Dismantling my brain’s wrecking ball

It’s been a terrible and terrific couple of days.

The terrible was awful in the short term – one of my newer clients had a heart attack Monday night. But it is a short-term issue and he anticipates a full recovery followed by some significant lifestyle change. The news made for a very frantic day of phone calls and juggling of appointments and deadlines, but it all got done.

My client’s sudden illness did cut my workout short in the morning when his son was texting and calling me at 6:30 a.m. frantic because it was payroll and he had no idea what to do. Consequently, I had to return last night to practice the new routine from Monday’s session. While J and probably every other reasonable person I know would say that missing a day of practice would not result in Very Bad Things befalling me, I cling to the structure of my exercise schedule. Session with J on Monday introduced new things; therefore, I practice new things on Tuesday and on Wednesday so I am prepared with questions on Thursday morning. Sometimes that gets sidelined or derailed for reasons typically beyond my control, but whenever possible I try to stick with that very basic plan.

The end, as far as the events I would characterize as terrible for this post.

I have written previously about my evening gym visits and how it seems better for my nervous system to go in the early mornings when it’s quiet. Last night there was no blaring country music and the room where I dwell was relatively empty as well. J was there working with another client, but of course he does not bother me at all. I have accepted that that mysterious third eye he has for observing clients is probably a career enhancing quality and benefits me as well in the course of training.

But within minutes after my arrival and beginning my new List, these two thoughtless teenagers come in and disrupt the peace. From J’s body language I knew he was irritated with them as well, and at one point he had to speak to them about not plugging their own music into the speaker system.

One of things I am doing this week is a bodyweight Bulgarian split squat (correct name for the elevated rear foot split squat on Monday) and it presently requires use of a tall “box” for balance. These boys had commandeered both tall boxes and were jumping over them. I am watching this while going through my first series of exercises knowing I would need one of those boxes for my next series and wondering what to do about it. I am mulling over my options – request the box (most logical, grown-up course of action), do regular split squats instead (easiest course of action), or throw myself at J’s mercy and ask for help in acquiring a tall box from them (childish and cowardly course of action). Because seriously, mine is not a Parkour gym, and I felt they did not need both boxes. But was I up for the potential hard time in getting one away from them?

The debate in my head was raging when J approached and reminded me that he was right there and available to help if needed. It’s immeasurably reassuring and easy to be brave when I know someone has my back. Intellectually I know I am a perfectly capable grown-up who can ask nicely for a piece of equipment that they do not really seem to be using. Emotionally I was terrified because they could be the selfish, thoughtless young men I judged them to be who would just say no and I would turn away feeling like a jerk for asking. Knowing J agreed and supported my position made me brave.

In the end there was no issue. I asked them very politely if they were using both tall boxes, and one said yes, the other said no, so I took the box and walked away, leaving the two of them to sort it out. I felt better about the transaction, as if I had approached untamed beasts and walked away unscathed.

Now, I have raised teenagers – G and C were not always so grown-up and independent. But I would be mortified to know either of them had ever behaved so poorly in a public place, and in all honesty I cannot imagine it. My son in particular tends to be a stickler for manners, especially when it comes to high school runners coming in for expensive shoes and treating their parental units poorly during the transaction. His manager and coworkers have told me stories of G calling kids out for being rude to their parents, which is gratifying on so many levels.

But anyway … back to business here …..

Monday J had prepared a new routine with a couple of new exercises. I am not sure how to describe the other differences, except that the pace and the cadence of doing the series is different than before. Always I am in control of that, and J reminds me frequently that it’s okay to take a pause and catch my breath and not be pushing, pushing, pushing through the entire routine.

The voices in my head have had me convinced that if I am not pushing, pushing, pushing I am goldbricking and trying to cheat or slide my way through doing my time in the gym. To those judgmental bitches, exercise is a very black-and-white proposition, and I am either gung-ho and going for it or I am on the beach eating bonbons.

Just lately a new idea is taking root: if I cannot turn off the music completely maybe I should select another tune?

This week I started small, thinking about the sets and the reps. I tried hard not to feel as compelled to try for minimums or maximums and feel as if I am failing for “only” getting through so many. I like this routine for lots of reasons, but primarily because it feels like short, focused bursts. Do one, do next, do third, repeat. Done with 3 sets, move on to the next series. This does not mean it has not been hard. At set 2 and about number 15 of 20 on the elevated hip thrusts I was so ready just forget about my damn glutes. By the time I am back for set 3 I am contemplating all the good and reasonable reasons why stopping at 10 is not a terrible idea. This morning I actually stopped at 10 in set 3 and switched legs, just to give myself a break from my own head. By alternating legs after 10 reps I was able to complete 3 sets of 20. It was imperfect and not just as written on my sheet, but I got the job done. I call that good enough.

Same thing with the Bulgarian split squats. Of all the things I thought I was worried about on this, what floats to mind after 2 days of performing this movement is that I need to find the sweet spot for my back foot. I am not thinking about balance – got the tall box with a dumbbell perched on top for that. I am not thinking about the front leg and what muscles should be working and whether I am pressing down through the heel – I am feeling it in all the right places, using the heel, and pre-tightening/engaging muscles to keep my focus on that. Nope, what floats to the top of my concern list is the position of my rear foot on the bench. Back foot should be light, J says; do not push off on it or you put too much strain on the hip joints. But while I am resting one hand on the box and dumbbell for balance and hopping around on the front foot to get into the right positioning, I am thinking about the back foot and how it feels. Is it cramping? Am I kinda/sorta trying to push off with it? Does it feel light and airy?

Seriously, these are my thoughts while I am trying to gracefully execute this movement. And mostly it is working. (Possibly other people out there going through their workouts are thinking pleasant thoughts or solving first world problems, but that’s not me. I am superficial and shallow that way.) It takes me a couple to 3 hops per set to find the right placement, but I am already getting better at locating it. The exercise itself is damn difficult and I am still feeling it right now, seated at my desk for the last couple of hours, but my head is mulling where my foot was on the bench and how it looked and trying to remember for next time.

For all that technicality thinking, next I know I am at rep 12 and struggling for 13. It passes fairly quickly. By set 3 I am ready to toss in the towel at 5 but pausing and thinking about that rear foot and pushing through to 14. Success.

These things are coming to mind because the temptation to flog myself over not completing my sets successfully in perfect world form has not really occurred to me. I am doing my inner happy dance for getting through 3 sets period.

If you are not someone with a negative soundtrack about yourself and your abilities this may not be that big of a deal. But for me, who questions everything about the whole exercise process, it is a huge accomplishment. I can do this. It might not be pretty or graceful or 100% perfect form right out of the box, but I will improve and I will eventually be better.

Practice is providing unimagined benefits.

For awhile now I have heard what M, J, other supporters say about improvement with consistent practice and what I actually believe about improvement with consistent practice as it relates to me. My head has this double standard about what the potential every else possesses and what potential I possess. I have felt so utterly handicapped in my own untapped abilities. Heck, if I am very honest, I have been convinced I have no abilities. It’s far easier to profess distaste for something you feel you can never master than to try and be disappointed when you continually fail.

Funny thing, I’m not failing. I am trying, and I am succeeding. There are setbacks. There are meltdowns and things I just do not get the first couple dozen tries.

Whoda thunk.

With my new little victories I am turning my attention toward dismantling the wrecking ball in my brain, the one that makes self-loathing for real and perceived shortcomings an art form to be celebrated. I am not naturally gifted or graceful with fitness pursuits, so I have to work hard and I have to practice. So I can be better.

I am capable of so much more with exercise and fitness pursuits than I ever dared to contemplate. And what an exhilarating and terrifying new idea that is for me.

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