Training #10 – Falling in love with exercise

Confession: I typically start and title these recaps the night before, based on what I am feeling in the moment I begin the post, all I imagine we might be doing in the training session, and what I could be thinking during and after the session ends. About half the time I change the titles to something more accurate, and the other half I proceed with the perspective I want to share and incorporating those thoughts and feelings into the recap itself.

If that makes any sense. Just know I do a fair amount of thinking, overthinking, and imaginary writing before anything actually gets typed and published here. Very rarely does anything powerful enough happen during training to overwhelm my pre-loaded emotional intentions toward the new stuff I am introduced to or stuff we may be reviewing.

These days, I strive to set-up, arrive with, and maintain a positive mindset, and the recaps help me enormously with sorting everything out. Training, exercise, my quest for better health are like sacred responsibilities and purposes to me; these are things I take seriously and try to share the outcomes thoughtfully with all of you. But it’s also a really personal journey, and I get that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s okay; I write for me first and foremost. I am also not an expert on any of this stuff and you will never find a how-to description … unless J decides he wants to guest post a tutorial sometime.

While I personally seem to be a hot mess of emotional struggles for balance just lately here, the rest of my life and relationships seem noteworthy for their stability. I remind myself these posts are snapshots of where I was in the moments of writing and not the sum total of the life I lead on a day-to-day basis. It has been interesting to read back through my earlier posts and see how my writing and sharing has evolved.

But back to today’s training.

We are currently in this chapter of doing sequencing stuff. J has become like a custom exercise routine designer, making mix-and-match sets that are like a coordinating line of tops and bottoms. It’s actually quite fun, keeps things fresh, a remix of movements I already know, adding or taking away from things I have learned to make them more challenging and reflective of my improving abilities. And I love, Love, LOVE being able to go back to day 1, session 1, and see how far I have come in this process.

Back to dumb bell work today with the following:

  • DB Alt. Reverse Lunge (10 lb.)
  • DB Alt. Side Lunge & “Reach” (5 lb.)
  • DB Alt. Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift (5 lb.)
  • DB Chest Press (20 lb.)
  • DB 1-arm Row (bench supported) (20 lb.)
  • DB Bent-Elbow Pullover (25 lb.)
  • DB Seated Shoulder Press (10 lb.)
  • DB Standing Biceps Curl (12 lb.)
  • DB Laying Down Triceps Extensions (10 lb.)

We used lighter weights than I have historically been wielding because some of this was updated and J can never predict how I might react or take to new or transitioning exercises. Practicing on my own the next few days I will be test driving heavier weights on several of these just to see how it feels once I am more comfortable.

I can say that the alternating single leg RDL is my big challenge this week, but it is simply that – a new challenge. There was no angsty freak-out or suppressed meltdown waiting to happen. We have done the TRX version, which vexed me for weeks of daily practices until it slowly become more natural and my focus and balance were achieved. It took time and involved a lot of sweat equity in making the incremental progress that added up to ability to perform this movement (I know there was no blood and cannot recall any tears specifically about that one), but now I feel so much more confident and capable. When the offset RDL was introduced last week sometime, I did pretty well, but again, holding onto the TRX stanchions to maintain my balance.

Today the alternating single leg RDL is without supports and dumb bells in both hands. I was like a weeble – wobbling but not falling down – yet I also did surprisingly well considering this is my first day and first attempts. I did not get frustrated or anxious about it, just thought they were a fun new transition to the next step.

What a change in just a few months. I have notably more confidence in my ability to develop the skills to make this work. I am not concerned with how long it takes anymore, because I do not need mastery of this to move on to something else that seems more desirable or glamorous. (Where the flittering thought that exercise is glam came from is another great mystery; there is nothing glam about dripping with sweat and wishing to collapse on the floor in a puddle.) Mostly, surprisingly, I feel energized and enthusiastic about the idea of mastering this new rendition and adding it to my “I can do those” side of the Lists.

Week after week we go through Lists, adding and moving around, changing order, adapting to gym policy on equipment I can use without J’s direct supervision. I look forward to whatever we do every Monday and Thursday, but I also look forward to the rest of the days and being in the gym by myself and practicing whatever List or now whatever upper body/lower body sequence I choose for the day. I admit to getting a little anxious when the gym is really crowded, but it’s improved a lot as the months have passed. I periodically go to the gym in the evenings just to improve my crowd tolerance. Progress.

I am nearing 7 months of training with J, 4 months of training with minimal days off (3 counting Christmas, and I’m not sure it’s fair to me to count gym closure days). When I started, I never thought the day would come when training would equal fun in my mind. But it’s true, it’s happened. I have crossed over into the gym person’s mindset and fallen in love with exercise. That’s not to say I love every exercise (looking at you, TRX ham curls), but overall I really enjoy the time spent in the gym just putting my body through it’s current paces. It’s not the idea of pretty muscles or significantly lower body fat, although of course that is both a bonus (pretty muscles) and a quality of improved overall health (lower body fat). I enjoy being stronger and feeling more confident and competent inside my own skin. More than that, I am really loving the movements my body is capable of learning and adapting itself to perform. Some of those require more strength that has had to be built as the months have passed. Some of those require the additional flexibility of moving regularly in certain ways. And all of it required consistent practice, that I try and keep trying until I succeeded, then keep practicing to stay sharp and get better.

Part of it is the way J trains. He explains the muscles where I should be feeling it or demonstrates for me how what is supposed to be contracting or tightening or stretching with each phase of each exercise. I joke about the cueing, the shoulders back 50 times in 50 minutes, but I have never had him give me an answer that my mind hears as the equivalent of “because I say so.” Always there has been a reason that makes sense to me, an explanation of what is being worked, what else might be being protected and shielded doing the movement correctly.

Today kettlebell swings came up. J said it is something he is every unlikely to train me to do, because there is no need for me to learn that movement. He himself does not do them; they are not applicable to his life or interests or fitness pursuits and he does not perceive a need for them in mine. I am perfectly fine with not learning them; truth is I cringe every time I see other members performing them inside the gym. No good thing comes from it when my imagination watches them losing control and the KB flying across the room. But I ask, as I typically do, what a KB swing supposed to do you, meaning what muscles is it working and how does it benefit the body? While I cannot recall the precise response – something about quickening the muscle fiber responses – it was satisfactory and did not sound like something I yearn to know more about. As I said, I always imagine the worst when I see others performing them.

Then he said something about being called out for not doing more core work. While it’s true we do not do a lot of core-specific exercises, I have never been bothered by it and had to ask why he was being called out on that – I cannot seem to help it, I am curious. Again, I like his thoughtful, honest responses – there is only so many hours in each of our days, and as a trainer he chooses exercises that make the most efficient sense for the body and that is rarely core-specific. I get that, too. Personally, I am not a huge fan of core exercises. Crunches, sit-ups – I know I am doing something wrong because it hurts my back more than my stomach if I do them for any length of time. If pressed J could and would diagnose and cure me of my bad habits, but since there are a lot of other very effective core exercises if I want to go there, why bother? Why indeed. It is not a priority for me.

What I like and is a priority for me in this journey, it feels as if I am discovering my body’s operating manual, one page at a time.

In other exercise pursuits like yoga and cardio, it is difficult for me to improve in a class setting, or it becomes boring drudgery after awhile. The yoga is still on my radar to continue to attend more regularly to improve as well as hang out with friends I have made at the studio, and the cardio may become a complement to my resistance training just because I have equipment at home gathering dust. However, far and away the spoon-feeding personal training methodology has slowly, layer by layer, built my confidence about my abilities. I come away from training thinking wow! I did that! Practicing on my own I start to truly understand that being a gifted athlete would be really fabulous, but the rest of us really have to be disciplined and make conscious choices every day to work at learning and improving.

Of all the things I have done in this training and exercise journey, letting go of the idea of goals was the first step in becoming more competent. Stripping away comparison with others and giving up any and all obsessive thoughts of improving and advancing are the next significant changes that have made exercise in general a much more enjoyable experience. I am probably never going to be the most confident woman person in the gym. I am exceedingly unlikely to be the strongest or most accomplished with either cardio or moving mass quantities of weight up and down or to and fro. I cannot imagine being chosen or asked to be part of my gym’s marketing campaigns or invited to share my success story (I can already imagine the agony of word choice and phrasing and endless rewrites involved). And none of that matters to me. While the idea of that makes my head spin in completely negative, self-destructive ways, thinking of it was the equivalent of a little girl’s dream of being a princess or someone extra special. It is a pipe dream one aspires to secretly while working to be ready – just in case.

What I am now and into the future is an invisibly anonymous member who comes in with lists in hand and practices. Almost every day, occasionally twice per day if I am particularly focused on something and eager to try again. I am not looking at myself in the mirrors or feeling smug about being further along on my journey than someone else is on theirs. Most of the time I am admiring how gracefully others execute movements I myself am familiar with, how nicely they do a glute bridge or a dead lift or a lunge and hopefully mine will someday look more like all that. I am thinking about what the muscles and joints feel like as I go through each exercise, am I hitting this muscle right and feeling it where I should be feeling it? Are my shoulders back behind my ears, are my abs tight, is my chest up, are my glutes contracted … there are a lot of cues for everything and they run in an endlessly encouraging sequence loop inside my head.

Focusing on what I am doing in the here and now on my own journey has freed me from thinking about how far behind I am, how I am faltering or failing, how I am never going to measure up or advance beyond the barest basics. Taking myself out of competition and comparison, letting go of the shoulds and the timelines as best I can gives room for me to simply be in the gym and trying my best.

I have fallen in love with exercise because it’s fun to be succeeding, to gain mastery and learn my arms and legs and whole body can do things that I never thought possible for me. And to know I’ve barely scratched the surface of possibility? It’s eye-popping to imagine all the other stuff I might learn in the future.

I have more work yet to do on my mindset and my attitude, and I am okay with that. It’s a process. Where I am right here, right now, is the precisely correct place.

And how genuinely liberating and happiness-inducing that realization is for me. Progress on steroids.

2 thoughts on “Training #10 – Falling in love with exercise

  1. Congrats on the new mindset! I love that working with J has helped you progress so much – not just the progress in the exercises but more importantly how you approach them! Every trainer is different – D has me do the kettle ball – i fear losing control of them as well – but so far so good. We finish with an ab specific exercise – although we have eliminated some variations because of back pain. Although every exercise seems to include tight abs! Well done!

    • Don’t you hate that tight abs cue? At first I wondered how I was supposed to breathe while tightening my abs, but now on many things it’s like my body just knows that’s what is coming and just does it.
      I am pretty happy that my mindset has changed from “oh how dreadful” to “oh, this will be fun” about the gym. I mean, if I have to go there and exercise – and I do have to for the balance of my days – I should learn to enjoy it. I am finding the challenging stuff appeals to me on an intellectual as well as physical level, so it’s all very good. 🙂

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