or not. To go to a yoga class, or not. Unfortunately I am not athletically gifted, and I find the whole sweaty and gross process of my exercise pursuits is a conscious choice I have to make every single day. Trainer J is good but has no extraordinary powers that make me forget sweaty and gross is … well, kind of gross. There is no magic workout, exercise equipment, diet, or supplement that makes me healthier, thinner, stronger, or happier. Regular exercise, though, contributes to all of those things.

While rewarding and deeply satisfying, exercise is rarely happy-happy-joy-joy type fun. My alarm goes off at 4 a.m., and the 10 minutes I allow to wake up and drag myself out of bed feels like luxury, to turn off the alarm and be warm and snuggy under the covers with my eyes wide open. In that time there is opportunity to make another choice, to stay in bed and sleep for another 3 hours versus getting up and going to the gym. The consequences of not going are dire for me, though, but I think about and weigh them every single morning. Then I get up, I get dressed, I make and drink a protein shake, fill my water bottle, say goodbye to M (usually still sleeping when I leave), grab my bag and go to the gym. I do not allow myself to sit down, other than to put on my shoes, and I definitely do not sit down at my computer. I read my mail and texts on my phone standing up in the kitchen drinking my protein shake. Sitting down, especially at my computer, is sure to put my off my schedule and make me late. In the year plus I have been pursuing the 6 gym days per week schedule, I am glad to be have done the hard work to make this my routine, my daily habit.

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For a variety of reasons, I am far more tuned in to health and fitness marketing now than I have been much of my life. If there is an advertisement for weight loss programs, supplements, fast-and-easy fitness products on any media I am utilizing I seem to be aware of it. Mostly immune to their messages, fortunately, but the consistent exposure reminds me of what the average person sees and hears on a daily basis. I have no desire to join the ranks of marketing madness that bombards with craptastic thoughts and ideas to turn your life around.

I can hardly stomach their slick promises of how quick and easy their process, how you can be model thin in 10 minutes per day and never hungry subsisting on minimal calories or eating anything/everything you want. After more than a year, I am not thin and fat-free with nary a jiggly part left. And I am okay with that. I am in excellent health, have more visible muscle, and a much healthier outlook. My progress is not the stuff that sells gym memberships or anything else, and thankfully I am not in that industry and have zero desire to become peddler of false hope and promises.

The real person I am is the woman who has enjoyed some inside-outside success. My interest in helping anyone who reads and/or follows my blog find success as they define it (versus the mass marketing machine that tells us how we should look and feel) is genuine. I blog because I want to talk about this stuff, and this gives me a forum to do so without boring my family and friends into some sort of vacuous coma. Plus it helps me remember the why of it all when the question comes up again in the future. Except now that I have written it down so I can have an intelligent conversation no one will ask me ever again.

This post, my experiences – my thoughts and opinions are my own. Your mileage may vary, and personally, I hope your success far exceeds all your hopeful expectations.

#balance, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #mental-health, #motivation

PT-5: Working in the big boy’s section

Monday morning, training with J. Training days this year are interesting and intriguing thus far, and today we stepped forth into the big boys room. While I do not necessarily like being in there during busier periods, I do not necessarily mind while training with J. He’s like my security shield, in that I do not necessarily have to deal with the men people who can be kind of pushy about their own agendas and territorial about equipment.

Key Takeaways

Who knew elbows were so tricky? Of late here, I am looking at my elbows and what they are doing a lot more than I can remember. This is progress, though. When I have finally gotten the rest of the form down well enough, productively enough to to the point that elbows are next to be addressed.

There is part of me that gets concerned that I do not know how to relax and get the stretch portion of the exercise. That minor concern lives up there with my ongoing shrug challenges. It’s a newish tweak and cue; absorbing and incorporating it into my form more routinely to automatically and set-up will require repetition and practice.

I’m stronger. No question in my mind – I’m physically stronger. M compliments me lavishly on the reshaping my shape, J is very kind in pointing out some of my new muscle creases, and my friends are somewhat uneasy at my more muscular frame. Maybe I don’t look feminine anymore? Not sure. As I was telling another friend earlier today, a lot of people have serious issues with change, even change to friends and members of their realm.

Balance is one of those mysterious, amazing things that snuck up on me. This weekend we were in the sierras scouting snow shoeing locations for M. Wearing running shoes, I was able to walk carefully along snow and ice-encrusted sidewalks without slipping, sliding, losing my balance. The messages from body (all is well; lower body has this under control) to brain that there is no need to overreact with fear are being received. I was walking slowly and carefully – street running shoes are not great for snow and ice – but did not  have a quiver or hint of slippage.

Now thinking about winter hiking boots. For the 2 or 3 visits to snow crusted streets and roads each year. Not ever planning to go snowshoeing with M; I am vastly better suited and prefer to stay inside the climate controlled gym and do lots of squats or 1-legged things to continue to improve my balance. But winter hiking boots are on my shopping list of things to pursue. Maybe even this year.

What We Did

A1  Goblet Squat (3 sets, 25 lb. DB, 15-20 reps)
A2  Seated Cable “Stretch” Row (3 sets, no idea, 12-20 reps)
A3  Dumbbell Bench Press (3 sets, 25 lb. DBs, 8-15 reps)

B1  Dumbbell Reverse Lunges (3 sets, 15 lb. DBs, 8-12/side)
B2  Close Grip Lat Pulldown (3 sets, no idea, 8-15 reps)
B3  1-arm Dumbbell Overhead Press (3 sets, 15 lb. DB, 8-12/side)

C1  1-legged Cable RDL (3 sets, 30 lbs.,  6-10/side)
C2  Overhand Rope Facepull (3 sets, 40 lbs., 12-20 reps)
C3  TALL Rope Straight-arm Pulldown with Split (3 sets, 40 lbs., 8-15 reps)

How It Felt

The eternal goblet squat was among the first exercises I learned. The little kettlebell I used then was tiny in size, and it seemed so very heavy, maybe all of 5 lbs. Push through the heels, J said, and I tried, and my heels kept coming up off the floor. So we put weight plates under and that worked until I got a better feel for the ways this is supposed to work. Here we are today and the goblet squats make a surprise appearance. With my recent history and form critiquing and tweaking with the power squats, I was much, much better equipped for the goblet squats today. J had coached to watch for leading with the butt up on the rise rather than the straight up return to start, and the one time I felt myself leaning forward and leading that way, heels lifted and J pointed it out immediately. Makes me smile. No matter how proficient and competent I might feel, the trainer eye is still focused and seeing all.

While I know there is no one true, right, correct way to perform any exercise, my head gets wrapped around doing it in the truest, rightest, correctest way possible when J is layering in some new value onto an exercise I have previously learned. The seated row machine has been a tricky one for me. After many years of rowing on a Concept 2 rowing machine, it took some time to break myself of the habit of trying to push a stationary, immovable seat back with my legs and to not lean backward while pulling. Finally for the most part I had mastered the not lean at the waist and pull/row with the shoulders and the arch in the upper back. Today we ventured into the seated cable “stretch” row. Biggest difference that stands out in my mind is the lean forward “stretch” after the pulling back row part. For the most part I have the row pull with the shoulders and the upper back arch. From there back to the deep lean forward, arms extended into a big stretch, but without completely straightening elbows. This should not be as hard as it seems in my mind, yet brain has blown this up into a thing. Repetition and practice.

The dumbbell chest press is a staple and appears on a List a couple of times per week. These are fine, I do fine with them, remember to tuck the shoulders under (think shoulders back while lying on a bench instead of standing up) and work the arch in the upper back. Sometime in the last week we discussed the elbow bend, and eventually I will remember to remember it. After a couple, few weeks of using a pair of 20 lb. dumbbells much of the time, I graduated back up to the 25s. Tuck those shoulders under. Work that arch. The weights feel a lot less weighty when form is right.

One would think with my recent success with the dumbbell lunges that I would do equally well with the dumbbell reverse lunges. Remember the lean forward on the step back, remember the back leg is kickstand and the press upward to the return. Apparently I have not done these in awhile, because honestly, I had forgotten that they are essentially the same thing as the regular walking lunges only standing in place. For the space constraints of the big boy’s room, this was a perfect choice. Working on my hip hinge with this as well and how it all works together. Still, ridiculously excited about the progress and how much better these feel to me. Even a few months ago I was not this competent and accomplished with either rendition of this exercise.

Today we did the close grip lat pulldown, which I only vaguely remember from a few Lists ago. Mind says these are usually a lean back movement in the pulling down, but today there was no leaning back. Today there was just pulling down and feeling those lat muscles go to work, so much so I am still feeling the chatter right now. Seems like this was another one to keep an eye on the elbows, to not let them straighten out completely.

We have done several versions of lat pulldowns – wide grip, closer grip, underhand grip. Today was the first close grip lat pulldown with the actual close grip attachment. Feeling it in the lats, for sure. What seems most different about this one is the not leaning back as the pulling down. Breastbone still up and forward as pulling down, still arch the upper back, but I had to focus on not leaning back with the back this time. Arching upward is good, leaning backward is less good. Not sure I would characterize it as feeling it more so much as feeling the muscles in a different way, more in the lats versus in the center of the back between the shoulders. I think I need more data on this one to be absolutely certain of what I was feeling or not feeling.

I have fallen into deep infatuation with the 1-arm dumbbell overhead press. Once I get myself fixated on the scapular plane (aka the proper placement of my arm in relation to my shoulder), I find this trancy rhythm to elevating the weight up overhead and then lowering it back to the starting position. This is one of those exercises where I feel the fatigue building as we move along, versus other things where I suddenly feel done after some mysterious amount of reps and sets. Today’s version of this exercise was standing upright (versus prior version’s split stance) and lightly holding on to a nearby piece of big boy equipment for balance. For as ease of use as these are right now, it has been a long and winding journey. But for today, doing overhead presses with a 15 lb. dumbbell felt like a satisfying accomplishment simplified.

Former arch nemesis, 1-legged cable Romanian deadlift, remains on the nemesis list. Trainer J, so confident in my abilities, started me with 40 lbs. on the cable. The lasted a few tries, so I moved it down to 30 lbs., still an increase from the 20 lbs. I have been using and the correct weight for today. While I can feel my hamstrings and glutes working, for me this one is all about the balance. I have to focus. I have to go slow. And I have to accept that I may teeter and totter and fall over, fall down. But oh well. I find the more I do these, there are few options on outcome: (1) I overthink it and fall over every other one, (2) I am run the cueing in my head and enjoy more success that falling over, or (3) I slow to a complete crawl and force myself to focus and succeed. Today I had more success with 2 and 3, and that’s progress. I know I can and have done better with these; patience is not a virtue of mine and more practice will bring more improvement. At least I have set aside my internal frustration and feelings of failure.

The challenge of the day was the overhand rope facepull. We have done face pulls standing up, sitting down on the stability ball, on the TRX, with the stretchy bands. However, today was the first time with an overhand grip and it was like learning something brand new completely from scratch. At first, even watching J demonstrate how it was done, I had doubts. I did not see my arms bending in the same way, and mind was refusing to accept the reality of a different grip. When it was my turn, though, despite J having to remind me every single set that we were doing overhand this time, I got the hang of it pretty quickly and felt the effect on my muscles from the different grip. But when these appear on future Lists, I suspect I will be standing there puzzling out how to hold the rope until I get brain rewired to this alternative. It’s like being in kindergarten again when the teacher keeps handing me left handed scissors (to match my left handed writing style) and me finding they do not work with my right hand and not wanting to make waves by asking for the proper tools. I understand my weaknesses with habits; I will adapt in time.

The tall rope straight-arm pulldown with split – ugh. Everything where standing tall is part of the equation I find myself wanting to stand so tall I end up on tippy toes. Which is not a problem – tippy toes are probably fine – but I do struggle with the keeping arms straight on the pulldown and not allowing shoulders to roll forward. It’s a work in progress, because these do not seem to be popping upon on current Lists I am pursuing. That said, I do these most mornings as part of my general warm up with a band, and I do not feel like the shoulder rolling or standing tall is as much an issue. The cables do feel differently, and something happens in my head when I am looking at 40 lbs. of weight plate versus a green or red stretchy band draped over the TRX frame.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I always start posts in this section, because these are the most transitory of thoughts and ideas.

Today, it’s all about the wow factor. I mean, WOW! I’m still here. WOW! I know what I am doing. WOW! It does make a difference coming in and practicing.

None of these are new epiphanies; I have the same startling realization at least once a month, if not once a week. But it is worth mentioning because my enthusiasm continues and my hopeful pursuit of better performance and higher skill remains.

It’s not that we did all sorts of things that I have down cold, because truthfully, there is no exercise on any List in my possession that I am so extraordinarily confident about. There is always something new to learn, some tweak to master. Dumbbell and cable weights go up, go down, get forgotten and have to try until I figure it out. All good, though. At least I am moving something.

This morning doing overhead presses J was saying how the 15 lb. dumbbell I was hefting overhead used to be the eye-popping dumbbell weight. I can clearly recall starting with a set of 3 lb. dumbbells – so CUTE, like toddler-sized weights – and moving up through the ranks to 5s, 8s, 10s, 12s, and now 15s. At the same time, I am not crushed or disappointed if I drop down and use lighter weights. I have been successful in separating my ego from being responsible in my exercise. Some specific Lists – the dumbbell matrix, for example – uses just a 5 lb. set of dumbbells but the sequence, reps, and pacing of the exercises makes me feel the work getting done. And no matter how light or how weighty the weight, I am working. I no longer even have to remind myself that I am working when I have 5 lb. dumbbells in my hands. In my book, that’s progress.

I had a little crisis of goals, progress, process confidence yesterday, which is why this post is late getting finished and put up (now it’s Tuesday).

M and I – very different people with very different fitness pursuits and ideas about what is most important and enjoyable about the journey forward. M is an accomplished trail runner who finds such intense and incredible beauty in the outdoors. While I would never say he minimizes or trivializes my work in the gym, I would say his belief that I will eventually find more satisfaction and fulfillment in riding my bike outside since there is no way, no how I am ever going to evolve into a runner.

Not sure how to take that when it comes up in one of our offhand, casual conversations. My health – OMG, so grateful for the benefits of this work in and out of the gym. And I know it is a limitation to his own perspective of how much satisfaction I gain from being this far in my journey, much as there is a handicap in my own vision of his accomplishments and the work he does with his legions of runner friends.

But when you significant other takes stellar test results and sort of turns falling in love with exercise into a monologue about how pursuing bike riding or walking outdoors could make me fall into a different type of exuberance with fitness.

It is sometimes difficult for us to understand one another – Mars and Venus at their finest – and exercise and fitness are one of those great swathes of ocean in understanding. Unfortunately is kind of hobbles me momentarily when it occurs.

There is no setback to report. No release of negative girl into the wilds of my head. If anything, my resolve to work harder and do better is reaffirmed. At the same time, the timing is curious. I have just recently been thinking about getting a bike for a few reasons, probably the very least of which is cardiovascular exercise.

What M thinks, how M thinks – both matter a great deal to me. However, M is not suggesting I’m wasting my time or my time is the gym is wasteful. His priorities and interests are very different from my own and some lingering hope remains that I will fall in the same styles of exercise and fitness he enjoys. M suggesting I am wasting my time with the training sessions and practice – that’s the negative girl spin puts me into an intensely uncomfortable position. While I have a great deal more confidence, weaknesses and vulnerabilities remain.

M is fine. We are fine. My head is a little messy, but progress is that I used that small space of doubt and insecurity to double down on my efforts on my exercise efforts. Instead of the impulse to quit, I was more focused on my practice this morning.

Progress measured in success – what a novel idea. I love that.

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