Training #95 – Best day of my life

Thursday morning, training with J. And I confess – I have this doomsday clock countdown going on in my head realizing that his well-deserved holiday break is 2 weeks away and we are down to 4 sessions remaining in 2016. Okay, so maybe doomsday clock is a bit (okay, maybe way over-the-top) melodramatic, but I am cognizant of another year concluding. Thinking about it, there is no sadness, doom, or gloom about it; the calendar is winding down on 2016 and the new year will begin. This is also no hurry-rush-push to end the year and start fresh with a new calendar. If anything, 2016 has been a deeply satisfying year for me; I got a lot of shit done.

But here we are, at training session 95, and honestly, I am amazed that I have stuck with the weekly recaps this whole year. Granted, there are still 4 left to call this year a complete success, but I am engaged and in enough of a well-worn groove to be confident that I will not falter and fall off the recap wagon now.

What We Did

Lower body review day today, and anyone who has read even a couple of these entries knows I love review days. Okay, being fair, I love all training days, but review days do not bore me or feel like anything other than lots of opportunities to ask questions, discuss techniques less traveled, or just learn more about the why of it all. After almost 18 months of training with J, the method behind the master plan is still shrouded in misty cloud. And I’m okay with that. We talk about a lot of stuff, much of it even training and exercise related, and retaining everything is just not happening for me. Hence my love of review day. Here’s our List today, although we skipped the D block due to time constraints:

A1  1-legged Leg Press

B1  1-legged RDL (DB, KB, or Cable)
B2  1-legged Machine Hamstring Curl
B3  Stability Ball Glute Bridge
B4  SB Hamstring Curls

C1  Quad Extensions
C2  DB Power Squats
C3  Bodyweight Bulgarians

D1  Adductor Machine (skipped today)
D2  Abductor Machine (skipped today)

How It Felt

I was mostly engrossed in our conversation and trying hard to stay present with the exercise and hopefully within the ballpark of rep counts and was not paying much attention to the weights used. On top of which, I am learning in my travels to and from the cable machines that they all feel different. Setting one on 30 does not necessarily mean the one around the corner set at 30 is going to feel the same way. Then there the fancy smancy (and much loved) Freemotion machines upstairs – I don’t even know what their weight plates mean. My point here, there is no apples to apples comparison. And in truth, it barely registers to me. As long as I feel in the ballpark of some work in the muscles that should be working I call it good.

The leg press machine, I wonder why I do not do more 1-leg presses. Or even 2-leg presses; that machine quite literally kicks me in the ass, and I still feeling it hours later. On the list, set/rep range is 5 to 10 sets of 10 reps/side, which gets to be a lot. I lost count of sets after about 5 or 6, so I know it was well within the 5 to 10 sets range. And it felt amazing. Which could be indicative of the need to use weightier weights – I typically use 150 lbs., but today started at 130 (set myself so I do remember that one) because I haven’t been on this one in what seems like a very long time. It’s very hypnotic to sit there alternating between watching your foot press the plate and the keeping an eye on the weight stack to ensure it drops not quite to the bottom and complete rest.

Former arch nemesis, 1-legged Romanian deadlift with the cable, is improving. Every time we do these, I learn a little more about the “shape” of the exercise that helps with balance and feeling the muscles work harder and more productively. I know to keep my shoulders and spine straight, but knowing and doing while trying to stay balanced on one leg can be a tall order for me. But we went over it again today, and I must say the new cue about the stationary/grounded foot hip pressing forward while elevating the torso helps. While we have had this cue previously, I always think about the leg descending at that hip pressing forward. Yes, that makes some sense as well, but from a balance/working muscles perspective the new clue cue today focuses me more clearly on my objectives.

While I really like it, the 1-legged machine hamstring curl is hard. It just is not natural for me to try and lift a cable weighed down with 30 lbs. (I think) by bending my knee. Plus, this machine is tricky on the set-up, and when I am on my own, if it takes me 5 (or more) tries to get it right then that’s what it takes. Today was not bad – only had to adjust the kick pad. But I always have to adjust it, then climb in and get situated with the weight before starting. But anyway, it is more complicated to set-up, but once there it goes pretty well. Except it’s not natural behavior and I have to really focus, dig deep to make my rep count. I’m trying very hard not to rest mid-set, but sometimes there is no other way to get it done. I will get over it.

Oh me and the stability ball have this long and checkered history. From my days of referring to it as an “instability” ball to now when we are mostly friends, I still have my reservations about it. Into this comes the stability ball glute bridges, which are not terrible, not horrible, and should not be all that challenging. The glute bridge was on the very first PT Basics A or B Lists this time last year, yet it feels as if I have not made that much progress in a year. Key word here: feels. Truth is I am sure I have, but maybe I just do not like them all that much. I watch J demonstrate and think my hips are not as flexible or elevate that way. With my current obsession with exercise shapes, I understand where this feeling emanates. Still hard to shake, even if I understand its root cause. Only thing I can do is practice them more, do my best when they appear on Lists. I will get better; my shape in this exercise will improve.

Into this mixed feelings about the stability ball in general comes the stability ball hamstring curls, and again, my shapes need some work toward improvement, even if could be primarily in my own head. I do dislike these things – they are a huge challenge – while at the same time they are effective as well. More than anything, I will continue to pursue regular, consistent practice at these to improve my technique. Maybe then they will become less of a genuine pain in my ass. Okay, not really … but I associate them that way because they appear on lower body glute-focused Lists that usually do result in tight and aching sit muscles.

The quad extensions machine is another one of those complicated machines with little adjustments necessary besides just setting the weight. While intellectually I understand what is necessary and should be done, there is something in lizard brain that rebels and freaks out with the idea of it. Still, I will persevere and not let the lizard brain win this round. Once I get past the brain meltdown over the complications of this machine, I go along just fine. It’s not the easiest or most natural feeling exercise, but I know what needs to be done, how it should feel (quads – burn -check). I just have to overcome the initial intimidation and make it work for me.

The dumbbell power squats are a staple. I realized awhile back that I now know a few ways to do squats, but these power squats are still a bit unique with the weightier weights we utilize. Today’s big reminder was not slow-slow-slow on the descent, up like a poptart in the toaster, and keep those shoulders back and the spine tall. Seems so much easier and nicer to roll the shoulders forward. So I mostly got this – slow-Slow-SLOW on the descent, pause 2 seconds, pop up, shoulders back, spine straight. Yep, along with the “butt back” on the slow-Slow-SLOW descent portion, this is pretty much the sound track in my head. Unless my palms and hands get tired of holding 30 lbs. of dumbbell and want to just let them fall, at which time we mind starts projecting “grip tighter, grip tighter” alerts as part of the soundtrack.

Once upon a time, I did the bodyweight Bulgarian split squats daily as part of my warm-up. They they became less of a thing in favor of other warm-up activities. I think it may be time to bring them back a few days per week. Not that I am faltering failing, but just because I feel sort of stiffly awkward with these, especially when using the quad extension machine as the foot elevating holder. I know how these work, how they are supposed to feel, but I felt a little out of practice after months of doing at least 10 to 15 per side just about every day. For the last set J added the offset weight, just an 8 lb. dumbbell, and boy howdy does that make a difference in how much I felt them. All good, but I feel I could do better. I will do better. I did not work so hard on these for so many months to feel as if I have given up some hard-fought ground only to have to learn the balance and how painful these bad boys can be when sitting idle for too long.

Key Takeaways

Occurred to me this morning that review days are not that involved or exciting for J, but not every session can be amazing and exciting glitter-bombs of discovery and new beginnings. Still, it’s so much fun just running along through a List I am familiar with and always coaxing some new kernel of information from it. Whether it’s shoulders behind the ears on the power squats or what the grounded side hip should be doing on the Romanian deadlift, I learn something new or remember something I have somehow forgotten with each and every review day.

I have come a long way since this List first became a thing in October, yet I still feel there is a lot more practice to be done with it, a lot more to learn. Then again, and this has been a gradual process and realization for me, that perfection is an impossible bar that remains comfortably out of reach, just like the average unicorn. But sticking with practice and staying consistent with the gym and the Lists means I stay closer to the good enough standard I have set for myself. And while that may sound sort of pedant and mundane, it is important to me to stay the course with regard to practice.

Funny thing about regular practice: I rarely get frustrated with exercise anymore. Being bored, distracted, or tired is common enough and I have developed my own skills in overcoming each. But frustrated rarely happens. I find that my exercise knowledge has expanded and my abilities increased to a point where I am stronger and can substitute if something is just not working on a particular day or List.

Part of the reason I genuinely enjoy review day is that it helps me remember where I have had issues, why I may set aside a List in favor of another that I feel more confident about and competent with. Another part is its an opportunity for me to explore and appreciate my own progress, however great or small. Thing is, I do make progress. I am getting better and stronger, and equally important, I feel so superior than I did even a year ago. Depression? Funks? Reflective states? Of course they still happen. However, the regular exercise and my elevated level of fitness has done so much to improve my overall mental health. Granted I start from a baseline neutral, where I do not suffer from any sort of medical issues that cause depression or anxiety or other mental/emotional health conditions, but being overweight, being insulin-dependent diabetic, the ways that being less fit and healthy drag me to edge of sadness is not to be discounted. I now know enough people who have stepped away from their own emotional ailments by working at improving their overall health through diet and exercise to recognize that it is a real thing.

The holidays are hard for so many folks, and even M and I are not immune. My daughter and son-in-law are on the road for their new home and next chapter in their life clear across the country, and it has it’s own emotional challenges for me even as I am happy for them. Change is not always easy to accept. One of my very dearest friends has struggled with a serious health condition that continues to plague him and concern me, even though I believe he will overcome and be better. Home for Christmas? Maybe not, and it saddens me. However, sacrificing one holiday now for many, many into the future is well worth it. But I’m selfish enough to admit I wish he were for sure able to come home for even a brief visit, if only to reassure myself that he is improving and will soon be completely well again.

But my issues are small ball issues, and I think them through, work them out every morning in practice. Or in the evenings during yoga class. I write my pal a note every day, filled with boring and mundane details of our life. M sends regular texts and missives as well. It makes little sense to anyone else, but for me it’s hugely comforting to write down the minutia and share it. Every Monday, every Thursday I train with J I send a text from my car in the parking lot of the gym, giving a quick and happy response to whatever we happened to do that day. To anyone else it is weird and maybe even a little (or a lot) off-beat, but beside M, he is such a huge cheerleader for my fitness efforts. I like reminding him how much he matters to me and to others, to keep his sometimes flagging spirits from leaning toward permanent deflation.

My point here is – the regular exercise has changed my life in so many big and little ways. I am still not a morning person; if not having to get to the gym at my preferred time I would happily sleep until 7 a.m. every day and even later on weekends. As it was this morning, I felt less perky than usual in our session this morning for lack of my usual caffeine boost. Every morning I drink a protein shake boosted with amino energy powder, which is kind of fancy smancy caffeine infusion, only I allowed myself to run out. The horror! I know, I know – me and my first world problems. Thank goodness for Amazon prime and the very fast shipping.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I love success stories. I love when other tribe and gym members make big or small strides toward goals or just improvements in their technique and exercise mastery. Even on days like today, where I feel kind of tired in the nicest possible way and feel no new wowy-zowy breakthroughs, I am delighted others are doing well.

And in truth, I am equally delighted that I am doing this well as well. Once upon a time, I would be feeling depressed and anxious that I did not have some success to write about. Anymore, I can appreciate the simplicity of having a good week. I am making tiny step progress toward my focused List – of late it has been the dumbbell matrix that is more cardio intensive. Some of the movements seem to require more coordination that my brain can process gracefully, so what does not come naturally must be practiced until it feels like an accurate mimic of gracefulness. And again, every day i get up and get myself into the gym is a good day, one more thing crossed off my to-do.

When J demonstrates or I see others in the club doing exercise I struggle or have struggled with, I no longer wonder what is wrong with me that I struggling. Anymore, my admiration for their efforts has taken over any inward negativity, and I am relieved that I can be a big enough, grown-up enough to accept the different waypoints on individual journeys. My pathway is my own, and its got piles of glitter along the way from prior wins and steps up, steps forward.

More than the little lines and creases I celebrate and ask my husband repeatedly if he notices (he does … at this point how could he not? *laugh*), I genuinely appreciate my mental and emotional gains from the routine. While I think about the long game, what I will be like at 60 or 70, I do not imagine myself sitting around waiting to die. This was not the way I felt 2 years ago before I started, but I was sort of resigned to never being an athletic sort or someone with health-minded hobbies. Now it seems that’s a lot of what I discuss with friends and associates at work, partly because they are all young and active when not strapped in behind their desks, and partly because it is where life and its focus seems to find us right now. The ladies I work with and walk with regularly – we are always discussing the diet trends, the newest books, cookbooks, recipes, eating plans and programs. I learn a lot from them, even if I do not follow the same guidelines or like the same types of food. Same with the fitness reading and listening I do; it expands my horizons.

I am plowing my way through a list of business and marketing-related books clients and peers have or are reading, because it intrigues me on some level. I feel so far behind the times, working with young, hipper, scary smart folks, yet it is good to be excited and invigorated to follow along and see the world from their perspective. I like being able to relate … eventually … with what they are doing, thinking, talking about. I am not their peer nor would I ever want to be again. Just like with my kids, though, I like to have a general grasp on what their interests and things they follow in their own realm.

To have a good attitude – I never truly realized how poor my inward attitude was until it improved. I have all sorts of reasons, all kind of backstory that supports my flawed reasoning and skewed self-image, and healing those breaches will be an ongoing effort that will span my lifetime. Thing is, what I was accepting as adequate and enough was neither. A little (okay – a LOT) of hard work and I could have more, and I do have more. But strangely, the work does not seem so much effort anymore. New stuff, sure – lots of energy expended in the learning, adapting, mastering, perfecting. And then you set that aside for a little while and start a little farther up the learning curve when you return to it. This is where my improving outlook has gotten me – to understanding that the learning curve is not so steep the second, third, or twentieth go-round with something I learned a year ago.

I continue writing my own success story – one line, one paragraph, one post, one chapter at a time. And there will be no epilogue or final credits rolling anytime soon.

 

 

Health, wellness, goals

It’s December, and all around me people are talking about and writing about goals. Here in the office we are in the middle of our year-end evaluations, a laborious process that I have a love-hate relationship with. I absolutely hate the self-evaluation step, yet appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback for others within the firm and receive theirs about me. At least I am getting smarter about the self-evaluation; I now make notes and keep a file of my accomplishments through the year.

My review with the bosses was this morning, and it was very flattering and positive. We are still exploring possible ways to expand my role (and compensation) within the firm, because in their words I have become an “anchoring fixture” within the organization. Negative girl peeked out of her box long enough to snarkily snort that was essentially the equivalent of being referred to as a “ball and chain,” which made me laugh out loud as it flittered through my mind. Because I was sitting in a conference room with the bosses, I had to confess the thought so they did not think I was laughing at their very kind comments.

We have updated the structure of the firm’s organization, and rather than just having year-levels of associates and one branch of senior, our existing seniors are being promoted to supervising associates and 4 of our associates have been promoted into the senior role. It is a welcome update and reflects our growth and maturity as a firm. My title will be changing to something more prestigious sounding to encompass my expanded role as the equivalent as a boss without the title of partner attached to it. Honestly, as long as they continue to pay me a satisfactory salary, my title can be as big and flowery or as tiny and innocuous as they wish.

There is always evaluation of goals set in the prior year and creation of goals for the year ahead. Yet another thing to dislike about the whole performance evaluation process. Last year was easier – I had to plan and execute an office move, hopefully the last in my career here. Next year? I had to really wing it, but the bosses were kind enough to expand upon some of our conversations about things they would like me to explore and pursue. Nothing like moving the entire office, but still some tangible tasks and goals for 2017.

One of the things I do like about this set of supervisors is that they are very aware of the impacts of stressors from outside the office and the impact life has on all of us. They are very into the concept of health and wellness, to the point that one of my goals for 2017 will be revisiting a corporate health and wellness program, including gym membership for the staff. We tried this last quarter of 2016, but most of our staff continue to struggle under the weight of student loans. Subsidized gym membership sounds great in theory, but since many who utilize a gym have contracts in place or less expensive options, it did not quite work as we anticipated.

But the bosses are undeterred. With our new health insurance, we are  considering fully paid gym membership and the potential of some personal training sessions as well as our planned contribution to individual HSA accounts. I received major kudos for my commitment to my own health and wellness this past year, which is always nice no matter what the source. Even though I feel sometimes like a big giant FAIL on the healthy eating, I did earn my gold star on the exercise component. My little band of lunchtime walking buddies has expanded and is sometimes as few as 2 and occasionally as many as 12, depending upon workload in the office. However, while we still have our monthly junk food Tuesday, we may also expand to a second day of healthier lunch option as well. Vegan? Salads? Gluten free? I’m going to open the suggestion box to the staff and see how they perceive the idea of “healthy eating.”

Truth is we all work a lot of hours every week. The bosses and about 70% of the staff are regular gym goers and sports aficionados, although quite surprisingly none belong to my particular club. Not yet, anyway; I am continuing to work on them and expound upon the benefits of my gym. But between the coffee, restaurant food, boozing and schmoozing that comes with eating and drinking with clients, the lifestyle and work/life balance is not the best. They are young, though, and quite healthy. If we can offer incentives to offset the less desirable behaviors that seem to come with the territory of lawyering, all good for us.

Into this happy and positive little bubble comes news from another close friend that I have long considered the very picture of good health and mostly healthy lifestyle for his brand of hedonist. The present less desirable pictures of his overall health are not his fault or because he’s fallen into a box of chocolates – sometimes living our lives and pursuing our dreams comes with a run of bad luck – but when talk of specialists related to hearts and lungs comes into play, I  feel this surge of alarm and concern. He assures me it is nothing to worry about right now, but come on! How can I not? But I am committed to not losing myself in the nearest plate of brownies in the breakroom, but good GAWD I really want to. Tomorrow is training day, though, and every thought of brownie consumption today makes getting through lower body day tomorrow that much more of a challenge. And believe me, my glutes have been getting more than their fair share of work lately and squeaking in protest fairly regularly. All good things, though.

Which brings me back round to goals. Not setting any for myself for in the health and wellness realm, because getting myself out of bed and to the gym most days is not a goal so much as a habit and part of my lifestyle now. No plans to drop any specific amount or percentage of weight, and definitely not starting any type of diet. If anything, I have a couple of Lists that I want to work at improving my technique and ability, but that only comes with regular amounts of consistent practice. Setting that as a goal will only stress me out and make me feel like a loser if I cannot make it happen in whatever mysterious timeline brain assigns to anything that says “goal.”

For my overall health, of course I don’t want to backslide and onto medication, and that alone is enough to keep me mindful of what and how much I am eating and that I am in the gym doing something most days. I can always do better, and perhaps I shall, but I refuse to fall into traps of my own making by setting parameters and milestones that are so black-and-white and either/or as success is this, failure is that. I am not going to allow myself to become ensnared by my Fitbit and its wealth of information. Data points, Janelle; it’s just data points that don’t really mean anything in your day-to-day life and better health quest.

I do kind of need to get myself sorted with the yoga and pilates, because body does notice if and when I miss classes. And it is really easy to give myself a pass on it, with the early morning practices and training sessions. But then I start having glutes that are tight and squeaking, or shoulders that want to protest doing same weights we did last week or start making those alarming snap, crackle, pop noises. On the other hand, I recognize that the holiday madness is here with both work and socializing associated with work, and that I am not just blowing it off because I am lazy or worse. About 80% of the time I would rather be in yoga sweating buckets and focusing on how to get body to try harder to emulate the ideal shape than standing around chit-chatting for business-related purposes.

In this December, I find myself very happy and very grateful for an exceptional year. Yesterday I took an associate and his parents to the airport before my gym practice, and having never met his folks before, I found them incredibly charming and very much enjoyed our airport adventure. Then I had lunch, coffee, and dinner with private clients, and as they do every year, they manage to surprise and well as delight me in our year-end meetings. To varying degrees and in a variety of different ways, I have the good fortune to work with a bunch of amazing people as clients, bosses, and coworkers.

At the gym as well, where the fabulous trainer J dwells, and introduced me to anther tribe member yesterday. Goals, no goals – my world is expanding in all sorts of uplifting and positive ways. Keep my eye on the good stuff, not borrow trouble by worrying about the unknown.

And for my own safety and sanity, give away any contraband that comes into my orbit and stay out of our sugar-filled office kitchen until mid-January.

Training #94 – Peaceful easy feeling

Monday morning, training with J. It was shuffled review day, where he took an existing List and rearranged it and added and/or subtracted exercises to make something new. Since we are now in the final month of 2016, J will be on vacation for a Monday and Thursday this month for the holiday, we will be doing review and such for the balance of our 2016 sessions. Which is perfectly fine with me. Last thing I want is to be frustrated or avoiding doing new things because I have questions and he is away on well-deserved time away from the gym.

Besides, I love review days. I always learned something either brand new or that I have forgotten along the way. Complacency has evolved into a genuine enemy and results in bad habits I end up having to break at some point.

What We Did

A1  Lat Pulldown Dual Cable (60 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
A2  Seated Dip (Chest emphasis) (80 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)

B1  1-arm DB Row (25/30 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-15/side)
B2 Slight Decline DB Chest Press (25 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-15 reps)

C1  Cable Row or Rope Facepull (80 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
C2  DB Arnold Press (10 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)

D1  Triceps Pushdown (30 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
D2  Standing DB Curl, alt. opt. (15 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)

How It Felt

We began with the lat pulldown on the dual cable machine. I am torn between really, Really liking this machine and being crazy in love with it. The single cable machines in the big boys room use a long bar, which feels different and does not have the bonus of being able to alternate arms. But I admit to liking both, just liking this one a shade better. I haven’t always liked this; in the earliest days of training J introduced it and even included it on a List, yet I rarely to never went forth and pursued it. My gym crazy was still on full display in those days. Now, though, I feel very competent and confident with the lat pulldowns. I can feel them where I am supposed to feel them, and body can perform the movement smoothly and competently. J took a quick little video of my back muscles moving while I performed this exercise, and call me vain, but I was pleased and impressed. I mean, how often does a girl get to see her back in action while doing lab pulldowns?

The seated dip machine has been sitting dormant for awhile, although I did really enjoy the reintroduction today. I confess when J said the word “dip” in our pre-session conversation I was thinking of bench dips or worse; I had completely forgotten about the dip machine. So this one, we had to go through a set and a half before I got the positioning correct to work the chest rather than the triceps. Not beating myself up over it; this machine has bunches of little adjustments and ways to sit and work various body parts. But once I grasped the basic of how it should feel under J’s watchful eye, I have the framework of how to replicate this on my own in practice. And I will be working at it to improve. Along with my push-ups, newly elevated back to arch nemesis status.

I have a love-love thing going with the 1-arm dumbbell row. Ever since J introduced me to the stand-up leaning version, I feel as if I have improved with it. Maybe I would have improved with it in the knee-on-the-bench version as well if I continued to do them that way, but I vastly prefer the standing version. It just feels as if I have more control and can feel it more fully. Today J noted there was a little flex of the arm at the end, and now I am cognizant of this little flex at the end. I do have a whole string of queues on this one – pulling leg backward, pull weight toward the hip, use the shoulder not the arm. In my head, I do pretty well with these. In practice, I generally feel relatively confident that I am doing them correctly, which makes me like them. As is typically my habit, I do the first set with a lighter weight. Started today with a 25 lb. dumbbell and stepped up to a 30 lb. dumbbell for sets 2 and 3 and it went very well. This is one of those exercises that reminds me I have made considerable progress in the last year.

We are back to the slight decline dumbbell chest press. While I have been doing these awhile, it always seems like the potential for something new on review day. J reminded me about where the dumbbells should be on the up portion of this bad boy, but other than that, it went pretty well. Also, I stepped back up to 25 lb. dumbbells, as I had been using 20 lb. dumbbells when this was paired with the chest fly. The contrast between working the back with the 1-arm row followed immediately by the chest press for the chest – I guess I had not noticed it previously. Today, doing these particular super sets, I most definitely noticed it. Now, whether I would have ever made the connection all on my own remains the bigger mystery. Moot point really, but considering my generally overwhelming curiosity about this exercise and fitness stuff, it is difficult to believe I have not wandered down this particular pathway sooner.

Next we continued on to the cable row. While I have improved at this, my years of rowing on a rowing machine gave me some different habits in how rowing is done, habits I have had to unlearn in order to improve on this exercise. It feels as if I am still unlearning, but improvement has been achieved and is ongoing. Striving for the upper back arch is almost as difficult as breaking myself of the shrugging habit. But I’m getting there. I feel much better about the incremental progress. No facepulls for me today; maybe Wednesday when I revisit this List in practice.

New today was the dumbbell Arnold press. It seemed very vaguely familiar, but it could have been a demonstration at some point that did not make the final cut to List status. J told me he does not teach this one much, which set off and immediate, “OMG! It’s really complicated and difficult!” alert in my head. So I just asked why he did not teach it much, and he explained that it was a lot of shoulder work all at once. Good enough for me, and once he demonstrated and got me started, I completely understood what he meant. I have been using 15 lb. dumbbells for shoulder presses, but today we dropped to 10 lb. dumbbells and toward the end of each set I was starting to think that 8 lb. dumbbells were sounding really good. Going from arms positioned in front with dumbbells facing me, then spreading out sideways and overhead into a press, then down to the side and back to start. Sticking with the 10 lb. dumbbells for awhile to come on this seems very prudent. And I now understand why J does not teach it much; it is complicated.

The triceps pushdown is mostly fun. Having done these enough through the months I get the basic motion and know where it should be working and how it feels. The standing up machine I happened to be working at today is right across the aisle from a mirror and J remarked it was a perfect station for viewing the triceps at work. Yep, upper arms have more muscle on them, and in my view it looks nice. Then again, I am not a small woman; the thickness of my bone structure alone does not bring forth visions of small or petite.

Finally, the standing dumbbell curl, and while alternating is an option, today I liked the 2-arm version. Curls are still not a favorite, but they are okay and recurring enough that I do a fair amount of them in some form or another. This is probably the only exercise in my entire library of Lists that ever makes me think I should be using weightier weights. The rare occasions this thought flitters through my mind I push it away as irrelevant, because it truly is irrelevant. One thing I have learned is if I ever feel like the weights feel light do more reps. So sometimes I do more reps, and sometimes I struggle to get through the 15 dictated by the List.

Key Takeaways

I am feeling very good, very pumped, and very powerful about today’s session. While in my head that all sounds newish and a little different to write that sentence for the me I know, in my head it also sounds like me turning into a massive egomaniac. I struggle with false modesty as a concept, because my self-depreciation is a deeply rooted habit that is meant to deflect attention, even positive affirmation type attention, away from me. But I am far more hesitant and self-critical about any sort of real or imagined conceit and vanity. The balance is an ongoing challenge for me, so much so that I have to include this warning paragraph. Public service announcement is now concluded.

Having had a mother who was both small and petite – at 130 lbs. she was 25 lbs. heavier than I had ever seen her in my entire life – I understand and accept I’m never going to be the tiny girl in the group … unless I’m standing with a bunch of lady sumo wrestlers. And you know what shocks me even more? I am fine and happy with that. Body is body; I can starve weight off of it by withholding food, build muscles with exercise, try to twist it into pretzels with yoga, but I am never going to be able to shrink it down to doll clothes like a 100% cotton sweater in a super hot dryer. My frame and bone structure will not be altered no matter how desperate and misguided my transformation efforts. Acceptance and appreciation for the physical assets I have is the first step on the path to blissful peace with my appearance.

Friend J asked me a few weeks ago if I understood why the exercises were set-up the way they are, and I replied they were on the List that way so I follow the instructions and work the exercises in that order. I mentioned that to J today, because as I understood it, the method to the List madness differs from List to List. And I’m okay with that. Most of the time I am so focused on the minutia of mastering form and such I cannot think too much about the why of it all. Besides, in my mind anymore, this is why I engage trainer J, to write me beautiful Lists to learn and to follow. But to be fair, I do know trainer J has explained some of the under the hood of program writing to me in the past, but with the multitude of other details I am working on retaining, the why of the order is not high on the priorities. This is why he writes them down, so I do not have to remember the big picture details.

When we were on the last set of the triceps pushdowns and bicep curls, I idly asked J if we were done, a first in all the months we have been working at this. It was not that I was ready to be done so much as I was going to put the dumbbells we had been using away, but if there was more I would leave them. He laughed, I laughed, and I felt rueful about the clumsy and blunt way I put the question out there. It was just another of those funny, awkward me moments that still happen from time to time.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

J and I had a long-ish training-related conversation before we got started this morning. In hindsight, I recognize that he was kinda/sorta responding to my funk-light post from yesterday. Either that or he is practicing his mind meld on me again. While our chat was sort of free-ranging, my key takeaway was that boredom with exercise or the Lists I am pursuing could be a factor in an overall fatigue or burnout with my evolving practice and training habits and routines.

While this time last year it was impossible for me to imagine ever overtraining, that was then, this is now, and it does seem like a possibility, however remote. I am not there yet, do not feel bored or burned out, but as a manager I can appreciate J’s foresight in hoping for the best and planning for the worst. There is no boredom at play right now, but the colder weather makes me want to stay huddled under the covers rather than drag my sorry butt out of bed at 4 a.m. to get to the gym for practice or sessions.

If anything I feel excited about the work we are doing and the Lists I am working to perfect. There is still much work to do ahead. On top of which, my random student of exercise pursuits have been somewhat scattered and random thus far. Now that I feel more solid in my experience and knowledge, I am contemplating ways to be more structured and focused in my studies. Because I’m interested and motivated to continue to learn.

It is also now December, and we are counting down to our final sessions of 2016. Today was the second of the 7 we will most likely schedule and complete this month with J’s Christmas holiday, and I realize by the time we are all done it will be 99 personal training sessions this year. This is of course barring illness, injury, or flight delays.

Thinking about this and other things this morning, I realize I am not much of a numbers person anymore with regard to my better health quest. While I still wear my fancy smancy Fitbit Blaze watch and remember to turn it on 99% of the time while I am at the gym or yoga or pilates class, the numbers are pretty meaningless to me anymore. There was a time when I’d feel disappointed and mad at myself for not achieving a greater calorie burn in 90 minutes. Or I would be frustrated at my inability to get my heart rate higher despite being breathless as well as sweaty and gross. These days, if I feel weird I will look at the watch to see what my heart rate is doing, but that’s about it. Majority of the time I am looking at my watch I am checking the time to gauge my progress through a List. Heart rate? More an “oh that’s nice” type data point.

On the actual Fitbit site that tracks my progress on these things, I am far more interested in my sleep statistics than anything else. If I wake up feeling tired it’s a great indicator of how restfully I slept, but even that is more a curiosity than anything else. But I keep it because (1) it’s reassuring to M to know that I can keep on it, and (2) it works perfectly for me as a watch, and (3) I like the alarm feature. The fitness aspects are pretty much meaningless anymore.

Such is the case with training sessions. I thought I would feel unhappy or disappointed for falling short of 3 digits, but no, I am not. I marvel at 99 over the course of a year, and I feel pretty damn proud of myself for sticking with the weekly recaps for each and every one of them – thus far, anyway. December is not over yet. The only place I feel a bit concerned was Thanksgiving week when it took a few days to pull it together. Rest of the year I have been pretty consistent about getting it written and posted.

Perhaps I will remember 2016 as my year of consistency. Other than my week of vacation, I have been in the gym at least 6 days per week most of this year. I have done a fair number of yoga and pilates classes even if I do not talk a lot about them here. Rarely has more than a couple of days passed here on the blog without a new post.

I know I will remember 2016 as a year of better health taking root. Not just with the exercise either. My eating and food consumption has improved as the months passed, but it’s still far from more perfectly balanced, or even just imperfectly balanced. At times it is wildly out of balance, when I seem to be consuming all sort of junky food and way too many carbohydrates for a well controlled type 2 diabetic. Through the months this year I have lightened up considerably on beating myself into the equivalent of an emotional bloody pulp.

Over the course of the past week I have been involved with several conversations about food and the holidays and eavesdropped on a few more. I hear words like “tracking” and
“calorie counting” and “measuring” and the hairs on my arms start to rise up in rebellion. I have tried various methods of food tracking, and this along with the person scale in M’s bathroom and the tape measure I threw is just another measure of failure for me. My happiness and contentment quotient reached new highs when I discontinued MyFitnessPal on all my devices and completely cancelled my account. Other than listening to body (when it speaks sensibly and does not plead for chocolate, soda, sugar) and striving to eat fruit and/or vegetables with my daily meals, I do not really track anything.

I am very aware of how much sugar is sitting invitingly in our breakroom kitchen right now, and I know tomorrow I’m having lunch with a client who traditionally hands me a lovely box of Godiva chocolates and a nice bottle of adult beverage. The chocolate will be delivered immediately to the office, where the younger and fitter can enjoy it, and the booze will find its way to a new home later in the week. This weekend there are bigger client events both Friday and Saturday evenings, with lots of yummy food and drinks. I will eat what I eat, drink what I drink, and hope for the best. But I will not obsess about it in advance or punish myself afterwards for real and perceived food and drink sins.

That said, I do not perceive myself as losing gazillions of quarter ounces or pounds this month. My clothes are fitting fine, some getting looser, others just fitting differently. Next month’s blood tests will let me know if I remain on a good track or need to make adjustments. I don’t cycle diet – I do not actually diet at all – nor do I have free-for-all eating meals or days. If I want a piece of chocolate I have it. If When I want the entire box of chocolate I restrain myself.

For me, this is a huge step forward in my relationship with food. I can always do better, but right now, I am doing well enough. For me, I am learning to celebrate my wins, not matter how small they may seem from the outside looking inward, and not mourn or feel regret for the “shoulds” I did not meet. One is real, the other imaginary. I have learned to tell the difference.

In some ways this seems to be my year-end post, where I recap all my successes and short comings for the year past. And I suppose in some ways it is just that. But I am evolving into a more reflective person and thinking about this stuff all the time. Only difference is that in a few weeks, when we are closer to the end of the year celebrations, I am as likely as not to have forgotten all about this train of thought.

I will restate the obvious: I am incredibly fortunate to have financial means to afford personal training sessions with uber fabulous trainer J twice weekly. It is a luxury item for most everyone and not something I take for grated as my just due. While my husband, my kids, my closest friends are incredibly pleased and proud of my efforts, I find myself thinking this morning that *I* am incredibly proud of me. And that’s a pretty new admission for me, and I am almost embarrassed memorializing it here on the blog. Because it feels very vain and self-centered to be on my own damn blog talking about being proud of myself.

Another thing to fall away in 2016 – self-consciousness about being pleased with my accomplishments. I’m sure I have mentioned crowing about newly discovered creases from the exercise, also new behavior. Confidence? VERY new behavior. But all good. All very, Very good behaviors.

Some things are still pretty much as they always have been. The feelings of inadequacy continue to rear their ugly little heads from time to time, that I am not thin enough, strong enough, interesting enough, smart enough, kind enough, self-aware enough, enough enough. In my ongoing flawed humanity I have found new strength and facets of my personality that make me unique and interesting. And I like myself better now than I did at the start of the year.

Progress, amazing and beautiful (2 words I so rarely use about myself or anything directly associated with me the person) forward progress.

Love my life and the ways I see it so clearly in the present day. I am very rich indeed.

Giving, receiving, weird funks of the holiday season

Like most people, I hate the commercialism of the holiday season. A lot of people I know with younger children have curbed their gifting-free-for-all spirit and are pursuing saner something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read type guidelines.

But I’m a mom with my own spending issues. I have very fond memories of Christmas mornings and the kids going to bed with not a single present for them anywhere in sight and waking up to a huge pile of wrapped packages and overflowing stockings. That was a wonderful feeling.

Now the kids are grown, and for the last 15 years at least I have gone back and forth between buying them gifts, maybe a lot of little gifts wrapped individually, or one gift to wrap with cash or check inside. This year we are going back to our minimalist ways and doing just a check and a card, maybe; hopefully I’ll find a really cute card or be inspired to write a nice note. My kids are accustomed to my holiday mood swings. They do not particularly care about the gifting either, although I know they have financially goals and it makes me feel good to contribute toward them instead of yet another pair of jeans or some useless something they may enjoy yet not really need.

But I wander through our routine shopping and find myself in the giving spirit. There is a toy drive at the gym and it’s very tempting to buy a few things to put into it, but I cannot quite bring myself to do so. I am not so much in a Grinch-y state of mind so much as it seems so inadequate. Those most in need – what exactly do they need? My practical side is apparently far stronger than any and all tenderness I might feel for children in need and the joy a new toy might bring to them.

I am also not a believer in only giving during the holidays. Most of our charitable giving goes on throughout the year. With my life and history, I am sensitive to the serious illness of children and the mental/emotional anguish of children raised or recovering from abusive situations. Because I am so aware of my weaknesses in this regard, it makes me thorough in vetting charities and situations seeking financial support. Because honestly, I cynically realize that my giving is in its way all about me, and it is important to my own ongoing health and wellness and recovery to do what I can to make the world and my own impulses within it make sense.

Last night was holiday bonuses and the bosses were extremely generous. I don’t know how to feel about that, except gracious and grateful, so very grateful. Yet at my core it makes me a little uncomfortable – I do not feel deserving of such high praise as expressed with their checkbook – but as usual that’s me and my stuff. I rarely to never feel deserving of any bonus dollars not negotiated up front or the many kindnesses and gifts clients send my way. I remind myself we each present gifts for our own unique reasons, and I continually relearn the “accept graciously” lesson along with the not be embarrassed about giving away things I receive and know we will never use. Booze is a prime example – I collect a fair amount during the season and am offering it to friends left and right.

But back to the toy drive and my struggle with that. While I would love to buy a few toys for the toy drive barrel, it will feel inadequate and not quite enough. There is so much need in the world, so many whose holidays will not be the big and bodacious holiday joy-fests the way marketers try so hard to make us believe. It is painful for me to think about less fortunate too much, too deeply, or to allow my emotions to fully engage toward children born into less than ideal circumstances.

I have to just say no and have faith that the charities I do support will be wise and fair and spread the bounty as far and as wide as possible.

Though the years I have found that Christmas is still magical, but for reasons that have less and less to do with gift exchanges or big giant holiday meals. M and I have been at home without our own Christmas tree and decorated home, or we have foregone the decorations completely and just enjoyed the relative uncluttered, unfettered feeling within our own home. But we love walking or driving through our neighborhood and seeing what everyone else has done, enjoying their light displays and Christmas trees from afar. We have had the kids over and ordered pizza on Christmas eve and we have a house full of friends and extended families and cooked and baked until I am so thoroughly sick of the smell of food I don’t even feel like eating.

I do not find a strong preference for either. It is the people I love, that they are safe, happy, healthy in their own lives and spaces that make the holidays feel special for me.

I know it’s not the same for everyone, and the relentless marketing produce a feeling of inadequacy with what is missing during the season. I am super fortunate to not have that. No matter where we are or what we end up doing this season, M and I will be together in our adventure.

C and A leave on Wednesday for the drive to Florida. Their belongings are already on the way, and they are spending their last days in California in a mostly empty apartment sleeping on an air mattress borrowed from us and trying to finish eating from their pantry before their departure. Has made for some very interesting meals this last week. Last night was our last family dinner for awhile, albeit with my associates and bosses and their dates or significant others. Still, it was a very fun and festive evening. We are imagining next we are all together breaking bread will be in Tampa or at Disney World when we go visit next year. Sad because we will miss the close proximity and exciting for the new sense of adventure at the same time. We all console ourselves that we live in the internet age and that keeping in touch is not as challenging as it once was.

My holiday bonus check this year makes it all more poignant to me, that we are among the “haves” versus the “have nots.” As is our custom, any windfalls like this get divided up at 50% into savings, 10% given away, 10% frivolity for M and I, and 30% to be decided on a case-by-case basis. This year I think the 30% will be mostly earmarked for family vacation at Disney World next year.

I don’t know if I feel in a mild funk about the season, overwhelmed with the generosity of bosses and associates, a little anxious about C and A fleeing the state on Wednesday, or simply fatigued from watching CIM today. Or perhaps body is simply jonesing for some structured exercise, having missed pilates, yoga, and the gym in favor of CIM festivities and then laundry, grocery shopping, household chores, work-work.

Or low blood sugar – at 71 when I checked and trying to remember when I ate last. The morning protein shake and peppermint mocha at the race does not provide enough fuel for a full day of actually going about my day.

At the time I checked (about 30 minutes ago), my maiden voyage with the pressure cooker bbq chicken. I had my doubts getting started, but it was actually quite delicious. A little too much bbq sauce this time for the volume of chicken, but good flavor. Next time I’ll cut it back and see if we like it any better.

A few final chores tonight and I can settle down with my current book. All in all, it has been a good day. And I do feel better with some food in my stomach. Chicken and broccoli – my fall-back meal.

Hope you all had a terrific weekend.

Testing my personality and unexpected surprises

Trainer J and I were chatting this morning after my practice and he mentioned retaking a personality test he’d done several years ago. This topic has been batted around a bit over the course of several weeks and training sessions, but my curiosity was piqued by the idea. My club is in the throes of price increases for personal training and small group training also known as body fit around the club. In my home gym the average age of member is probably about where I am right now at 55 and may actual skew a bit higher. What I know is that when I’m there early mornings, I feel right at home with the majority of the midlife folks.

So when I got home and after M ceased testing a couple of different bluetooth speakers we just purchased with very loud guitar riffs, I too the DISC personality test. Here’s my results:

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Perfectionist? Me?

Key word highlights of the perfectionist classification.

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And insights about what my classification means.

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Essentially, I am pretty boring in my work life. Details matter. I like structure and routine. I am not fond of conflict.

What’s interesting to me is that I feel as if some of the things they describe as improvements to act upon are already things I do or have done. I believe this is just my basic, organic personality in play and that my natural tendencies can be overcome with the right stimulation, rewards, or pressure to perform and produce.

Still, it is very interesting to me. I plan to use this information for writing my self evaluation for that process which is starting next week.

Or so I thought.

We had our holiday party this evening, at a nice restaurant downtown. The food was good, the evening quite enjoyable. There were speeches about what a great year have had thus far and how we foresee it concluding. Holiday bonuses were distributed.

My kids were invited to join us, which surprised me, because if my family was invited why didn’t anyone say anything? Because it was supposed to be a surprise, and I truly despise surprises, even good surprises. I was invited to join the senior associates at the podium, which never bodes well for me no matter how delightful the occasion. I absolutely loathe being the center of attention.

They were very kind, in their words of praise for the hard work this last year and how I have done a lot to elevate the standards and “tone” at the firm. They were even kinder in keeping it short, not too fluffy and flowery and embarrassingly flattering, because I just go to work to do my job to the best of my ability. But morale matters, and so does having higher standards of professionalism with each other as well as with the clients and the work we do. Part of my job approaching some of the more difficult topics – like how we speak to one another, how we interact, how we handle disappointments as individuals and as a firm – and to do so with compassion and empathy rather than blame and shame.

While it’s gratifying to have my coworkers and bosses think highly of me and the work I do, it’s paralyzingly humbling to have them say it out loud in front of my entire family. And then to expect me to speak coherently and in public right after that?

I love my job, and I do know that what I am doing with this firm makes a difference. It’s not about me and my ego; I take no joy in being a manager and have to tell people no, have disciplinary conversations, or even terminate employees. Thankfully that’s just a small slice of the work I do, and for the rest of it, I was born and bred to work hard at jobs and to strive to be successful in my career. I don’t know how to not put forth my best effort, particularly when I work at a place where the fit is so good it is as they write the job description just for me.

So I was emotional, tearful, and very sincere in my thanks to the staff for the special recognition and to the partners for the holiday bonus check I will be writing on Monday. The little booklet they made me and the kind words they all wrote is a major work-related keepsake and I feel so fortunate to be part of such a great little firm.

But I still hate surprises.

Walking away a winner

Today was a bit of a rarity: M came to the office to (1) see the new office in our moved-in state and while still in it’s bright and shiny newness, and (2) bring me some soup and crackers to try and settle a troubled tummy. The upset stomach started in the middle of the night last night, making me late for the gym this morning and question whether to take a morning off or try and see what happened. However, since I was 99.99% sure whatever was is giving me grief is food consumed related, I went ahead with practice completely confident I was not contagious. Practice went fine – no abs for me today – and for the most part the day has progressed pretty well. Glad I chose to pursue my List of the day, because I was fine while on the gym floor and completely absorbed and felt fine.

The partners here are rabid runners and love, Love, LOVE talking running with M. They love hearing the stories of his ultra days, even though they are all marathoners right now and running on Sunday in the California International Marathon, so it was fun for them to hang out with M for 2 hours and talking running. A few of our newer associates had not met him before, and when one of them innocently asked why he no longer competes, they got to hear the story of how he won the big race and walked away a winner to finally find himself a wife, and a non-running wife at that. We will be at CIM on Sunday, because a bunch of our friends are competing, my son’s training group is competing, and it’s just seems to be what we do every year.

After M left, one of the newer associates was still perplexed as to how he could retire at the top of his game. Being as he is not that far away from the competitive nature of law school and now immersed as a staff attorney, which in and of itself means a lot of long hours, the pyramid to “the top” in his vision is likely exceedingly tall and steep. M’s training life was not all that different; if he wasn’t working he was running in the mountains or resting. There was no time for much of a social life, and I would have dumped his ass for sheer neglect had we met when he was racing. So I understand running was his priority and focus in those years and once he reached the goal he had set for himself, he retired from competition.

But it of course got me thinking about life and how we handle the day-to-day business of living our lives once we triumph over something we have been chasing. What happens next?

With work and career success, I feel like I have plateaued and will hover around here and the next teeny tiny steps will be toward downsizing with an eye toward part-time work or retirement. Not for a good 10 years or more, but eventually. I am not interested in chasing higher profile jobs or being an up-and-comer in a larger firm. I like my little cocoon in the firm now, where nearly everyone addresses me as “boss,” including the 4 partners. As one of the seniors said to a newbie last spring, we all know who really runs the firm. Which makes me smile.

As a parent, my kids are both grown, married, and leading independent and interesting lives. I love being a voice of experience, but honestly, they seem to have sound judgment and making good choices and decisions. For quite a few years now we have felt more like peers than parent-children, and I like that. I do not need to be consulted on their decisions, although I am happy to listen and talk it through with them when the crossroads appear in their lives. I feel fine being told about their activities or if there is some serious health-related issue going on either at the time or beforehand, please. I respect their need for autonomy and space as much as I would respond if they wanted or needed me to be present in a support capacity. In the culture I have worked to foster, this is how family works.

Besides, both my son- and daughter-in-law love that they have such cool parents-in-law.

Other things I’m pursuing? There is no clearly defined peak or end point for the exercise, unless illness or injury sidelines me, at which time healing will be the priority so I can get back on track with exercise. Education is another lifelong pursuit, although not so formally as in college or specific training courses. My reading list is constantly full and being replenished with things I hear about through various sources. I also have a very long list of hobby-like things to try or pick up again, most of which have fall away in favor of daily gym pursuits or the couple of yoga classes per week.

Thinking about this today, I do not see there is anything in my life right now that is so all-consuming that I will win the grand prize and retire from it. But I can understand the confusion of a hard-charging type A who cannot imagine life after success. We type A-/B+ people have learned there is always going to be new challenges to fill the void.

Either that or I am an unambitious slacker. Which I am not. So whatever void is created with each successful albeit vague goal I may have set somehow, there is always something else on my bucket list ready to be started or to be prioritized higher to take its place.

Perhaps it is merely a matter of perception and semantics. In my life, I do not see “winning” as culmination of a pursuit. Instead, I see it as an ongoing, integral part of the life I am leading and a reshuffling of priorities as things reach a conclusion. Otherwise, I suspect I would still be dreaming of my mother of the year award and valiantly attempting to helicopter parent my adult children and micromanage those around me at work. Accompanying such a scenario, negative girl and wildly insecure girl would be out of their boxes, running rampant and burning fields behind us. And really, who needs that?

Happy Friday everyone.

Training #93 – Alive and kicking

Thursday morning, training with J. While this has been an absolutely fabulous week and my euphoria over the office move that went off without any glitchy hitches, today we were in the exercise test kitchen having a teaching day and it was AMAZING. Even if I had had a shitty week, had everything go wrong that possibly could go wrong with the entire office move (and trust me, it’s a lot), I would still say today was amazing and fantastic. But I’m kind of exercise nerdy that way.

Today was adventures in fluffy cuffies, the affectionate way we refer to the bright and shiny new ankle cuffs J gave me last week for the cable machines. We had just a couple of exercises last week on the particular lower body List. Today was essentially an expanded edition, where J has added a few more fluffy cuffy exercises and made it all so much more interesting. Glutes, hamstrings – oh my there is weeping and wailing in my rear quarters today. But no complaints from me. I love teaching days, and I really enjoyed the testing and experimenting with some new things.

What We Did

This is the full List, yet we focused exclusively on the B block of exercises. Since this was a teaching day, we went through 2 sets of the B block, shooting for a rep range of 12 to 15.

A1  Squat Machine “Frog Stance”
A2  Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension

B1  Cable Glute Donkey Kick
B2  Cable Side Hip Abductions
B3  Cable Glute Kickback
B4  Cable Step Back to Split Stance or Reverse Lunge to High Knee
B5  1-leg RDL w/ Ankle Strap Attached

C1  1-legged Glute Pushdown
C2  Adductor Machine

How it Felt

I am test driving a new format for training recaps based on how I have been writing them and the types of information I want to review somewhere into the future. I am trying to be clearer and summarize my brain dump in a way I find clearest and most useful on a standalone basis.

As I said, today was all about the B block exercises on the Freemotion cable machine. We went through each exercise on the right leg and then did the entire series on the left leg.

What we did last week with the arrival of the fluffy cuffies was labeled as a glute kickback, but I learned today it was kind of a hybrid of a couple of exercises on the cable machine. Because of that, I had some initial resistance toward the cable glute donkey kickback. Not terrible resistance, no kicking and screaming and foot-stomping tantrums about how much I hate or cannot do the donkey kickbacks. Not that has ever actually happened in a training session, but sometimes it sure feels like my head pitching a fit on my own time in practices. If anything, it is more reprogramming mind to accept that the knee stays bent and sole of foot is pushing upward toward the sky, versus the way I had initially learned where leg stayed mostly straight while heel was high-kicking backward toward the ceiling. While I can feel the working leg kicking and working, I can also feel the anchored leg and glutes kicking in working hard at providing stability to the body.

The cable side hip abductions were introduced last week on the cable machine (we had previously done these a lot with the minibands). J went over it with me in a lot more detail this morning, and I am so glad. While I was not doing it wrong on my own, I was sort of winging it and wondering why it seemed like the couple of times I pursued this List in my own practice it felt like I was doing it differently every time and trying to reinvent the wheel. He taught me the setup with the cable – line up with cable parallel to shins, then turning away from the cable 45 degrees, and the cable should be skimming the shin in the exercise to ensure the right angle and side glute working. I could tell the difference immediately. A few hours later, I am standing at my desk because my glutes are weeping and wailing about how worked they are this morning. I definitely can feel the work in those side glutes.

Now that I have the original hybrid glute kickback broken down into a donkey kick and a real glute kickback, I understand the difference. The cable glute kickback we did today was leg forward and leg moving backward and all about the ways it feels in the hamstrings and lowest section of the glutes. Again, it was hard to break myself of the initial habit of trying to kick back with heel higher, but I have a better handle on the shape of this exercise and will force myself to be slow and deliberate with each rep.

Surprisingly, the cable step back to split stance to high knee is hands-down the favorite thing we did today. It looked hard when J demonstrated, and I did not even attempt the reverse lunge (I think I have been referring to it as a backwards lunge recently), but using a 6 lb. weighted bar for balance I managed pretty well to just fine. The cable weight is around the leg moving to the high kick and back into the split stance or the reverse lunge. I am fine with the set-up – attach weight, walk forward – yet a lot more cautious on the dismount. Do I walk backward very slowly or turn sideways and sort of sidestep it? Maybe I try to turn around and walk it forward? Silly questions, I know, but I can easily imagine the Very Bad Things befalling me after the fact. While in the moment and actually performing this movement, I found it very soothing to get into the rhythm of stepping back, high knee lifting on the forward step. The bar for balance worked perfectly, and my balance has improved enough that I do not even realize that it is in my hand and working for me. I went through this feeling the glutes and hamstrings doing their work and really enjoyed the sensation and the feeling of control over my leg in going through this. A few practices on my own and I’ll be willing to try the lunge instead, but for today and a first time I feel hugely successful in going through this the first times. Going forward I will be focusing on elevating the knee as high as possible as well as maintaining balance, but this little exercise demonstrated to me how far I have come on this journey.

If the cable step back to split stance to high knee was my favorite thing today, the cable 1-legged Romanian deadlift with cable attached was the most intriguing thing we did today. This exercise can only be performed this way on the Freemotion machine, with it’s 2 arms and cables that can be rotated into various positions. With a cable attached to the anchoring leg, I have no clear idea why it makes such a difference, but I will say it makes me feel stable more stable doing the deadlift portion with the cable in my hand. In addition to that, depending upon the positioning angle of the cable attached to my ankle, I felt the contraction in different places in my glutes, hamstrings, or hip flexor. I was interesting, definitely a creation of J’s test kitchen, and I find myself eager to return and try it again just to experience the differences once more. I felt it in the high hamstring to lower glute with one angle, in the hip flexor in another, and smack dab in the middle glue with yet another. I could be the one-off weirdo client as well, hence my eagerness to test this again tomorrow and testing my ability to replicate the feelings depending upon the cable’s angle and positioning.

Key Takeaways

Let me preface this by saying that teaching days are the best part of training sessions. I was a geek and a nerdy girl long before it was attractive or cool, and I feel as if I am a collector of random facts and ideas. I like knowing stuff. I really like knowing I can learn new stuff. So it seems perfectly natural to me that I would love teaching days. Anymore, I have built up enough knowledge and stamina for exercise that I have a good balance of success and challenge with each training session and new material and exercises. This time last year, there was teach day, review day, technical review day, and then just more review and correction days. I appreciated it then, I appreciate it now. The fact that we drilled and drilled and drilled on the fundamentals in the earliest of sessions, because it has been invaluable for me with learning to self-correct and hear body’s feedback about what I am doing.

I love the experimentation and learning new things. I love my shiny new objects, in this case my fluffy cuffies. And I am really appreciating the resources J has steered me toward that help me on this better health journey.

Not sure if I would classify it as burnout or even the mildest of funk, but Thanksgiving week found me feeling like a slacker about exercise. I trained, I practiced, and while I was distracted more than usual, I was present and did something. My level of engagement was not complete and as normal as it has been this week.

But oh well. One week out of 52 is not bad. I’m happy to be focused and feeling as if I am working at normal capacity.

Growth for me has come not been a series of “EUREKA!” moments, more the slow and steady march of going and working at the Lists, pursuing yoga as frequently as my schedule and my energy allows, and just sticking with the program. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s exhilarating and exciting. Anymore for me, this is my habit, this is my life and my lifestyle. Being busy is not a reason to not be at the gym, to reschedule or (heaven forbid!) cancel a training session, or not appear on a scheduled practice day. There could be a compelling reason to be practicing for less than my usual 90 minute allotment – shaving sleep, early meetings, distraction with other things, illness. I have become extraordinarily serious about better health; it is my priority and the exercise is at least 70% of why I am enjoying feeling good overall.

I think about all these things like white noise playing in the background as we go through the new exercises and I try to wrap my head around it all.

Today in the test kitchen, I felt no apprehension about not being successful with these new things. I can tell where I struggled – the donkey kicks and the glute kickbacks – but I had no doubts I could and would learn and overcome the shallow habit I had acquired. The rear step to high knee was shocking to me that my ability has increased to this degree, and I am not-so-secretly thrilled it went as well as it did right out the gate. I’m ridiculously excited about tomorrow, because my new plan is that I do my dumbbell matrix before completing this List in its entirety.

The 1-legged Romanian deadlifts were intriguing to me and have captured the little professor inside my brain that wants to understand the differences of the impacts of the anchoring foot with the cable pulling from different angles. It occurred to me long after I was at the office and dealing with move-related matters and vendors that at the time we were going through it, I had completely forgotten that without the weight cable attached the glute felt a particular way and with the cable attached it felt both more stable and the muscle work more intensely. However, next I do this I will do a few reps beforehand without the weight cable attached. For comparison and contrast. And I will test drive the different angles to see if I can get a clearer sense of where and how I feel it.

The Lists expand and new layers are incorporated as we move along. It keeps me challenged and learning new things, getting stronger and fitter as the days and weeks pass.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

There was a random comment this morning about my blog being unrealistic in being happy happy joy joy all the time. Frankly, it made me laugh. I didn’t publish it, because it is irrelevant and obviously someone who had read very shallowly through the blog and is not genuinely interested in what I might have to say or share here, instead complaining that I am not pissing and moaning enough. I will get over it.

I have written extensively about how impactful the regular exercise habit has been on both my mental and emotional outlooks. This week – it’s been amazing. Work at the law firm has gone extraordinarily well this week and I worked very hard at work my stable of private clients needed over the holiday week to ensure nothing fell through the cracks while I had a full plate with my other job. Time management, organization, and developing the discipline to manage my own time are not natural talents for me. I have had to push myself very hard to ensure I stay on top of everything going on in all aspects of my life. With negative girl in the wheelhouse, a good portion of my energy was spent imagining the worst and preparing the plan B for what I would do when I failed or dropped the ball. It was exhausting.

While I would never say regular and consistent exercise is a cure-all for what ails us, for me it has been done A LOT to build my mental and emotional muscles and endurance as well as my physical self. While I work with J and he teaches me all sorts of things that have a direct impact on me physically, our conversations and the resources he has steered me toward have done wonders for my mental game game as well. I am immersed in an entire series of podcasts right now on exercise and fitness topics. I do not always understand what the topics they are discussing, being neither a physique or power lifting competitor, yet there is a lot of common sense information and advice for the regular person looking to learn. On my blog bucket list are notes for future posts about my favorite episodes of this podcast series.

As part of a broader, far-ranging conversation with J this morning, I have been contemplating and confronting my own body image biases. M and I were watching an old documentary on Ike and Tina Turner. There was a lot of footage from the earliest days of their career, and I remarked to M that many of the women in the documentary would be considered fat or overweight by today’s entertainment standards. Not a darn thing wrong with any of their figures, except they actually had flesh on their bones and were not as skin and bones as the models and actresses that are famous and considered so beautiful today.

My own body has changed with the consistent gym practice. I’m not going to be thought of as undernourished or underweight, but I can tell from the way clothes fit and the way I actually look at that I am smaller than I was when I first met J. There is less fat. There is more muscle. And it is incredibly gratifying to be visibly trimmer. With all this glute work I actually have a shapely rear end.

In my book, these are not small cupcake-sized accomplishments. While the inner changes of blood sugar and overall health as determined by my labs are far more impressive, seeing signs of positive exterior changes is gratifying. My latest small victory is the my skinny jeans are now another pair of loose fit jeans.

In my most confident moments, I’m pleased with the way I am looking, that the work is showing to my own self-critical eye. If negative girl gets to bleat out a thought, it is to chastise me for being so big-headed about my efforts. Even writing this post, talking about my successes and how fantastic I feel about it, I feel a little un-humble to even bring it up.

I do not take it for granted. Reinventing myself as someone who gets up at 4 a.m. to make it to the gym well before work has not been a simple task, and I would still never classify myself as a morning person.

But my perception of what “fit” looks like has been subtly changing as the months have passed. The young man who completed our gym membership application last year was this chiseled, buff-bunny type that just looked like he worked in a gym. Yet the current operations manager at my club is a fuller figured woman. The powerlifting ladies J coaches are all heights, weights, shapes, and sizes, yet none have the smaller, thinner physiques of a maturing supermodel or online fitness pro. Those ladies are very strong and have many admirable accomplishments, and it is so impressive to watch them going through their training routines.

I’m trying hard to apply the same standards of understanding to myself, and not feel poorly about not being skinnier or ignoring the judgmental scale that lives in M’s bathroom. It had to be banished, you see, because it was depressing the shit out of me every single day. I tried to make friends. I tried to not let it upset me. It didn’t work. For me, external measurements are only tracking my failures. Does not matter that I am using weighter weights this year, or doing more reps, or more complicated exercise programs. If that dreaded scale says I am 0.2 lbs. heavier than the day before my confidence and self esteem takes a hit. Forget all the knowledge I have gained about weight fluctuations and what I am trying hard to absorb about science and biology. Mind sees a higher number, mind freaks the Hell out and reacts as if the sky overhead has lost a critical support feature keeping it aloft.

I like the sky right where it is and vastly prefer not to contemplate or feel the weight of it’s potential falling. So I ignore any and all scales in my path, tape measures are banned in my home. And stay happily ignorant of such external measurements of progress and careening happily along in pursuit of my better health habits.

Because I’m fine. I look fine. I feel great. I feel particularly alive and lively right now, but that could be the sugar coursing through my system. The partners brought me back a piece of cheesecake (from Cheesecake Factory) from a client lunch today, and I can eat it, all of it, without feeling guilty or ashamed or worrying about the extra calories and only a little concerned about my blood sugar. I did check it in advance of eating half my treat and again 90 minutes after, and it was higher than usual but not bad. This is a rare treat, not an every day occurrence, although I will be finishing it tomorrow after lunch. Still … thanks bosses! Key lime – my favorite.