Monday morning, training with J. The weather here has been absolutely glorious – sunny and warm – and my mood is tending to match. I feel far more energetic than I have in several days, and I think the worst of the white and purple tree blooms has passed in terms of my allergies. Zyrtec will likely continue a few more days, but sinuses feel clear and I woke up with no pain or headache for the first time in several days. The worst for this period in time has passed.
It was review day with the cable machine, plus introduction of the leg press machine right next door. The list for this week:
Straight Arm Pulldown (“w” bar)
2-arm Row (“w” bar)
1-arm Chest Press (Decline)
Bent Over Triceps Pushdown
Leg press – more narrow, low (quad)
Leg press – more wide, high (hip/ham)
Leg press – 1-legged (side hip/quad)
As we all likely know by now, I
really like love training days. Not always – in the beginning it was some level of torture to get myself through the front doors of the gym – but that was then, this is now. Now it’s fun to learn new things, review old things, and converse with another adult who is on my wavelength and gets my wingnut-ness about gym and exercise and other stuff while we learn new and review prior exercises. Since we are venturing out into a main section of the gym – where much of the stuff that causes anxiety is going to happen if it happens – J has been spoon feeding me ideas to protect myself from other members and their behaviors that might freak me out and set me back and away from thriving out there. He also offered some ideas to protect the equipment I am utilizing while I am using it.
Yep, I love training days.
A reader emailed me about my posts on exercise and fitness, pointing out that my recaps and discussions are light on actual exercise and technique and heavy on thoughts and feelings, for which she was thankful.
I am overweight and just starting to try to exercise. You write a lot of things I think and feel. I get discouraged and the many other blogs are written by people who have no idea what its like to be heavy and feel humiliated trying to do a squat. Thank you for writing about it like a person who struggles feels.
Yes, it is true – I am a real person who struggles and writes about how difficult it is to start to exercise and how difficult it still can be 8 months later. But as any of you who have been following along, these recaps have never been written as a how-to guide on how to exercise; it has always overwhelmingly been more about what I think and how I feel about exercise. Or whatever garden path the gym experience sends me down explore and contemplate this week. Because I am absolutely not an expert on any type or form of exercise, which is why I have the Lists to tell me what to do and remind me of technique and form. I actually consider myself a pretty generic every woman who is trying to learn how to move and get fitter safely and sanely with my own quirks and baggage about the journey throw in for color and shading.
But this sweet, endearing, thoughtful little email reminds me how my attitude, thoughts, feelings on the general gym/exercise/fitness topic have evolved and changed in positive ways as the months have passed. I am finally conditioned enough that most of it is now fun, something I do for bettering my health and overall self and have come to enjoy. There are still elements that challenge and vex me – anything lunge, anything single-leg come to mind – but whereas I was once sure I was hopelessly inept and would never get better I am now equally sure I can and will increase my proficiency even if my adoration does not expand exponentially with my abilities. And that is okay; I need not love every single thing equally. In fact, on the lower body sequence Lists, there is at least one exercise I despise and dread and perform with reluctance and only because they are on the List. They are good for me and I will master them, but I seriously doubt the day will come when I LOVE step-up reverse lunges. Time will tell, though; I now think of certain things with great affection that I absolutely despaired of ever completing successfully much less liking ever (Bulgarian split squats, single-leg Romanian deadlifts). Exercise, I have come to realize, takes time, persistent and consistent practice, and patience to improve. And I should know – I am a someone J had to start at the absolute basics of movement patterns and build up from there.
The more time I spend in the gym, the more time I have to casually observe other people pursuing their own exercise journey. Being around other trainers working with their clients makes me recognize and appreciate J’s patience and outlook. I believe being realistic about strengths, weaknesses, values, and motivations is vital to success, and all too often we are either not being honest with ourselves or are looking at our needs and desires through a very narrow lens. Or maybe it’s just me who started out clueless and naive about future plans and impacts this experience might have upon me and my life. All I know for sure is it took awhile to develop a sense that throwing out the fitness goals and plans and just go with the better health objective. From there the ideas of what I can and will accomplish and by extension, what I want and need from a trainer and coach have just evolved. And it has probably taken most of the entire 8 months for me to be okay with expressing myself clearly about what makes it work for me without guilt.Through the months – we think it has been about 8 months now, although it does not seem like that long – I have developed a pretty good understanding of why this training partnership works for me and how we both contribute to its ongoing success.
In the beginning, a lot of my reasoning for signing up for a second hour each week is to be fair to J about his time. Left to my own devices and meeting once weekly, I would be still be blowing up his text with questions daily in addition to the idle conversations we have on days when our paths cross and he has a few moments to chat between clients. As the months have passed it has become apparent that a second session was a natural progression for me, to keep me from getting too bored or too complacent about what I am doing and stay alert about how to do things correctly. Going to the gym every day has moved me further along in acquisition of new skills at a relatively quick pace, certainly far faster than I ever imagined possible. I had very low expectations for success when I began, and it has only been since the start of 2016 that I have really begun to imagine how far I might progress and where this journey will lead me.
Because once upon a time I wanted to be just like every other client in the gym’s ranks of personal training clients. I believed other those other PT clients were somehow more successful than I could imagine myself being then or becoming. Since I did not actually know anyone who invested in personal training for themselves, I felt sure they were smarter, sleeker, and more adaptive to exercise than I was then. The mysterious “they” that I built in my imagination and aspired to emulate were always successful and had none of the struggles that came prepackaged with me and were/are therefore much less high maintenance. The mysterious “they” of the gym’s personal training client ranks were just better than I was at managing their own emotions and crap and easily learning the exercises and making amazing progress doing the work I struggle with week after week.
Fast forward to now, when I have have enough time to casually observe as well as actually met and conversed with some of the “they” I theorized about in the beginning. Most seem similar to me in their desires for a better, healthier lifestyle that includes regular exercise. None are even close to the sleek and perfected ideal my imagination conjured up for me. I see regular, normal people who are pursuing their own goals and objectives which may or may not be very different than my own.
All in all, my mere presence and work in the gym has done much to improve my outlook on the exercise and health process. My quest to not compare myself to others has taken some huge strides forward and still a way yet to go for my own comfort. But from when I began, it is like I am a completely different person. Perhaps this is where my mental/emotional health is getting its own workout; if I cease comparing myself to others, I cut back significantly on my opportunities to feel inferior. Same thing with competition – every single person I crossed paths with this morning has different goals, objectives, and agendas for doing time at the gym. Many are lifting heavier weights, completing a lot more reps and sets or both, or doing technically more advanced exercises. But since I have absolutely no plans for head-to-head competition with anyone probably ever, why should it matter to me? To push myself to try harder? Hmmm, I feel like this is part of J’s job description, and I might feel poorly about taking responsibilities he enjoys away from him. But my reality is that trying to compete with other people is another avenue for feeling badly about myself; it is far better to just be happy for others and their successes while celebrating my own little victories.
I find being out of our little training room and using the cable machines is a big step for me. And to many it seems odd, not that big of a deal since I am in the gym anyway. Believe me, for me to step out and away from the hard-fought battle for comfort and familiarity that took months of nearly daily gym visits to build, stepping out into the main gym floor is a Very Big F–king Deal. The timing seems right this time, though, and I feel ready tomorrow to take my little sheet and advance to the cable machine and do my reps and sets and figure out what weights are right for me (and to bring my pen so I can write it down). Because at 5:30 in the morning, the gym crowd tends to be a lot more chill. I will bring my big girl britches and relentlessly hunt down the couple of attachments I need as well.
All in all, I am enjoying a far more positive outlook toward being in the gym and training with J, conducting my practices, working on improving my form and increasing my strength. Nowhere in that do you read me saying improving my appearance, updating and gaining more traction on positive weights and measures. Because better health cheerleader girl says I look just fine right now. Negative girl with a megaphone for a voice stridently disagrees, but we are learning to discount her opinions.
The last 2 training sessions, J has remarked upon this new little crease in my upper arm during the tricep exercise. It is a rather fascinating thing to observe. And on my (and every other woman I know) war with batwing fat, while I might not be willing just yet to declare victory, I will say out loud that I am waging war and winning – very little jiggle left to eradicate and an actual muscle crease. Progress! My friend’s bitchy comment about my arms getting so big still amuses me greatly, because if there is no loose skin or jiggly fat, why worry whether or not I have large upper arms or not? Hence my amusement more than hurt anguish.
But what struck me the times J told me to turn and look is my sense of overall discomfort looking in the mirror – it was all I could do to glance over and stay focused long enough to see what he sees and feel a little thrill of delight. My sense of self-loathing is, unfortunately, still very much alive and well. And I hate it, but I am also a lot more forgiving than I once was for feeling the feelings that have long dogged me all my life.
One of the biggest, greatest accomplishments of the last several months of training, practice, and blood, sweat, and tears in the exercise journey has been that I can be mostly at peace with my body’s appearance its reality for the way it is today. Is this body image improvement? Maybe; I just know change within is real and evolving and will in time spread outwardly. ButI hear the mostly well-meaning comments from people about measurable progress and no longer find them as disappointing or as hurtful. Someday I will be able to look in the gym mirrors and not cringe inside, or want to turn away as quickly as possible, or feel like a conceited asshat because I did look and thought positive, affirming thoughts. Because where I am today is a very good and healthy place, and just because I might not want to look while I am training or practicing, I can understand why I should. That little crease in my arm is a Very Big Deal and represents a lot of hard work.
When I was growing up, my mother was a very petite China-doll sort of woman, and she – at 5’1″ and 105 lbs. most of my life – was considered a larger woman among her asian peer group. My sister was like a taller, sturdier version of her at 5’5″ and 130 lbs. Then there was me, with my thicker, heavier bone structure and overall hugeness in comparison. The few pictures I have of the 3 of us show my willowy sister, my tiny mother, and then me, sort of thicker-boned and bigger than both of them at my very best weight. I remember a conversation when I was 17 – my mother and some of her cronies, and I came in from tennis practice with my bag and racquets and backpack full of books – and her friend jokingly asking my mother if she were married to a sumo wrestler because I was physically so much larger than both she and my sister. My mother replied that I was just big, like my father’s mother, who was apparently Amazonian in stature (5’10”) and strength.
No wonder my self-image is so messed up. I wanted to be invisible, but growing up I was the Godzilla in the room sans the fire-breathing, city-destroying nature.
But today, in my present moment happy-happy place, I am thinking there really is nothing wrong with Godzilla, other than that whole fire-breathing, city-destroying anger thing. I mean, for giant lizards he was kind of attractive.
And so it goes with me. For being at this such a brief period of my life thus far, I am doing very, very well. I have big and little wins, and I’m staying the course on getting myself to the gym consistently and actually working while I am there. I was doing single leg things this morning after warming up and mostly succeeding with less dependence on balance aids, which pleases me greatly. It’s imperfect, but better, and better for me equals another baby step in forward progress.
Going forward, I am resolving to look at the little tricep crease whenever I use the cable machine, just to increase my tolerance. If I do it frequently enough, consistently enough, for a long enough period I should develop a brain callus that does not react so negatively. It has worked with other things and I have no reason to believe this will be any different.
I had the “thinking face” on this morning learning the new-to-me leg press machine, and as I explained to J I was thinking about which muscles were working, what my leg looked like as I was going through it, how my leg(s) felt as I got closer to that “thunk” point of termination, not locking knees at the top, was my back staying flat again the seat – basically all the instruction I had received from him as well as observing his demonstrations, internalizing it and associating it with the actual action. I find my need to know and understand what should be working and why we do these things the way we do is imperative to my success with all things exercise.
As I said, I have had many opportunities to casually observe the other trainers with their clients, and I cannot imagine them being willing to take the time to explain to me the how in such detailed detail much less the why of it. And knowing the how in complete detail and then understanding the why of it – this is critical information for me. J insists that I am not really high maintenance, and perhaps I am a very low-maintenance, easy-going client. Because now I get what level of detail I need for my own success, evolving student of exercise that I am becoming. I simply cannot imagine any of the others I have observed being that interested or capable of explaining it to me. Or I would feel kind of stupid asking when they could not, or would not expend that energy. And I would likely have quit training shortly thereafter.
So yay for J and his well of patience and communication skills to explain everything to me as we move along.
And finally … while I am not J’s typical training client (said without a single trace of self-depreciation), I admire and appreciate his adaptability in making it work. In that I mean it could be a step up for him to have a client that comes to the gym and practices between sessions, who asks A LOT of questions, who wants to know the why as well as the how. I am also consistent about making our sessions and ensure I am there at least 30 minutes prior to our scheduled start time to warm up. Maybe I keep him on his toes and make him bring is A++ game? The thought makes me smile.
I suppose I am particularly pleased with training today and that I am not the PITA client negative girl has repeatedly tried to suggest. I am anticipating a great practice tomorrow with the cables and acknowledge that today, I am feeling quite competent and confident in this brave new world.
And I have the little arm crease to prove it.