Shaving sleep (day 19)

For numerous good reasons, I have not been sleeping well or enough this month. Last night I was up until well past midnight, and when the alarm went off at 4, and then again at 5, it got shut off and shoved under the pillow as I slumbered on.

Needless to say, no gym practice for me this morning.

Thinking about it throughout my busy workday morning, the extra 3 hours of sleep were almost mandatory. A bothersome trait I have about my better health quest is my inability to consistently implement a flexibility of mindset – I remain rather all-or-nothing when it comes to exercise and when I am at the gym. Slowly, oh so slowly that is changing, but it’s still hard. The apocalypse is not taking any notice of my activities (or lack thereof), because I wasn’t in the gym by 6 a.m. this morning nothing happened. Most likely the apocalypse will still be occupied elsewhere if I do not make it by 6 p.m. this evening. Heck, at this point I might need 6 consecutive days off to really fall completely out of my exercise habits and I am quite sure the apocalypse will remain oblivious.

But I think about it, probably way more than is actually necessary for any normal person. I imagine all the doomsday scenarios, everything from never getting up and to the gym in my preferred early morning hours and having to go evenings when it is busy/hectic/crazy everywhere to never going again at all. Of course none of that is likely to happen. Of course it has been a busy and strange month in a life of busy and strange days and weeks. I fear my own nutball craziness enough to respect that for all my good intentions, it is so easy to relax too much and find myself falling away from my hard work and good effort. Uncontrolled diabetes, weight gain, loss of strength is merely a few choices and justifications away.

As always, it is the small kernels of casual tossed-off information from training sessions that take root and bloom in my mind. J said something yesterday about another tribe couple he’s working with talking about his ability to get up and down off the gym floor with such alacrity, something I have also noted and admired and mostly chalked up to youth and fitness. But secretly – I aspire for something like that myself. I would like to be able to just get up off the floor after planking or hamstring curling or floor chopping and not be envisioning it as a strategic problem equivalent to unsinking the Titanic from the ocean floor. Little things, life’s more practical tasks – these are the stuff that compose my better health and fitness dreams.

So I’ll go to the gym tonight. Friend K once described a Friday night at the gym as the lonelyhearts club, which makes me laugh. I don’t care if people are dateless and desperate; I would just like it to be quiet enough to use whatever equipment I desire without having to negotiate for it.

And speaking of friend K – she deadlifted 270 lbs. last night. So very proud of her in this pursuit and even happier I was there to see it happen.

Just in case you’re keeping track, day 18 is a training recap and did not get finished yesterday. I am hopeful that it is published before the day is over. 

#august2017, #better-health, #choices, #consistency, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #positivity

Making up for missing a day (day 15+1)

So just after weenie-whining about my List of the day not sparking joy, I go roaring back to the gym and have this simply amazing experience. Not even sparks; more like sparklers or sky-filled fireworks sort of joy.

Well, okay, I might be exaggerating a touch with the ski-filled fireworks. But it was an awesome practice. I had donned my big girl capris and ventured over into the corner of the big boys’ room where the squat racks reside, determined to use them all by myself. It helps that the gym was relatively empty at that time of the morning (yet filled up to well past my comfortable capacity by the time I left 90 minutes later) and that a recent gym acquaintance was using the other machine opposite me.

Not sure why I get mildly to wildly freaked out being alone in that part of the gym. Probably because I do not yet know the rules of the place, if I am potentially stealing from someone else by taking a plate from another machine rather than the common area racks. To be fair, though, the jumping man was walking up to that rack just as I turned away from it with absconded 25 lb. plate in my hands. He didn’t say anything, though, so I skulked back across to my rack and tried not to feel like a criminal. Because somewhere out there, the guy who left multiple 45 lb. plates on my bar is roaming without a care in the world.

Anyway, I did pretty damn awesome, even with my rookie mistake. J taught me to do this version of the Romanian deadlift in ramp up sets, meaning a warmup (or 2) of just the bar, no weight, then add a 10 lb. plate to each end for a set (or 2), then another 10 lb. plate, and finally at 5 lb. plate for a total of 25 lbs. per end or 91 lbs. with barbell. Simple really; he even wrote it down on my List. Except I was ridiculously excited in my big girl capris and doing this all on my own and somehow forgot that it was 10 lb. plates I was using and instead added a 25 lb. plate to each end. Ooops.

No tsunami hit the gym and wiped me off the face of the planet. It did feel significantly heavier than I remembered (of course), and after 12 reps I was so done with that set. I then looked at the List on my phone more closely, realized my mistake, and texted J my oopsie. I could have dropped back down, started over with the 10s and worked my way back up, but he merely agreed with me on not increasing weight further today with added reassurance that this was not the apocalypse (true – no zombies spotted). Nothing snapped, crackled, or popped within body either, so I did my remaining 3 sets with 25 lb. plates and call it very, very good.

Other than that little hiccup, the rest of my day progressed pretty splendidly. Even the very end, when my lat pulldown machine was overtaken by a couple of elderly men who threw my towel on the floor and took over, did not harsh my buzz. I just picked up my towel and gave them a pointed (and completely ignored) look. Apparently as far as they were concerned I was some ditzy member who leaves her towel on equipment. I was in a pretty good mood, though, and not contemplating ways to rip their heads off and use them as bowling balls down the walkway to the front desk.

I felt better about the tree-hugging seated rows and remembered to keep elbows bent. I got through at least 3 to 4 good and 1 or 2 decent single legged RDLs with the 25 lb. dumbbell. I did not swear profusely at the stability ball with the hamstring curls and forced myself not to think about what kind of ick might be on the floor I was lying upon.

A good morning in my better health quest.

#august2017, #better-health, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #healthy, #positivity

PT-62: Negative thinking and realism (day 14)

Monday morning, training with J. We are still on our review, refine, enhance strength-focused Lists, and despite the post title, it was an awesome adventure in learning and working at skill updates. Lots of room for improvement, but if I were good at everything already J would have a client slot to fill.

Key Takeaways

It occurred to me today that I have some (previously) unwritten rules about how I conduct my practices. For the most part, they seem to work. And since I find myself now more capable than before, they are obviously working reasonably well. Specifically: can’t remember how many reps, do at least 15; lost track of where I am in set counts, do another just to be sure; left leg seems weaker, do it first; when it doubt about weights, start lighter. Simple, common sense (to me) type stuff.

Lots of semi-negative thinking going through my head today, ala “I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot.” To be fair, though, some simple-looking exercises are complicated and technical (looking at you, hang-and-bang). It’s not so much I am an idiot so much as some things simply do not always make sense, and even if they do make sense intellectually, translating that sensibility into making body do mind’s bidding is another matter entirely.

I probably have more to say on this topic, but a dear friend arrived tonight and I had to cut this section short to finish and get this post published. 

What We Did

Plate Loaded Squat Machine (2 25s/side)
Overhead Press on plate loaded squat machine

1-legged Leg Press
Bench Elevated Pushup

Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Medicine Ball Vertical Chops
Stability Ball Passes

How It Felt

I have not attempted this List on my own since it was introduced, and in some ways it shows, dreadfully. However, I am mostly okay with the plate loaded squat machine. The shape seems to be coming pretty naturally, and once I figure out where to plant my feet, place my hands, and what the lever (releasing the shoulder weight part) does, thing went very well. There is still some confidence building with it, but for the most part, I feel like I am squatting with proper form and technique. The little refinements noted above, with the exception of the weight release latch, are things that will become more natural and more comfortable with practice. Right now, it all feels new and different about what my hands and feet might be doing and impacting the working muscles.

The overhead press on the plate loaded squat machine brought forth an attack of the shoulds. Because I have not practiced these, it felt a little (sometimes a lot) awkward and like we were reinventing the wheel or discovering fire. I get the concept and know how it’s supposed to work and to feel, yet I was struggling mightily with the overall shape of the exercise. It’s different than when doing this with dumbbells, because the arms go up and forward, slightly away from the top of the shoulder where the overhead press with the dumbbells tends to go straight up and over the shoulder. It is not difficult for me to understand, yet for various and sundry reasons it was difficult for me to implement and execute. I did improve. I did get the stance down more completely by the third set. But damn – it should not be as difficult as I was making it this morning.

Rather than walking lunges or Bulgarian split squats, we returned to the favorite leg press and did single 1-legged leg presses. I was pretty pleased with my effort on these, because at 140 lbs. I was doing 20 without much trauma or drama. I forgot that we are in the midst of a strength-focus series right now and just kept going until I reached the typical 20 reps. Then J asks me how that felt – it was fine. So we bumped it to 160 for the next set, went through another 20, after which I finally realized (when J remarked upon it) that I was going for an 8 to 12 rep range, not the usual 15 to 20 or 25 to 30. Oops! Bumping it to 180 toned my enthusiasm for the bigger range, and I went from 20 to 10. J then went to 200 and suggested I do 5, just to see how it went and how it felt. It went, but it did feel challenging and  heavy.

Bench push-ups FINALLY make more sense today. FINALLY. I now seem to have figured out where to place my hands, how wide apart to put them so the working, feeling muscles are actually in the chest and not everywhere else. My range is still mostly 8 to 10, but I have higher hopes to advance past that now that I figured out how to replicate the feeling in multiple sets.

My secondary “you’re an idiot” soundtrack started with the dumbbell lateral raises. I knew these have not been going well lately, but I have been at a loss as to what to do about it. Sometimes they are better, but generally speaking – I feel like super stinky poo whenever I have tried for a variety of reasons. The bobbing up and down. The arms and shoulders and weird-ass feelings in both – not quite pain, but definitely not productive muscle-conditioning work. Yet it is not always or consistently every time, just most of the time. So today J tackled addressing it directly. Or tried, anyway; we may have to revisit to ensure body and mind are in sync about what needs to happen. Lead with the elbows not with the weights in my hands. Stretch arms out with an elbow bend. Kind of like chicken wings flapping is how I finally interpreted it. All day long when I have a free moment I have been sitting or standing and working and leading with my elbows while raising my arms. I think it might be sinking in, without weights in my hands. Next I try these, I’ll go light weights to get the shape nailed down more fully.

My most accomplished with triceps exercises has got to be the lying down dumbbell triceps extensions. I have been stuck on 15 lbs. for months now, but feel no super urgent rush to bump it up right now. Possibly I could sometime soon, but not today.

New pairing starting with the medicine ball vertical chops. I remembered how to do these, and the biggest issue is ensuring I do not go too far with the ball overhead. Putting a package on the shelf is the way J described it, and it makes my stop point far clearer. I’m feeling it in my core.

And finally, the stability ball passes. We have lately been doing a fair amount of regular ab work, and other tribe members are doing things like floor crunches followed by reverse crunches. I realized today that is kinda/sorta what this exercise emulates, only with the a stability ball going back and forth between hands and feet.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

After showering and getting ready for work, I was processing what we did today and how it feels in both body and mind. Part of me feels mind slip sliding back to negative girl territory in my self-assessment of my progress with this List to date. There was a faint “I’m an idiot” echoing in the back of my mind. In complete transparency, I have been gazelle-intense in examining my own motivation, focus, and drive of late anyway, so this was just more data layered into my analysis and equation.

Bottom line: I’m fine.

Rest of the story: I’m very occasionally terribly freaked out about my slo-mo forward progress to the point of breathing-into-paperbag panic over what it all means.

Reality check: It means nothing except a flashback crisis of confidence that will pass. Unfortunately the “very occasionally” description tends to happen in a condensed period of time, say 2 or 3 days in a month, 6-week period. It feels a lot more intense than it would spread out over the course of the entire period of measurement.

Like everyone who has a job and any sort of responsibilities, my life is not centered around the minutes and hours spent in the gym every morning. It is a definitely a big, giant, huge priority chunk of my daily and weekly routines, but it’s not the sole arbitrator of what I think, how I feel, who I am overall as a person. I’m not a person whose livelihood depends on how she looks in or out of clothes (let us all share a small prayer of thanks for that) or how much weight I can move to and fro. Regular person that I am means exercise and fitness is about my health, and while that does include my weight and body fat percentage, neither are a strong enough drivers at this moment in time to make me push hard, with focus and intensity throughout my List of the day. Not. Hardly.

I judge myself harshly, though, and while I do my level best to avoid compare and despair, I’m far from immune to it. But I also know giving myself too much of a free pass on this stuff leads to an easy laziness or lethargy about the work. I do have a strong desire to improve, advance (whatever that truly means to me), progress, be better. Going at 98.9% of maximum intensity (or even 68.9% if I am completely honest) is going to make some difference in my better health quest, but I am content enough at this moment to not feel the need to have to focus that kind of ooomph to make slow and steady results happen.

Maybe I am a “resistance train 2 to 3 times per week person” doing it over the course of 7 days most weeks. They why doesn’t matter much, because I presently cannot come up with a motivating factor, objective, or goal that makes me want to press onward with higher level of intensity most days of the week.

And I need to make myself get back to my happy place of acceptance. I am struggling with a lot of tiny fears and anxieties that are blocking me from getting there because I am allowing them to mushroom into nuclear bomb size clouds.

I am second guessing myself. In the present tense, I am struggling with how to write this, say it, in my usual stream-of-consciousness/unedited for anything style of blogging. My mindset and thinking are genuine examples of small-ball issues right now. In my effort to keep it real, I tell you everything, no matter how ridiculously silly and shallow it makes me sound.

In real life, what I describe here feels different, is very different, than that headspace I occupied for the better part of my start mid-2015 and well into 2016. However, progression forward for me is always part of a 2-step series where I might take 6 good steps forward and then slippy-slide backwards 3, 4, 5 again before hauling myself off my ass and back into proper training posture. I remind myself multiple times per day on a broad spectrum of topics that I am worthy and do work at earning the good stuff in my life. The cruel and unusual punishment I reserve to direct toward myself have toned down in their frequency if not their intensity. Admittedly that part is a ongoing work-in-progress that makes me squirm with discomfort to admit so openly.

I bring that up to frame this accurately in my own world view. Despite the vaguely uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach (aside from the focused core work that now appears on every List) about devolving into a dilettante about exercise and marching backward toward out-of-control blood sugar, I am doing fine. Food, the ongoing daily push-pull battle, is not the end of the world as I desire to know it. Making good food choices and eating healthier meals 75% of the time is better than 74.9% or less of the time, and it is a ginormous improvement from where I started or even a year ago. There is presently a chocolate cake in my kitchen that offers little temptation for me, and while I do imagine a very small scoop of ice cream this week, such things consumed in celebration are exempt from self-flagellation or over-thinking scrutiny (that’s another new rule). I am stronger than I was once and will again impose enough self-discipline to overcome the craving that single taste will trigger.

Self-doubt and negativity towards myself – this is a common thread throughout my life and times. Years of professional help have taught me a lot of tools to cope and battle back against it, but like diabetes or other chronic conditions, I do not believe it is curable. It’s treatable and it’s manageable, but there is no magical day in my future where the scars that shape me are erased and I am completely free. Acceptance of that means developing a more realistic and balanced frame of reference, where everything less than great is 100% my fault and everything else even 40% good is a stroke of good luck or the kindness of others toward me.

J made a curious, off-hand comment today in our post-session chat-fest. He corrected himself from using the “we” to “you” in an instance where discussing the work we were doing today. While technically more accurate – usually it is me doing the bulk of the sets and lying on the floor breathing hard and sweating through my shirt – I tend to think and use the “we” and “our” terms when describing this journey overall. Good coaching has made all the difference for me and for all the progress I have made – a lot of the credit should rest with J and his patience as well as skill.

And speaking of coaching, I get regular email updates from Pat Flynn (, another coach that is involved with my fat loss group. He has lately been writing a fair amount about motivation and mindset, and since he’s a pretty down-to-earth and sensible guy, I find much of what he writes and talks about very sensible indeed.

The last couple of emails have been about motivation, how many clients and people he works with talk about needing motivation before getting started with something and his solution is to get started anyway. Makes perfect sense to me now, and it got me wracking my brain if that was one of my excuses for not getting started sooner when the better health quest began. My guess: probably not. With exercise, my “I hate exercise” was the nuclear option (in my opinion) that pretty much covered it. When I hate something, no amount of pep talking pep talks is going to make me want to get up and get going.

Pat’s advice was the same thing M has told me for years and years: Do a little something every day. And when I made my choice to try to be in the gym twice more between sessions with J, that was my first thought: if I do a little something every day for a month, it will be a habit and I will be capable of moderation and coming in twice a week between training sessions. Seems like a simple choice, but it was a Very Big Deal for me at the time.

Am I motivated in the gym? Not always, but I do it anyway. Because I like the healthier, feeling better results. Such is my navel-gazing mindset right now: I am not really feeling the love for my pacing and level of effort, but I’m doing it anyway. Because it’s good for me, and while in slo-mo, I do like the better, healthier feelings that come from any effort expended.

Perhaps rather than turning negative girl loose in the wheelhouse to run amok and ruin my practices, I am being realistic, that I am not all happy-happy-joy-joy energizer bunny girl however many days I am in the gym per year. Maybe I am never energizer bunny level of energy any days I am in the gym each year. Level of effort and intensity could be unique to each of us, and my slo-mo is my best effort at being hyper-focused. I would never judge or be snarky toward another tribe member or anyone else, so I should be a little less judgey and snarky toward myself. I am present and trying my best, and as I continually remind myself, it is good enough.

And with these continual reminders, someday soon I will actually believe it 24/7. Until then, I will continue with my do a little something every day method of progression. In the 2-step dance, it’s working out for me.

#anxiety, #better-health, #confidence, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fear, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #mental-health, #negativity, #peace, #positivity

PT-61: Refine, review, improve (day 10)

Thursday morning, training with J. Of late we are doing a lot more review and refinement of the push-pull Lists with an eye toward improving form and technique as well as stay focused on the strength emphasis.

Key Takeaways

I still love review days. We could probably do review days forever and I would not notice much of a difference in how I feel about training sessions. It might get boring for J, but he would figure out a way to cope if that’s the direction we chose. Truth of the matter is I am not the one driving the List creation or what we do on Mondays and Thursdays; I like it all, even the stuff that sucks eggs. There are a lot of things I dislike to the edge of hatred and avoidance, but after I’m all done, I feel so great about having my big girl capris in place and showing that exercise who is in charge here. J is the primary decider in what we’re doing. He suggests a new direction – 100% of the time I say yay, let’s do that. If there is a choice I pick one and we do that. Or not. Sometimes he changes his mind at the last possible second and we do something other than the initially proffered choices. It makes no difference to me; I am a pretty agreeable sort anymore. In the big picture, there are other training days ahead and we will surely pick whatever mild preference I may have had during one of those future sessions.

What I don’t practice, my improvement is slow to stagnant. This is not me being a slacker; this is me being the realist that there are few practice days and a lot of Lists to pursue. But as I have been focused on improving my planking and floor chops/sit-ups, I have another pair to tag onto my daily practice for the next week or so to see if I can nudge that improvement and confidence needle in the positive direction. While I have the time to devote, I should utilize it and just spend an extra 10 to 15 minutes on the 1-leg RDL and stability ball hamstring curls as well.

Individual exercises are like icebergs; what you see above the waterline is a very small portion of the actual mass of the thing. Every week I have this realization about something that just walking by looks so easy. Lat pulldowns? Reach up, pull weight up by pulling down on the bar. I watch people do these things every single day in passing, yet I still have to remember all these little technical cues. Same with seated rows. Pull the weight up by pulling handles back toward the waist, let it draw you back. They look so uncomplicated, until you’re sitting in the seat and trying to refine form to wring the maximum work out of the impacted muscles or muscle groups.

Pacing, pacing, pacing! Weightier weights is only part of the story. Progress comes from how much rest between sets, how much idle time spent glaring at the machine that is not working adequately for me. I confess to frequently being indulgent with myself on my own; I am not necessarily going gung-ho full throttle from exercise to exercise to exercise and working, Working, WORKING at each aspect of my List. Not sure how ambitious I am toward this end; maybe this is where having goals comes into play? My mindset is get into the gym, work as hard as I feel capable of working and call it good. If I were working toward something specific, I might be more gung-ho about always pushing hard at improvement. Or my mindset would be locked-in on its present ho-hum sort of speed and I’d be feeling discouraged, disappointed, despairing, and very negative toward my slacker ways. The seeds are planted in my mind, have been for a while. Maybe it’s time for me to turn also put some focus and give some love to the idea of turning up the intensity.

Still, training of the body and learning exercise happens every training session. So does working on the mindset and nudging it along toward a different outcome. I do not minimize my gains in any area; I have worked hard to get this far. Awareness of the large open space that equals room for improvement is part of the long-term strategy, because ignoring it only makes me unhappy and discouraged. When I feel ready to address it in my practice, I will make it happen. Until then, encouraging myself is an adequate enhancement to what I do in the gym on my own.

I am good enough. The mere thought and understanding of how far I have come in being able to say that and mean it makes me feel really proud of myself. Negative girl and realistic girl have their place in my attitudes and impact on my behaviors, but the happiness I derive from being in the gym is so powerful it is truly life-altering and provide a sense of balance and new sort of satisfaction as to what is possible for me in all aspects of my life and times. I love that. I love the feeling of what healthier means for me and how good it feels inside my body right here, right now. Big win for me. Acceptance of where I am on this journey, happy anticipation of the next milestone to be named later.

What We Did

A1        Barbell RDL (ramp up to 91)
A2        Mini-band Lateral Walks

B1        1-leg DB RDL (25)
B2        SB Hamstring Curl

C1        Seated Low “Tree Hug” Cable Rows
C2        Low Facepull
C3        Horizontal Rope Chops

D1        Lat Pulldown
D2        Straight-Arm Rope Pulldown or DB Pullover

How It Felt

Having just done Romanian deadlifts (RDL) dumbbells in the previous 24 hours, I was in a good place to discern the real or imagined differences between the barbell RDL and those with the dumbbell. It’s the weight distribution, with the plates at the end of the bar and not right in front of my legs. I am getting the general shape and execution of these now. Keep upper body still while hinging at the hips, pretensioning the glutes and hamstrings to do the lift, and then pressing hip joints forward at the top while tightening those abs and glutes. We added another 10 lbs. of plates today, taking me from my prior high of 81 lb. to 91 lbs., so that was something new and exciting. Rep range is 6 to 8 for the strength emphasis exercises, and I went through 2 sets of 10 reps each without much difficulty. I got to use my pink weightlifting straps all the time today, too, so that was another win. I am still amazed what a difference they make for me.

Onto the next exercise, the mini-band lateral walks. Keep the upper body still – no swishy-swashy swaying going on – and go sideways. Back and forth a couple of times until feeling it in those outer hips. I do love my mini-bands, and maybe next I try this I will use the red bad (next resistance up). These are fun, effective on the outer hips, yet they seem to offer me no immediate feedback that legs are tired or hips are working. I am starting to really believe I am growing fitter, because stuff that used to be so exhausting and “is it over yet?” now is just sort of ho-hum and on to the next. Progress.

My worst nightmare: the 1-leg RDL with a 25 lb. dumbbell in hand. *le sigh* Okay, not my worst nightmare in the gym; probably my worst nightmares in the gym have nothing to do with exercise. I console myself that at least it is not getting worse; it is, in fact, improving, just not quickly enough for my impatient self. I am slowly improving at self-diagnosis of why I am weeble-wobbling (and after this much time I am surprised I am not more of an expert), and even more slowly correcting myself and breaking bad habits. Bottom line: more practice. Other than the occasions we have done these on training days, I don’t think I have done a single set of these on my own.

The stability ball hamstring curls – it’s becoming a neurotic exercise that makes me feel crazy. I know I am not doing terrible things with it, yet at the same time I feel like I am slowly backing away from the point of forward progress. Maybe my ambition for the last half-inch is eating me away and eroding my progress with other aspects of it. Thinking about it this afternoon, I have something new to try with the positioning of my feet and elevation of hips and angle of my feet on the ball as I am working. There is a short-circuit in my thinking and/or ability with this and I would like to expose and correct it before it gets to be my next tearful nemesis. I haven’t had a tearful nemesis in over a year and have been enjoying very happy and fulfilling practices in that time span.

In our last outing with the seated cable rows, J has been stressing and really working with me on letting shoulders relax into a stretch without allowing arms to completely straighten and elbows locking out. Part of his job and what makes him really good at his craft is finding lots and lots of different ways to say the same thing until something sticks with each individual client. Today he came up with a new term for me: we now refer to these as seated low “tree hug” cable rows. The visual works very well for me; keep my arms “short” with elbows bent on the stretch while leaning forward with shoulders first, not from waist and upper body, and pulling back with the shoulders and arch, not leaning back at the waist. Such an ongoing challenge for me. I have on 2 occasions owned and utilized regularly a Concept 2 rower, and most of that comes from pulling and leaning back from the waist. With the new “tree hug” cue in mind, I focus more on the position of my arms and leading with the shoulders on the return.

From there we went to the cable machine and a low facepull. Facepulls are usually from a higher position cable setting, but this worked fine for me. It’s the overhand/underhand that typically messes with my thinking, but we haven’t had that distinction in a while. I’m feeling pretty pleased with my efforts with these of late, and J was kind enough to snap a couple of pictures to show my emerging muscle definition. It was quite thrilling to actually see the defining creases in my upper arms and shoulder caps. I mean, I actually have such things now.

While I freely admit to not being much of a chop fan (floor, cable, stretch band – you name it, none of them appear on my favorites list), I do get the greatest return on investment with the horizontal rope chops. For the most part I have the foot positioning down (parallel) and the anchoring arm/hand furthest away from the cable, and the partial rib tuck (to tighten the oblique) and the lead with the hip while pressing out with the rope. I understand the cues and what I should be doing, but the execution is frequently awkward and not quite as I see it happening in my head. With the horizontal version, I feel the closest I get to performing a fluid and controlled chop, versus this sort of hail Mary hopefully-in-the-ballpark-of-mostly-correct. But like the 1-leg RDL, these do not get trotted out for practice much, if any at all. There are other Lists with different challenges that get the lion’s share of my time and attention.

The lat pulldown – I feel like the special needs tribe member with the lat pulldown. We are back to the wide bar, and I am up to my old tricks of not learning to naturally let my shoulders relax into a shrug at the top. We had multiple tries today, and after watching J demonstrate (again), I am closer than I was last week. But my stubborn mind does not seem to want to grasp all the technical details of this all at once. Pulling down with my elbows and releasing up with my shoulders – I continually want to lean back from the waist on the way down (versus using my thoracic arch) and lean forward from the waist and shrug up unnaturally at the top. Yes, there is a shrug at the top, but it’s supposed to be from the shoulders relaxing, not from me leaning in from the waist. Walking by enroute to and from the locker room, people doing these make it look so easy. All that plus retain a bend in the elbow. Maybe next I try this I should pretend I have no arms on the way up? I am not sure it could be any worse than what is already going on with me. And that’s not to say I’m doing horribly with it; my mind believes it should be simpler than it is for me. I also get that J emphasizes what he emphasizes because he wants me to learn to get the maximum work for my effort. My usual solution (more practice) applies here as well.

And finally, the straight-arm rope pulldown. I am undecided if I am happier with the rope or the straight bar, but mostly I’m happy that I long ago grasped that correct form for this version is butt back and back and arms straight while pulling down with the rope and then splitting it at the bottom close to the body. I had observed others doing this with a more rounded back, so of course I wondered and had to ask about it. Those other people – maybe it was accommodation for their bodies or maybe they were doing it wrong. For me, I am doing it correctly as taught by J. That is truly what matters most to me, because I’m doing well and improving as the weeks pass.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I read this great term – compare and despair – on another blog today. Having never heard that before, I thought it quite brilliant for encapsulating a process I have had to diligently work at abandoning as unhealthy for me. Without thinking I do still fall into that trap, but I do my best to quickly scurry out and away from it.

Comparison is the thief of joy – and self-esteem. I need no help beating the crap out of myself; I have a built-in negative girl locked in a special space for those occasions. It genuinely shocks me when anyone speaks of something I do or have with even the smallest note of covetousness, because I am so invisibly average in my own eyes. Able to lift more? Who me? Have you seen [insert names of numerous ladies far stronger]? Better control of diabetes? It does not appear to be hard-wired into my genetics; everyone in my family similarly afflicted has lifestyle issues that are direct contributors to this condition.

My blindness to any and all attributes I may possess is essentially 99% complete. As an example: in the big boys’ room at the gym this weekend, I was doing bent over rows and looked up to find some guy sitting across from me on a bench and seemingly staring down the neckline of my top. Kind of ewww when I our eyes met and he didn’t even blink, but whatever. Next set he was still sitting there, so I turned my back and decided my ass was much more attractive and he could stare at that instead. By the time I turned to put my weights down, he’d moved on.

But my initial instinct was not that he was staring at my cleavage, and to be completely fair and balanced, he might have simply been staring into space and not seeing me at all. Nope, my initial instinct was what could possibly be so wrong that the man was staring? My hair? Stain on my leggings? Form completely awful? Handling the weights inappropriately? Turning my back and ignoring him was all about me and my stuff; the least disturbing thought to me was that he was looking down my neckline and I would rather not imagine what imperfection he might be laughing on the inside about so I turned my back and forced myself to stop thinking about it.

Since I am 56 years old and do not dress to attract attention in the gym – I buy and wear clothes that are comfortable and please me and my eye – it shocks me when anyone takes any note of any positive thing I might be doing. Always my mind sinks to the worst case scenario. Compliments, kind words, even silence from J when we are training (because no correction or adjustment is needed) are treated in my mind like rare and precious gifts. But comparisons? Only as a cautionary tale of what not to do. Mindset is changing, slowly, because I have some accomplishments worthy of pride. But it has taken a lot of work on my part, and it is hardly a stroke of luck that got me from where I began to where I am right now.

I know other people work very hard as well, and I admire that. But better health is my priority, so that’s also my focus and what gets the lion’s share of my available time and attention. M and I have discussed working out twice per day, something I do once or twice a week right now and primarily for the social aspect of it. However, I also recognize that my weaker intensity, focus, stick-with-it-ness in my own practices does contribute to a desire to do more work. IF I were only more efficient more of the time, I would probably get more done, make faster progress. But I am realistic; I am not to the point where heart and mind want that accelerated progress enough to pump up my intensity and focus. I work longer at my degree of effort, and sometimes it means I have to work a lot more and a lot longer duration than others. I don’t think that makes me wrong. I do think it makes me and my objectives different or on a longer timeline.

Occasionally, I think I need to try harder, be more of a badass who is into her List of the day to the exclusion of everything else. Unless I am in the right frame of mind or playing beat the clock with my gym time, pressuring myself that way only stresses me out and leads to feelings of being a loser. I know I am pretty far from being a loser; I have made significant positive inroads on my better health quest. But my mind can forget those advances in a hot second, and if I cannot maintain my mental discipline and shut off that negative noise, I am going to find myself sledding down my better health iceberg with negative girl at the helm.

Mindset – it’s not something to be blown off, pooh-poohed, or minimized. I take it seriously enough to stay aware of where my head is at while I am at the gym. Many, many, many Monday and Thursday mornings I have not felt like training, yet my hyper-responsible self insists that I go because we have an appointment. Mostly I shrug off the sense of dread by the time I am halfway through my warm-up, my sense of adventure and desire to learn something new kicking into higher gear. While I might be moving sluggishly during transitions or from exercise to exercise, I am giving it my best effort. There have been times when that has not been true, that I felt my best effort was so inadequate why bother trying? Not me, not in a very long time.

I like the gym as a happy place. There are things I dread, groan, bitch, moan, complain about, but I do it anyway. Because it’s good for me. And when everything is said and done, it leaves me feeling great. Still, I reserve my right to dread, groan, bitch, moan, and complain about that which I dislike. It is good for the soul.

With my inchworm forward progress with exercise, I have to be honest about less success and advancement with healthy eating and diet. The struggle with my fork continues and it’s not pretty, uplifting, rainbow-farting unicorns.

For the most part, I do pretty well with healthy food choices. It’s the non-most part – probably 25% of the time – where I falter and gives the most grief. Protein shakes as meal replacements work well for me, as do big-ass salads and eliminating most processed foods has made an enormous difference. Limiting my carbohydrates makes a bigger difference than I ever realized.

It took me more than a year to get to the point where I mustered the ability and discipline and support-related resources to pay attention and work at this effort consistently. As it is, I am imperfect in my efforts. My stress-eating behaviors still rear their ugly heads, and I give up and give in to temptation. It happens more than I want, but it is not the end of the world.

And this is a win for me – that it is not the end of the world. In the two-step dance of lifestyle changes, this is just another of the one-step back in the enduring, life-long process and quest. Being imperfect in my eating strategy this week is not the hill I die on, but a mere molehill on the upward climb through the rest of my life.

I love that simple yet profoundly fundamental change about me, recognizing that I have overcome more than one obstacle over the course of my life and the push-pull in the day-to-day business of living continues despite of all that happened then, or happens today, tomorrow, the rest of my life. Whatever less beneficial choices I may make in the here and now do not mean I lose all my gains to date. My acceptance of that has been a game changer.

And acceptance – for that I have an amazing cast of people who make me want to be better. May we all enjoy happy, healthy lives for a long time to come.

#august2017, #better-health, #confidence, #consistency, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #mental-health, #positivity

PT-36: Nuance, understanding, growth

This recap is being published on May 10, 2017, nearly a week after the actual training session of May 4, 2017. Last week was insanely busy and social with my birthday, and I am spending this week catching up.

Thursday morning, training with J. It’s my birthday – I’m officially 56 today – and I am in an exceptionally great mood and riding the good feeling wave of positivity about the next year and all it holds for me. Training days are always fun and add so much to a regular day. Training day on my birthday is better than cake, and anyone who knows me knows how much I love me some cake. And I don’t just say that because I cannot really eat cake; I say it because it’s what I say pretty much every week, almost every single training recap. As my friend and gym sister K said in the birthday card she gave me, I am flaunting my fabulosity.

Key Takeaways

If every I question my expanded ability after this much time, training, and practice, I need only look at these plexes for affirmation of my progress. When I first learned these, I allotted 2 hours for 2 sets. Now, if I am reasonably disciplined and focused in my effort, I should be able to get through warm-up and 3 sets of this List in 75 to 90 minutes. Add to that – I am using weightier weights as well and have new twists and techniques to make the heavier loads seem about the same as where I was before.

It occurred to me earlier that me and exercise is an imprecise, imperfect fit, and this phenomenon is not limited to me and my ability past, present, or future. Everyone struggles with something, everyone has their own learning curve. Even those who are athletically gifted or naturally talented have to learn their skills from someone or somehow. My black-and-white view of this type of activity has matured. While not everyone can do what I am presently doing (or wants to for that matter), everyone with the ability to move at least some of their limbs is capable of doing something. On either end of the spectrum there is a little sliver of those who cannot do anything and those who can do just about everything. In between, the rest of the real estate is occupied by regular people like me who try their best to learn to move in a healthy and productive manner.

What We Did

It was review day, so the List was same as Monday with a couple of minor modifications:

QUAD-PLEX 1 (3 sets today)
DB Bent Over Rows (20 lb. DBs)
Triceps DB Extensions (15 lb. DBs
2-DB 1-legged RDL (12 lb. DBs)
Mini Band Lateral Walks w/ Goblet Holds (20 lb. DB)

QUAD-PLEX 2 (3 sets today)
Seated 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 (2 sets today, because there was extra time available)
DB Pullovers
Alt Band Archers
Bench Reverse Crunches
1-legged Hip Thrust (off bench)

How It Felt

There is something very satisfying about rows in general, although lately the dumbbell bent over rows have been creeping into then List rotations more and more. I certainly don’t mind and really don’t care much what is on the List of the week, but every week, every List seems to have a row variation (or three) on it.  Possibly just because I feel confident with them and the confidence has not come without a fair amount freaking LOT of consistent practice. At various points in my history I had thoughts about not ever getting better or getting bored with these. Like so much in this realm, there is always something else to learn, some form-related tweak to master. And when I feel like all that has been conquered, it’s time to move up to a weightier weight. Circle of life.

Arms are kind of a big deal; I have actually lost friends over the size of my arms. The months have passed and I have learned all sorts of ways to work my triceps and biceps. The triceps dumbbell extensions are another steady staple, and with my more recent tighten abs and glutes pretensioning and tightening to pull the weights back up makes this feel like a new way of moving and isolating/working my triceps. I see signs that the work is making a difference for me.

For this review day, J switched out the 2-dumbbell 1-legged Romanian deadlift for the 2-dumbbell front reaching lunges. Since rear foot remains on the ground (rather than floating in the air behind me), balance was not an issue and the work is very much the same. I like these better, because it has the impact of making the whole day feel more successful.

The mini band lateral walks with goblet holds are practically a whole body cardio exercise. If the mini band walking is enough to work the lower body, adding the weight wakes up the abs. and the squeezing of the dumbbell in the goblet posture lights up the lats. Going through these certainly brings out the huffy puffy.

I try to treat the seated band rows as fraternal twin of the seated cable rows machine downstairs. Not sure I am completely successful, but the basic shape and motion feels similar. Shoulders back, pull with the shoulders (versus pulling with the arms) and going as quickly as possible.

Significant improvement with the bench triceps dips once J worked with me on the 90 degree angle of legs and hips/upper body and lowering myself with that shape. My what a complete difference that made. Kept my shoulders back and could feel the triceps working versus sort of using hips to brace the movement.

Working on my shoulders with the dumbbell alternating front raises with contralateral steps. Not a whole lot to say about these, except I feel like they help my balance. No weeble-wobbling on one leg, but right step sideways while raising left arm (with weight) in front of me feels like stretching mind’s capabilities with walking and chewing gum.

Making some progress on my arch nemesis, the pushups off dumbbells on the bench. I am making progress, but somewhere along the line between last Thursday and now (it’s the following TUESDAY), I have decided that I need to do a set of at least 10 pushups every single day. Because I know I can do it, and I know improvement will happen for me. But I forget. I get busy, or I’m chatting with gym pals, or I am exhausted from the other 3 sets and blocks of exercises I have done in a practice. But I am determined to not be the only person in the damn tribe who has been training with J for nearly 2 years and still needs a lot of coaching on a pushup. Not even an on-the-floor pushup either. I want to think this is a sad state of affairs, but I have to be realistic. My ability (or inability) to successfully do a pushup is unlikely to impact anyone else. And I’m probably not that sad either; I have lots and lots of other things I could be doing to build and strengthen the same muscles. Perspective can be a beautiful thing.

Big, giant affection fest for the 1-arm dumbbell rows with the incline tripod and weighty weight. While the bent over rows are elevating in my affections, these bad boys still have a pretty firm grip on my heart. With using the incline bench for support (knee on bench, hand on seat of inclined bench, hand on back of incline part, foot on floor completing the tripod effect), I get a lot more support and traction out of pulling with my shoulder.

Potentially the favorite triceps exercise in current rotation – the band triceps kickbacks with a slight torso rotation. For once it’s not just because they are easy for me and I feel confident with them. If anything, they feel a bit more complicated than others, with the set-up and not yet immediately recalling which way to slightly rotate the torso (trial and error is alive and well for me). But the feels – the feels are pretty damn amazing. I vary band coloring – sometimes the green one, sometimes the yellow one, sometimes the red one – and I keep going until the muscle burns up. The energy expenditure is (or at least feels) very different than when I am lying on the bench doing triceps extensions or sitting on the bench doing the overhead pullover things. Thinking about it, I really like the way mind engages with the bands and the muscle simultaneously. I marvel at the way it works with me.

The band squat to rows are a staple on my warm-up List and not something I typically pursue. Maybe I am a purist at heart and want to enjoy my squats and enjoy my rows individually and on their own? I am pretty competent with them and know that I should be using the heavier band (rather than my beloved medium green one), and for this List I probably will continue with the heavier one so I get more burn for my buck. They are just not something that inspires ridiculous excitement.

Potential new arch nemesis waiting in the wings with the low-to-high band choppers and their ilk. Possibly it is my confused inability to master a lateral lunge, but since that is part of the process of doing the low-to-high on these, it seems a natural extension that I might have some issues improving on these. More and more, I think it’s my stance – damn feet have tiny little minds of their own. For most choppers, I am reasonably sure about the footing with each, where the foot closest to the band/cable is positioned further behind the line of the band/cable and the other foot is closer to it. Mostly I have that part. Width of the stance, though, seems like it needs to be adjusted somewhat. Plus the pivot food seems to wander and the stance widen as we move along and requires some adjustment. Not the end of the world as I know it, but another thing I try to pay attention to in the moment.

Since we have increased the dumbbell weight (from 25 lbs. to 30 lbs.), I am loving the dumbbell pullovers. Along with the weightier weight, I learned how to tighten whole body – glutes, abs, chest muscles – to pull it up and over my head. Spreading the work out makes me perceive this as not as difficult or heavy in the less desirable of ways. It’s an invigorating type of challenge and took something was sort of ho-hum and made it so much better.

The alternating band archer rows are the tranquil moments rows. I like these, a lot, because they are different and relatively simple to pace and to manage. I can feel myself doing the work of pulling band, but for once I feel almost graceful with the step rather than off balance, clumsy, or awkward. It’s refreshing.

I did surprisingly well on the bench reverse crunches, hips elevating pretty well and high off the bench. J was telling me I’d soon be dragon flagging, which of course I’d never heard of and he demonstrated for me. Dragon flagging is not anywhere in the future I can envision right now – I will just continue pursuing good form and more reps per set on the reverse crunching for now – but these days I believe my potential for just about anything given enough time.

There was a time very early in my consistency pursuits where I did 1-legged hip thrusts off the bench every single day as a warm-up. I cannot recall liking them much at that time either, but after a long slumber and multitudes of Lists without them, I can see where my distaste would surge to the forefront again. Oh well; I cannot love everything. But I do see grounds for improvement and old cues coming back to mind that will make these more bearable until they are the tolerable end to a fun List. It will happen.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

The number one reason I try hard to start and finish my recap posts on training days or the day immediately after is simply to capture my thoughts while fresh. I do scribble notes, cues, things I want to remember about the day, but the writing/blogging experience is a lot more pleasurable and satisfying when the thoughts and ideas are fresh. As it is, nearly an entire week after the session, the thoughts are stale and unremarkable. Believe me, I have burned through quite a few exercise brain cells in the last 10 days.

What does come to mind is marketing.

Our gym, like others everywhere, has a presence on social media, TV, radio, etc. Because I do not listen to local radio stations or watch network TV, most of my exposure comes from my very small and light footprint on Facebook. Last week they were highlighting correspondence from another member about her experience working with another trainer at another club. While I am happy that her experience and results are positive, the way the letter was written has me questioning the realistic view of her results. For example, she cited signing up for 4 weeks with her trainer and preparing to sign up for another 4 week session and having dropped 3 or 4 (from a 16 to an 8) dress sizes from that. Each of us, our experiences are different. But if that is true for her, it’s not a normal or average experience for a training client.

It bothered me, and I had to break it down and examine my own feelings to figure out why it bothered me. Am I jealous because my experience is so different? Am I upset because she was able to do something so miraculous? Let me be clear: I am over the moon delighted with my results. My better health quest is a rousing success thus far and I really want to maintain it and could care less what the tags inside my clothes say.

Why it bothered me – I think I now have enough knowledge and experience to question the validity of what was presented. Marketing in fitness seems almost dangerous in its irresponsibility, selling dreams to those who want the simple solutions for complex problems of weight loss and lifestyle change. My journey is completely unsexy; getting off medication is not something that is measured on a scale or with the tape measure or with former big jeans that now pool around my ankles. I vastly prefer the before and after photos where the person has not lost any weight yet looks visibly trimmer and carrying less fat.

But as J says, that’s not sexy. Reality in fitness is rarely sexy. Reality for normal people leading normal lives – there is no 6 week transformation that does not involve surgery or crazy diets.

I have come to despise the marketing in the health and fitness realm. Where I once, naively, would be happy for people sporting svelte new bodies after a couple of months on small quantities of highly process prepackaged cardboard, I know enough of them who were back where they began with more weight on their frames after return to eating real food.

My own journey is not sexy and is pretty unexciting to watch as I plod along from List to List and learning new things, slowly layering in some additional muscle and burning away fat. Lifestyle change is a lot of hard work, sweat, tears, and occasionally blood. It’s going to bed early to get up to get to the gym. It’s giving up eating anything I want whenever I want and being sensible about healthy eating. Yeah, my time exercising is excessive to just about everyone, but so are my working hours. Now that I have this much time in my day devoted to my better health quest via exercise, I wonder what I used to do that gobbled up all that time and left me feeling so exhausted all the time.

Essentially, it’s about choices. I only wish that those selling products and services were more transparent and honest about what they are shilling. And that people desperate for easy answers would learn to accept that there are no shortcuts to losing weight and keeping it off, to getting fitter, to improving health. I, too, want to believe some of these miracle solutions actually might work, but the last couple of years have hardened and kept me rooted in the reality that lifestyle changes are hard and take commitment and consistency. And it irritates me the media shading on what lies within the realm of possibility, no matter how remote or unicorn-ish.


#diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #mental-health, #positivity, #progress, #results

This date in history

Dr. U went over my latest labs, my A1c is at 11.4. Disappointing. After getting it down to 7.2 just over a year ago, here we are again. Humalog increased to 20 units before breakfast, 28 units (each) at lunch and dinner. Scale has gone from 1 additional unit for every 25 points over 150 to 1 additional unit for every 20 points over 150 before each meal. Lantus is on the upswing as well – 30 units morning and bedtime. We are going to discuss adding yet another injection medicine – Victoza 

Yet here I sit writing this drinking a glass of coke and eating pizza for dinner. I deserve to die via the slow diabetes death spiral because I have zero self control and no motivation to try to exercise. My rower is sitting in the front room right next to the arc trainer and the set of dumbbells. M is running 20+ miles daily and I’m sitting here swigging soda and eating junk food. I also deserve every side-eye glance of disdain and disbelief I get from his old running friends. I’m such an embarrassment.

That was an entry from my personal journal dated May 7, 2015. From where I am sitting right now, it’s painful to look back and to read.

In another 3 weeks M and I would be signing up for gym membership again. It would be another month after that before J’s then-manager would get in touch with me about personal training. Because both the membership and fitness managers in 2015 have moved on to other clubs or ventures, I can be truthful in saying they let me down. The membership manager told me he would have J call me, and it would be another 3 weeks before the fitness manager reached out about scheduling. With the confidence I now possess, I would have been far more assertive and contacting her rather than waiting and burying my head in the sand about getting started. But this is now, that was then. My expectations of painful, awkward meetings and crashing and burning in 3 sessions was profound and not a venture I was eager to begin. It shows in my response to her, that while justified and measured, is still sort of passively-aggressively telling her she dropped the ball and that I am not happy about it. I ended up apologizing, because if I am going to complain about something, I am typically far more direct and factual about it. My doom-and-gloom pessimism and anxiety about trying to work with a trainer had me in its thrall.

What a difference 2 years and a lot of time spent in the gym toiling at my Lists.

It has been a busy week, my Thursday recap still languishing in my drafts folder. I took a couple of days off from the office and was busy being leisurely with other things. Since I nearly always take the same couple, few days off each year to celebrate my birthday, I like looking back at what I was thinking or feeling or writing about in my private journal, assuming I took the time for an entry.

The improvement in my self-criticism and viewpoint is almost impossible for me to read. Because I thought I was doing so well at that point. To be fair to me, I was doing well enough at that point. I had nothing else to compare to it and no particular reason to feel like I could ever do or be more.

Life is still imperfect with so much room for improvement. But what I thought about me then, what I think is possible for me now – lightyears of difference. I have had to work so hard to like myself, to not compare and highlight all the faults and ways I fall short when compared to other people. What I think and how I feel changes as the days pass. Maybe it’s just maturity, or the change in prioritizing myself and my needs. No matter what the rhyme or reason, I am grateful to be standing here and looking backward at who I was and the real positives in the quality of my thoughts and behaviors.

I have come a long way. And my personal yellow brick road continues to stretch out in front of me into infinity.

And now I am off to the gym to pursue a List of the day, and to make myself do some push-ups. Arch nemesis will only be conquered with time and practice, probably A LOT more practice. And I remain ridiculously excited about the idea.

#diet, #eating, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #mental-health, #positivity, #progress

PT-33: Hello again

Monday morning, training with J. If last week was sort of “meh” and ridden with malaise, today my intent came roaring back with “oh HELL YEAH!” type giddy-up and go sort of enthusiasm.

Key Takeaways

Even if I did not always feeling as if I am sidling along and inching forward with spare micro-measures of improvement sometimes, today would still be an eye-opening step forward. On something recent like floor chops, I feel more competent and proficient than I did when they first appeared back on the radar a few weeks ago.

Did I love this workout because I feel more successful with it or am I more successful because I feel greater affection toward it? If I’m honest about it – and I am always brutally, verbosely honest about gym stuff – it is definitely the former. When I look back at the List in its original form, it had dreaded things like floor sit-ups (or chops) and planks and plank-like things. Core stuff is rarely never (thus far) included on my greatest hits.

Most of the time I recognize how far I have come on this exercise and fitness journey. Sometimes, though, it’s highlighted in neon lights and makes me want to happy dance through the gym crowing about my progress. While I am not the peppiest, highest-energy tribe member or even gym member, I do okay with what I do most days. And I love that I can recognize and speak my truth and not feel self-conscious or as if I am putting on airs or casting aspersions at others around me. For each of us, the journey is unique, with its own successes and setbacks, and it most definitely is not a race. Some days, though, I just feel like a bigger victory lap is in order.

This List – it’s been at least 5 months since our last review of it, and I probably have not touched in since early January. While most of the exercises appear on other Lists, the ordering and progression of things does make a difference to me. It keeps it fresh and not boring. The workload distribution is different every day, every List. And if I  have to talk about feelings, it just makes me happy to have some variety and to return to things I had mentally and/or emotionally set aside as hard or too hard and find they are now not as difficult as I recall. Because I am stronger from all the other stuff I have learned and diligently practiced in between.

And sometimes still, I get overwhelmed with gratitude that I have come so far, that I can now do things that I distinctly remember feeling disappointed and borderline ashamed (at the time) that I was not quite up to snuff with when introduced. Maybe the teary emotionalism is that I am over the shame of set-backs and not-quite-there-yet moments with exercise. Plus I have come so far from from where I started, and my willingness to put in the time and energy to practicing on my own consistently and the rewards from that work still humble and amaze me. Not a natural athlete. Never been one to stick with exercise for more than a few months. June marks 2 years since my first training session with J, and I just crested 18 months of at least 6 days per week in the gym. This is not me throwing down challenges or setting a standard everyone should achieve, but my understanding of my own needs and ambitions has expanded as time has passed. Doing my best and feeling proud of my efforts – this is new ground for me. I have worked at least as hard at my mental game and self-talk and celebrate that as well.

What We Did

We are back in quad-plex land – 4 blocks of exercises, 4 exercises per block. And it was completely AWESOME!

Quad-Plex 1
1.  Incline DB Press
2.  Bench Alt Knee In/Step Out/Kick Back
3.  Alternating Dumbbell Curls
4.  Alt Otis + Chopper Sit Ups

Quad-Plex 2
1.  Flat Bench Chest Flyes
2.  Bench Step Throughs w/ rib dip
3.  DB Alt. Hammer Curls
4.  DB “Reach Up” Crunch off bench

Quad-Plex 3
1.  1-arm DB Snatch
2.  1-arm DB Lateral Throws
3.  Band Horizontal Hip Rotations (aka “Choppers”)
4.  Mini-band Standing Contralateral Knee to Elbow Crunch

Quad-Plex 4
1.  1-arm Overhead Shoulder Press
2.  Dual Band Reverse Flyes
3.  Kettlebell Swing to Chest Level
4.  DB Plank “Renegade Rows” off bench

How It Felt

While we have done the incline dumbbell press repeatedly through the months, today we did a couple of things differently. First, threw out the rep count books – for everything – and second, we amped up the weights on each set. We started with a 20 lb. set of dumbbells and along I went through 20 or so, then we went to a set of 25 lb. dumbbells, still fine, and finally finished with the 30 lb. set. Surprisingly, I went through the 30s without much issue at all. Possibly because they are first exercise of the day, but more likely because I am stronger than last I had 30s in my hands for the presses. I have been working hard at my upper back arch and my elbow bend on the press up. No small cakes to me, 30 lb. dumbbells.

The bench alternating knee in/step out/kick back are planks on steroids. J added the knee in to these today, and it adds a new layer. Trying to remember the knee is after doing the step out/kick back cadence for awhile is another matter entirely; I have been doing the other combination so long it is branded into my head. But no matter – I will learn and remember. For the most part, this went really well. I love my “rib tuck” cue and want to use it for practically everything, but for planks and pushups and such, it is a must. Not so secretly, I’m delighted that I could do the knee in part of this exercise, when I remembered to add it into the sequence. It feels as if I have passed some grand new marker in ab work today. Yay me!

Whatever I think about alternating dumbbell curls, I know they are effective. I know I can feel them working my arms. Where I am thinking am I standing up straight, are my abs tight, ribs tucked down, shoulders back, elbows close to the body and staying in place. Am I thinking about my biceps and arms? Not really, other than pretensioning the muscle in advance of the curl, feeling out the weight. The rest of it is all about form. I know how to bend my elbow, but someday I may want or be capable with weightier weights. In my mind, it seems better to ensure I learn and maintain good form, because it will become harder when the weights are heavier. Far better for me to learn the best habits now rather than later.

Yesterday was kind of my light and fluffy day, doing a couple of sets of floor/stability ball core warmup and my beloved dumbbell matrix. But I also included my more recent floor chop series – which is the alternating chopper sit ups combined with Otis ups. J updated this list today with that combo, and I am much more competent and powerful with these. I can feel my obliques. I could curl upper body up without too much difficulty. Still have my feet secured under the bench, but I have yet to try it without that particular security blanket. For right now, I’m so happy to be just capable of doing a series of these without dying on the floor after every series. I am even making some slo-mo progress on the slow lower of upper torso back to the floor.

I am pretty sure we started out this block with the flat bench chest press, but by the second round J redirected and we went to flat bench chest flyes. I am nearly constant in my thoughts about the upper back arch anymore when we do bench-related presses and such, and with these chest flyes, I can most definitely feel the difference between when I am in proper position with the arch and above-the-eye position of the dumbbells when pressing up and more than a little out of sorts when not quite arched enough or letting the dumbbells drift. There is no bad or cautionary feeling so much as the muscle tension across the chest is just less or not really there at all. Hard to explain, but so much of what J has taught me is about the feels of each exercise, so much so that on my own I make minute adjustments to get back to ensure I am hitting the shape accurately.

It has been awhile since we have gone through the bench step throughs with the rib dip. Before, it was step throughs with hip dip, but to protect my lower back we went with a more accurate rib dip. Supporting myself on the bench with straight arms, this is essentially another plank position, rib-tucked exercise, only this time take left leg stepping through to the right side with a small left elbow bend to dip rib toward the floor. This one really works the abs and obliques, keeping the abs tight and ribs tucked down. Definitely a slo-mo version today, getting reacquainted after several months hiatus, and took a little break in the middle of the set after 3 or 4 or 5 (sorry – was no counting and know the rep count was not terrifically high).

Along side the bicep curls, the dumbbell alternating hammer curls follow the same pattern and prescription. Focus on form and pretensioning the muscle. Except I like the hammer curls slightly more than the regular curls for reasons as yet unknown. But again, I am an exercise geek about this stuff. I like the focus on form. Someday these will challenge me in other, new ways. I will be ready.

Potential new favorite ab exercise: the dumbbell “reach up” crunch off bench. With a pair of 12 lb. dumbbells in my hands and arms elevated straight overhead with feet up on the end of the bench, the small crunching up motion of elevating shoulders off the bench is strangely satisfying. This is not a big crunch, like the floor chops, but a small and deliberate movement that I can feel all the way down the length of my core. We have done these off a stability ball without weights, but it’s more crunch up via rocking motion. Still effective, yet not quite impactful in my mind. Sometimes the exercise is not so much what body is doing as much as what mind is learning about body doing the various movements.

While I remain convinced my 1-arm dumbbell snatch technique needs some work, trainer J with the critical trainer eye says they are progressing and had no corrections or adjustments for me today. I am working on the butt back, weight on heels part of the squat and the more explosive upward snatch part. It is difficult to pinpoint what I perceive is the problem with my form might be, but I do not feel completely confident. However, I did a set with a 12 lb. dumbbell and then a set with a 15 lb. dumbbell without pain or suffering. Mostly likely I need more practice with these, more than the once per week from the huffy-puffy List. I anticipate there will be some enhancements sometime in the future. But for now, all is well. More practice.

I still love the 1-arm dumbbell lateral throws. It’s been awhile, kind of remind me of the dumbbell snatches only staying stationary. Stay in the general vicinity of the scapular plane, don’t straighten the elbow completely, and try not to head/shoulder/upper body bob up and down with the throws. These make me feel like I have amazing shoulders.

The band horizontal hip rotations (aka “choppers”) are improving with practice and repetition. With the cable machines, it feels different, harder somehow. Probably there is a very specific, science-based reason for that. But for me, I prefer to think it might just be the return of my beloved green band and how it feels like an old friend. I understand the shape and the feels and why it works, and there should be little difference between the cables and the bands but mind perceives what mind perceives. Ah well. For now, we shall enjoy the feels of this rendition of horizontal choppers.

The mini-band standing contralateral knee to elbow crunch more like contralateral rib tuck to knee, because the elbow is supposed to stay out tucked behind the head. With the band around the foot makes elevating the knee more difficult and ensure that I have to hold on to stay upright. Tucking with the rib rather than trying to touch the knee with the elbow never brings the knee even close to the elbow. But the supreme rib tuck down crunch thing does make the exercise feels a lot more powerful and effective.

I always enjoy the 1-arm overhead shoulder press. With this List, it was about this time that I realized that I am someday going to have these even more bodacious and amazing shoulders. For right now, at this spot in my journey, I get a little rush watching the weight go up overhead and see the arm muscles working.

This is the first time we have done dual band reverse flyes with the new TRX box frame set-up, but they still feel the same. Again, we have done these more recently on the cable machine, and it does feel differently to me. Better, worse? Not really – mostly just different. When the bands are right – back to my green bands – I can choke up enough to get the resistance I need without feeling like it might be too much to stretch my arms all the way outward. If I use the heavier ones, they feel too like too much resistance from the start and I end up feeling like I am having to try too hard, work to hard, possibly hurt myself trying for the complete range of movement. I cannot even express how gratifying it is to now have an opinion on the subject, to know that I can tell the difference between the red band and the green band and how it makes me feel when hunting how the exercise should make me feel.

While it is my perception that everyone in the gym can do a kettlebell swing to chest level except me, I have been practicing and I am improving. Working hard to remember it’s all about the hips, keeping glutes and abs tight, protect the lower back. Again, like so many things that feel like they need more practice, I break my sets up into more 2 (or more) mini sets to ensure I get my full rep count done. Since we were not technically counting reps today, I went for 2 sets of 10 with the 12 kg kettle bell. Like these better than other things, but while these may not be scaling heights of my favorites list anytime soon, it is gratifying to be improving and getting stronger

My big major triumph of the day was the dumbbell plank “renegade rows” off bench. I did not think I could do these; we had tried these once before off the floor, with a pair of 5 lb. dumbbells and I could not budge those bad boys. Now we were trying them off the bench, with a pair of 12 lb. dumbbells as handholds, and I was fully prepared to be disappointed – and again, maybe a teensy bit shamed for not being capable after such an amazing session. Instead, I got situated, rib tucked into my plank position, and pulled up that first weight like I was standing on both feet doing a 1-arm row. It was exhilarating. To my credit I have not obsessed over my inability several months ago, but I am savoring – SAVORING – my victory over them off the bench today. Yep, did a few reps and then took a pause, went back to to it and did a few more reps. Like my arch nemesis the pushup, my arms and upper body does not feel quite strong enough to do these in a continuous set, but I’ll get there. For today, I will relish my surprise, then delight, then absolute elation over how it felt to lift that weight and pull it back into a row.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

While I was writing my key takeaways section one of my bosses walked into my office to ask me a question. I had a tissue in my hand and was blowing my nose, and he thought I was crying. Bosses are not good with emotions in the workplace, unless its passion related to the work itself. Tears? I have had them tell me on more than one occasion that I earn my salary if I can deal with crying staff members, meaning women. I have yet had a male ever get so angry he burst into tears, whereas with women it  happens more often than we might like.

So I answered his work-related question and neither of us said anything about the teary expression. I did not sound upset, because I wasn’t upset, and I matter-of-factly told him that I was emotional about training this morning because of some big-feeling breakthroughs with various exercises. We joked about the idea of me crying because J yelled at me, because the idea is so ludicrous it’s beyond the expanse of my pretty broad imagination. As I said to the partner, it is the same as the idea of them yelling at me – professionally they are all such emotional control freaks the apocalypse might truly be upon us if they lost it so completely.

It was opportunity and opening for an all-around good conversation. Last week, from the suggestion box the partners had brought up the idea of a “biggest loser” type contest here in the office. Considering the circumstances and employees of our firm, I was understandably horrified by the idea, because of the present 25 employees here, only 4 of us are visibly carrying any extra weight and all 4 of us are women. Did they seriously want to encourage something like this with that sort of imbalance? While they and perhaps a couple of other staffers might want to add some muscle or drop a few pounds, I’d vastly prefer we do it by getting on a more formal health and wellness sponsorship program than our present subsidizing everyone’s gym membership or lifestyle-altering dues program.

What was curious – he said that he thinks our firm as a whole is a pretty healthy group and that I (and the other ladies in my walking clatch) are hard-working healthy. I found that a huge compliment – hard-working healthy (says the woman who was thrilled out of her mind when J described me as a “tank” in the gym). Not sure about the other ladies, but a regular source of conversation on our jaunts is lifestyle, healthy eating, all sorts of things fitness and exercise. All of the ladies in the firm are at least 20 years younger than I am and thinking about the future and the potential of having children of their own someday.

What I like about the present staff and environment at work – it is supportive without being suffocating. My crew and I talk about our weaknesses – chocolate, cheesecake, chips, soda, etc., etc., etc. – and our strengths – regular exercise, regular salad consumption, just saying no to most of the crap that appears in our breakroom. We are a pretty well rounded group anymore, and I like that. Junk food Tuesday comes every month, and while I am usually not there (I work from home on Tuesdays), there are plenty of other opportunities to enjoy a cheeseburger on the firm.

Balance, elusive balance in all things. In work, the people I interact with most are a joy to me. They are smart, caring, funny, with all sorts of interesting perspective that differs from my own. Again, the age gap plays into that, yet at the same time, I am curious and I am interested in what interests them. In some ways I relate to my coworkers and business associates as I do my own children, who are in the similar age range. Since I treat my kids with respect and affection, this feels is accurate and appropriate for me. I strive to treat everyone in my realm with respect, until they demonstrate that respect is not earned.

So it occurred to me today that I do not always treat myself with the same level of respect and compassion. Why am I, or why was I once, so relentlessly hard on myself?

My progress with confidence and self-talk is pretty well documented here. I have made great strides with being kinder to myself, staying positive, and appreciating my own efforts. Comparing myself and my progress to others around me has proven to be a ridiculously fruitless, irrelevant exercise. Measuring my progress on a timeline or with preconceived expectations is toxic for me, so I stopped that long ago. I also strive to limit my expectations and hopes to getting myself into the gym to work at something as routinely and as frequently as I can make happen. I eliminated the word “fail” and all its derivatives from any thoughts or speech about my efforts. Setbacks, disappointments, faltering happen; failure is not only not an option, it is no longer even a thing for me when it comes to my better health quest.

Today, I am all about my forward strides, including the headspace where I am dwelling.

Gratitude has become such a stretched out, overblown, unrealistic concept anymore. Like so many good and empowering (yet another overused and therefore overvalued term) concepts, it has become part of the current age hype of feeling good and somehow releasing us from real responsibility for ourselves and our actions and choices as long as people are happy. I recognize that I am making a very broad-brush generalization here, yet I am unapologetic for it. The expectation of entitlement has cheapened a lot of things, and being grateful for modern healthcare and the opportunities of higher education (as examples) means it becomes a right by existence versus something we must participate in and work at and work for the genuine benefits.

In my thoughts of late, I find that people are disingenuous and insincere in their expressions of gratitude. Thanks for offering such rich healthcare benefits, but my portion of the premium is too rich and should be subsidized further. Thanks to modern medicine for creating such superior drugs for chronic conditions like diabetes, so that means I can now eat all the sugar and carbohydrates I want and adjust with an injection 3 times daily until something else fails and I need a new kidney or other costly medical procedures rather than watching my diet and getting some form of regular exercise, at which time I will be angry for having to lose a limb or endure a risky procedure to prolong my miserable life by a few years.

This is on my mind because of my own better health situation. I am working hard to take control of my overall health. For most of my adult life doctors have said diet and exercise are important to improve my overall health.

None of us know how long our lives will extend, and for a long, long time I thought my little tiny life mattered less and did not truly impact anyone. Boy, denial is a powerful drug. In truth, my tiny little life matters a great deal and impacts a lot of folk. And I should know this from my own experiences with family and friends who have passed. M, for example, would be a devoted caretaker, but is that what I want for him? To be wheeling me around or attending to my bedside for our twilight years? Or would I rather be saving my health tokens now by improving my diet and learning to exercise so the long-term benefits maybe extend my vibrancy and make the twilight years shorter and less burdensome?

Obviously I’m accruing and hoarding my health tokens like gold ingots in the safe. Every single day is a choice about going to the gym and completing a List to the best of my ability (or at least trying) or staying home and feeling … something. I would not classify it as guilt so much as regret for lost opportunities. I rarely do that anymore; I have a much clearer understanding of a rest day and its importance. But I also know that rest days can be just light days doing Lists I find more enjoyable or practicing things that give me grief. I love that I don’t go to the gym out of a sense of guilt; I go because sometimes it feels like a guilty pleasure.

So for more than just my better health quest, I have turned my gym time into me-centric time, where I get to do precisely what I want to do and pursue activities that benefit me directly and primarily. Selfish? Hardly. When I was spending a lot of money on prescription drugs to control my diabetes, that was selfish. In some ways a lot more convenient and definitely easier, but still extraordinarily selfish. But since I cannot go back and alter my personal history, I can take better care of myself now in hopes of better tomorrows.

I want to be sensible about taking care of myself and staying the course on my better health quest. Every session where I feel energized and successful is another encouragement stone that paves the path for this journey.

Every session, even when I feel flat and underwhelmed with my own effort, is a step up. Days like today, when I feel powerful and successful in my efforts, the person I was when I started is seems such a distant memory. The scaredy-cat woman with so much anxiety and filled with self-loathing – I know she cannot be completely annihilated or done away with completely. But her path led somewhere unexpected, a place of safety and peace.

And with some kind of badass in training ensuring that status quo remains in place, our life continues, an enduring adventure. Anymore, I will not accept anything less.

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