Training #14 – When God-fearing women get the blues

Thursday and training with J, at 7 rather than our usual 8:30. I am/was well rested and a lot more relaxed and cheerful this morning and the rest of this pretty marvelous day.

The title of this post – the song came up on a random playlist last night driving home and stuck in my mind. I am not so much a God-fearing woman (more like higher power-respecting woman) as I liked the video displaying temporary insanity for whatever reason. Having felt like I had an attack of the blues yesterday and backslid a little on various fronts (completely imaginary according to sources I respect), it seemed appropriate.

Besides, it just sounds sort of ominous and powerful. God-fearing women? Reminds me of those self-righteous biddies at the Baptist church my sister and I attended as children. I think I was about 8 when we started going with our best friends, and after 4 years I had had enough of organized religion. I remember telling my parents that I was no longer going to attend, because the leadership and senior members of the congregation were the worst kind of hypocrites. My folks, while they themselves did not go to church on Sundays, were taken aback by my pronouncement. I reported observing married people (including the pastor) engaging in inappropriate discrete displays of affectionate behavior with non-spouses, other members in the liquor store buying hard liquor after a sermon on the evils of drink (my dad was an alcoholic; I spent a fair amount of time as a child in bars and liquor stores), and just really ugly, rude, un-Christian like behavior of those who judged others. I was a pretty quiet kid, mostly kept to myself, but there was nothing wrong with my ability to observe and understand what was going on around me. While it felt wrong to judge others, it felt worse to watch them judging others.

My parents refused to believe me about the church members. They could not persuade or make me continue going, but their insistence that I was telling tales was so hurtful and so wrong on so many levels.

But anyway. About today’s training session – we revisited and updated the lower body warmup routine and J layered in a few more exercises. I will have to update this once the final List update is published, and I may also be forgetting something. But to the best of my recollection, this is what we did today:

Goblet squat
Hip side-to-side
Hip airplanes
Bulgarian split squats
Elevated reverse lunges (front foot on a step without risers beneath)
Some other kind of get-up (from kneeling to standing and back – cooked up in the J test kitchen)
Single leg bend and reach (similar to a single-leg Romanian deadlift, but different)
Traverse lunges
Side twist things with band (completely blank on what they were called)

Intentionality is the word of the day. There was another big mouthful word J used to describe muscle movement and balance, but I cannot recall it or its precise meaning at this moment. Honest, I was listening and paying close attention, but it was a mouthful and we went over a lot of stuff today. What I came away with from today’s session relates back to the pretensioning of working muscles, going slowly and ensuring I can feel the targeted muscle/muscles doing the work they are supposed to be doing with each and every exercise. That concept is something I can relate to, especially when it is broken down into slow down and feel the affected muscles pushing or pulling the body up or down, side to side as I move through it. It also makes identifying where I am going wrong easier.

There were 2 specific takeaways today that I want to highlight and celebrate: (1) performing Bulgarian split squats without a box for balance, and (2) J speaks of me anecdotally to other training clients as an example of positive improvement with practice. Wow, just wow on both.

While it may not sound like much, the Bulgarian split squats are not really easy and have been an ongoing challenge for me. Of course, anything and everything that comes with a one-leg posture or ingrained expectation of balance has been an issue in one way or another for me this entire training time. This particular split squat is no exception. Since the rear leg is elevated on a bench, it seems as if it should be easier (versus leg just floating around back there under its own power). However, I have been using a box and a dumbbell for balance support since its introduction into the rotation several weeks ago. I have been trying to wean myself off this dependency, but every time I put the box next to me I end up using it despite my best intentions. I started to wonder if my dependency on it for balance was at least partly psychological in nature.

This morning I decided to test my theory on psychological dependence and try and go without my balance aid system. Sometimes I think too much help hinders, and I needed to try without the training wheels to see if I had progressed much at all. My reasoning was that if I faltered, failed, and fell over I could always stop and set up the box. To my complete surprise and utter amazement, I was fine. I went very slowly and deliberately but I managed to do 12 on each leg (my minimum) with barely a wobble. That alone made my week. Maybe it’s a little thing to everyone else, but my legs and mental focus were both finally strong enough to support me in this effort.

Progress I can see and feel. You betcha I’m celebrating.

While going through the warmup with J – these Bulgarian split squats are part of it – I mentioned to him that I had completed my 12 per leg minimum warming up for our session without the balance aid. He immediately wanted me to do them again, see for himself, make any technical adjustments necessary. You know – do his job. (*smile*) But I was happy to go through it again, because what if I was no longer using the box to stay upright but was doing something else that was detrimental enough that it required unlearning? So I went through another set of these things, and even J was impressed. He equated it to teaching a child how to ride a bike and the sense of pride a parent feels when the kid rides off down the street under her own power, training wheels off. I thought that was an excellent metaphor that captured the significance of my victory moment perfectly. Never mind if he has no children; he has coached, trained, mentored enough to know what it feels like when a client is finally capable after struggling to build enough physical and/or mental muscle to succeed.

It’s partly why I think of him as a great trainer/teacher/coach for me. Anything balance-related is an ongoing struggle and J knows it … he has certainly heard me remark upon my clumsiness frequently enough throughout the months. Whether it really is the physical muscles being weaker or my head refusing to connect the dots until I work and work and try and try, the struggle is real. I strive to keep my whining and “that face” about it to a minimum (and just lately here largely succeeding). But when I finally get to cross the finish line and declare victory, it is a Very Big Deal to me. The successes do come, but there is time and sweat equity invested … not so many tears anymore and it has been months since there was bloodshed. So go me!

While we are working in our sessions, J will often tell me anecdotes about other clients, past and present – their successes, their struggles, things he has tried or adjustments made to help them move forward on their individual fitness journeys. I really enjoy hearing the tales, because many of them are my peers or older and succeeding doing some really great and interesting things. Of course I want everyone to be successful and feel like they are making positive progress, and their baby steps forward are inspiring to me. Plus I can nearly always tell a J client when I see them; they are carrying Lists similar to mine and referring to them as they move along from exercise to exercise.

But honestly, it had never occurred to me that I might also be part of his stable of anecdotes with other clients. And when he mentioned it this morning, I was/am ridiculously flattered and thrilled about it. I mean, wow, J uses me and the gym schedule I keep as an example of progress possible with regular, consistent practice. I am not a cautionary tale of behaviors to avoid, which is where my typical negative self-talking mindset defaults on such matters. Changing the voices inside my head is not a simple or quick process, unfortunately.

Because I never see myself as making strides with exercises, I always think that it takes daily gym visits of at least 90 minutes to stay even and not lose ground on each routine or sequence, a big contributor to my anxiety about skipping practices. Today’s sweet little victory demonstrates to me that yes, I am doing fine, inching ahead behind the scenes when it seems like little to no progress is actually happening on the surface.

Progress, or seeming lack thereof has had me questioning my no specific or particular goals mindset. I have spent what feels like millions of words on the topic. It is not a particular position I would advocate for everyone, because how much, how often, or how intensely we exercise seems to me to be a personal choice. But my pursuit of this process in this manner is what works best for me and meets both my mental and physical needs. I have been a much happier, more at ease person pursuing practices without thought of what happens after I finally learn how to do a Bulgarian split squat without a box for balance (I return tomorrow and will do it again, and again, and again until J gets a wild hair and adds weights or something to make it harder). There are particular sequences I’m currently obsessive about, but I find that changes from week to week, session with J to session with J. I might use the 5 days between sessions doing the very same upper body sequence just because. Maybe it feels easier. Maybe it makes me feel powerful. Maybe I am struggling with something about it and want to nail it down before sidling up to something else. There is some method to my madness, usually revolving around what sounds like a good idea in the moment or what we covered the day prior (for practices immediately following training days). Or on training days like this morning, I return to the gym tonight specifically for an upper body workout, but I will go through some sequence of lower body as well. I am very excited right now about where this journey is taking me, so if I have the time and the energy, why not indulge myself? Why not indeed.

When I was stuck in my comparison mindset and struggling to keep up with the imaginary friend dogging me about progress, practices were joyless, soul-less, grim, teeth-clenching events. I am glad to no longer be ditched in that channel. Back then, if I could overcome my anxiety about return to the gym and make myself do it, I would probably be resenting the extra practice, the noise and crowds of people all around me, and bailling at the first reasonable opportunity then feeling guilty about it for days afterwards.

I am so much better now. Progress.

I was chatting with a couple of associates about gym stuff during lunch today. Both ladies are busy professionals, especially now when 2 of their peers are out for various reasons. My particular preference for going as frequently as I do has less to do with cosmetics and so much to do with overall health, as discussed endlessly in prior entries. It has never been any secret that I want to take better care of myself, that my desire to take fewer drugs for my diabetes is the most powerful motivator that has me pursuing daily exercise. As I have told them and others with whom I have had this discussion, I wanted off the insulin more than other things that might bump exercise down in my priority list. Prioritizing my gym time before work means I really must be in bed around 9:30 most nights, and keeping J as a line item in my budget means my discretionary funds are allocated differently and my collection of shoes, clothes, and accessories suffers. My closets (yes plural) always seem to be stuffed to the point of explosion anyway so its not like I need any more shoes, clothes, or accessories of any stripe.

In my last firm the admin used to tell me routinely that she really needed to get more exercise but she did not have the time with 2 young children who have a lot of school and extracurricular sports activities. She was offended when I very politely corrected her – after hearing that same story several times per week for a few consecutive weeks – that she has the same 24 hours per day that I have, but she chooses to prioritize her children’s activities and being 100% involved in the management and direction of those events as her priority over exercise and taking care of her health. I get it, because when my kids were younger I wanted to be a present, active supporter of their interests as well. “You don’t understand, though,” she would say to me, over and over again. Yes, I do; parenting is parenting, and there is not much difference between kids who had year-round sports and extracurricular events 20 years ago to now. We prioritize what is most important to us, be it vying for the supermom title or something else. All I ask is that we each own our choices, accept that they are the correct ones for us at the present time, and stop whining about things we are unwilling (not unable) to change.

My present associates get where I am coming from, though. They are both presently childless, one married and the other in the early phases of a relationship. Right now, the mere idea of going to the gym is intimidating to them and they wonder if I ever had the same mixture of fears and intimidations and how I overcame them. Oh my goodness YES I was intimidated, insecure, crazy anxious, terrified about going to and being at the gym. I am actually not sure they believe me. What they see is me mostly in my professional mode – assured and confident about the work, balancing a husband and pursuing fitness in my off hours. As if exercise/fitness is a hobby or something, which I find oddly, mildly offensive even if I know their intent is not to offend me in any way and only to understand my motivations more clearly. I want to print out reams of blog posts and show them where I talk about my crazed anxiety and meltdowns about the gym, and after 4 months of near daily visits I still feel twangs of my brand of crazy when going off schedule or if there is something unusual going on around me.

I invited them to come with me sometime, to go through a workout with me or just join me for a day to see what it’s like. Perhaps they will sometime, and maybe then they will see that I work hard at it, but I am so far from being the gym rat girl in their imagination. The mere idea makes me laugh uproariously.

I also shared that my husband is a running monster and encourages me to spend as much time as it takes to feel comfortable and I feel is necessary to continue forward progress. Not everyone is so fortunate. M runs every single day of his life, and our relationship security is not calculated or balanced based upon time spent together versus time spent apart. M shares my gym membership, and while he is always welcome to go with me and be in the building while I happen to be there practicing, he is absolutely forbidden from trying to work out with me. It’s practically written into our marriage contract, because we are not a couple who can exercise together. One of my quirks, or his, is that he cannot because I will not accept direction or constructive suggestions from him about exercise. Fast track to a pretty ugly fight? Make us work out together. I can tell you precisely the annoying, condescending tone I hear when he speaks to me, and he will say he has no idea what I’m talking about. Better for the health of our happy union that we just avoid that deathtrap completely.

It’s been a really, really nice Thursday, with a big success and some major kudos from J … he of the careful, studied use of compliments. It is a habit and practice that does not bother me in the slightest, because if I have some burning question about how I am doing I will simply ask. When he does compliment me, I have to force myself to slow down, acknowledge when he says it, and then accept and believe it as truth. Besides, because he is sparing with praise there is a lot less chance I will get an inflated head.

So celebrating my Bulgarian split squat success with a second workout tonight. Maybe I am getting a little addicted to the exercise; there are worse problems to endure. I just had no way to envision it happening to me.

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