Monday morning and my usual appointment for training with J.

Sometimes I want to pinch myself to ensure I am not living in a dreamscape, that it is really me dragging myself out of bed at 4 a.m. to make it to the gym for practice and training appointments. Days like today, when I have worked harder, tried harder than perhaps I have ever done, or worked/tried harder than I have in recent memory, I am both happy and amazed. It’s been just about 7 months now of daily workouts. I am unlikely ever the most intense person in the gym. I am also likely not working as hard, lifting as much, burning as many calories as anyone else. But so what? There is no race or competition with other members. I am there. I am doing my own sort of heavy lifting. I am burning more calories than I would be sitting at home watching TV or at my desk working. I am trying my best to replicate what I have learned and am learning. This is the race and the work that matters to me. I am exercising like no one is watching, because probably that is the case … except on training days. I am very content with that thought taking permanent residence in my head.

And I am so fortunate. I know how hard I work at work-work to be able to afford to have a personal trainer, and I also know how good, how lucky I have been to land my part-time gig and the clients I have that keep me hopping. I make a good wage, pay a our taxes, and live a pretty simple life to have this perk. J is phenomenal at his job and that test kitchen is working overtime cooking up new workouts every week, and he is such a great match for me in personality and temperament. So nope, it’s not the unicorns breathing their fairy-dusted rainbows that bring me good fortune, no pots of gold at the end of those rainbows either. A lot of hard work to make a living and earning the flexibility built into my work schedule so I can afford the village that helps me take better care of my health in this manner. A lot harder work getting done with the village to reach my milestones thus far on the journey.

Before I found my groove with the exercise, I’d see M come in from his runs in a sweat-drenched shirt and dripping sweat all over the laundry room tile. I would think – sweaty, gross, yuck! To this day I still think that – sweaty, gross, yuck! Only now I find myself thinking that about me, too, after leaving the gym. I get home and peel off my clothes and put them directly into the washing machine, and when M gets home from his run he will do the same and then start it, ensure things get moved to the dryer an hour later. Sweaty, stinky gym clothes are washed daily at our house, or the offending clothes are banished to the laundry room or the garage.

My point here – a year ago I had a very difficult time imagining myself here, that I actually sweated so profusely (short of doing Bikram yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees). But I do, every day I spend at the gym. Drippy sweat in my eyes is a regular occurrence.

Beyond the sweat and the daily load of fitness clothes laundry, I am so much more capable than I was a year ago. I have matured in my lifestyle habits, the exercise being the most obvious.

I am influenced by those around me – friends and coworkers alike who exercise regularly – and for the most part they are the most encouraging and supportive group. M had retired from running when we first met and restarted about 10 years ago and is now doing such high mileage even our closest runner friends are starting to wonder if he is planning to return to racing (nope, just likes being able to keep up with those in training for racing season). Many of my associates are strength training and weight lifting hobbyists, just like others are regulars at various types of yoga classes. The strength training guys will tell me it’s leg day, or arm day, or shoulders and back day, or ab day … you get my drift. J tells me this is old-school weight lifting technique, to focus on one body part at a time per workout and work it very hard. Friend J is drifting back to that, leaving his dalliance with power lifting behind in favor of an overall reboot and rebalance of his lifting pursuits. He’s getting “too old” and kind of bored with competing, and is once again turning his focus to cycling a well as weight training. I am accustomed to these adjustments every few years. When we first met he was a hard-core running ala M, although never an ultra racer. There was the knee incident and running became a less desirable a pursuit, so instead he turned to cycling. A few years and a couple of crashes later, and it was on to weight training, then beauty pageants (he hates when I characterize them that way, but whatever … he was so pretty when flexing in his fake tan!), then powerlifting, and now we are going round back to cycling and weight lifting.

He and M will probably live forever with their ongoing healthy lifestyles and their pretty strict, disciplined adherence to food and eating.

With the many conversations I have about exercise, there is this flood of information coming in that makes me think and wonder and offers me opportunity to be a cheerful supporter of other people’s efforts to improve their health. I absolutely do not want them to stop talking to me about what they are doing and how they are pursuing their interests, and I do not think anyone is trying to sway me to one side or the other. My curiosity and intrigue is real and I enjoy hearing about their efforts and successes, what drives them. The difference between now and when negative girl was in charge of my thinking is that I find inspiration in their struggles as well as their successes and find new ideas I can harness to drive my own mental game. No longer do other people’s fitness adventures cause me to thrash myself for not trying hard enough or being in the same league of effort or talents.

I put forth plenty of effort, thank you very much. And I have fought hard to make myself accept that I am an individual with different issues and challenges. My inside-outside transformation is progressing at its unique pace and trying to compare it to anyone else is like apples and oranges. If I have to remind myself of that every single day, it’s a small price to getting up and being engaged with my exercise and my better health pursuits.

But talking old-school body building has me thinking about whether or not such upper body/lower body sequencing is something I could or should pursue. Did it belong in the bad idea bear pile? Not because I want to become a weight lifter, but because I am in the gym every day and sometimes want to rest my upper half or lower half and focus on the other side instead.

The shoulder suite we did last Thursday started me really thinking about it. I had gone through it Thursday with J, then repeated it again on Friday as has typically been my custom. By Saturday my shoulders felt tired and fatigued, and the idea of pushing anything up overhead and working the shoulders was not in the cards. I had other full-body workouts that minimized that area, and I was fine, but the seed had been planted. I started thinking about what all lower body one day, then upper body the next day would look and feel like.

Which brings me to today.

In the past I have wondered if J has super secret, hidden psychic ability. I would idly be thinking about specific exercises and formulating questions and voila! Said exercise would reappear in the rotation for review and correction or adjustment. Maybe I am just that transparent or he would see me doing erroneous things during practices when our paths cross. So last night I was thinking about this upper body/lower body distinction and J’s test kitchen spits out an all lower body List today.

The order is likely confused, should be segregated into A, B, C blocks, and probably has more technically correct names. I will have to update later, once the final List is published. From my recollections, here is the lower body sequence we did today:

Body weight pop-up squats
Bulgarian split squats
Bodyweight lateral lunges
Romanian deadlifts
Hamstring curls
Curtsey squats
Single leg anterior reach
Sumo squats
Split squats with offset dumb bell
Single leg glute bridges
Miniband leg swings

There was a fair amount of new stuff and reordering of stuff I already know. And much, much peppier pacing and cadence. I have liked the slow and controlled learning in most of these movements, but the faster tempo has it’s own mysteries and adds elements of challenge that feel brand new to me.

I am not so secretly proud of myself for much of today. From the the initial squats and step-ups to the curtsy squats – so much of it felt different and presented new wrinkles to test my mettle on balance. As my limbs tired it becomes so easy to be sloppy about form, and from there to get frustrated about balance. But I know this now; I know what happens when fatigue, then frustration settle in my head. My coping skills are still imperfect, but I have improved pretty dramatically. Now that I have enjoyed some successes with one-leg exercises and other things that test my balance, I see the existing issues as temporary setbacks rather than terminal character flaws. This change in my thinking is not insigificant.

Plus there is still so much about exercise that surprises me.

The curtsey squats – J had told me that I should be feeling it in my side glutes, and boy howdy was I feeling it. My exact words at the time: “I feel like there are icepicks in my ass.” The sensation of a specific spot in the side of my glute was so acute it truly did feel like someone was taking as icepick and inserting it repeatedly into the side of my butt. This many hours later, I can still feel that spot. It is truly unique from much of the other stuff we have been doing.

The step-ups are deceptively simple, but it is about cadence (quick!) and balance on one leg to lift the body up and lower it back down. The split squats with the offset dumb bell in one hand has me feeling my abs. Looking back on it now, I feel like I am growing up and into a new and different phase of exercise. J knows my apprehension of jumping up and down on and over things and is extremely unlikely to put something like that into my rotation, but stepping up, popping up from a squat (I have started to think of them as pop-squats), and doing my not so beloved lateral lunges – it’s all good. Hard, challenging, sweat-inducing work right now, but I feel really, really great about my focus and TRYING to get through this doing them with good form.

But the peppier cadence makes me glad I was paying attention the last time we did Bulgarian split squats and J said good steady rhythm with no pauses at top or bottom. I do these in warmups and have gotten myself trained over to steady pace through, so it was not quite so painful to get through them today.

If there are endorphins from exercise I am still not quite sure what they feel like. Is it the genuine smile on my face walking into and out of the gym daily? Is it the sense of satisfaction that comes from getting myself up, dressed, and through the doors every day? Or the satisfying sense of “I did this much today” when I am leaving to head home to begin the rest of my day each morning. Maybe it’s one of those things I’ll know when I feel it?

Or perhaps it does not matter. Yes, I kind of like that answer best.

Over the weekend a couple of my friends said to me that I need to take a vacation, or at least cut back on the exercise time until I get a better handle on my employment workload. I can always tell my friends who lack a true depth of understanding about how important the exercise is in my quest for better health and how critical it is to my overall mental and emotional well being. It is not a deliberate attempt to sabotage my efforts; it comes from a lack of understanding about how meaningful, how sacred the time in the gym has become for me. Because I used to be someone who said and thought the same things about M and others who did hard workouts every single day. If I felt burned out it would be one thing; a vacation would definitely be in order. But I do not feel burned out, and I do not feel inclined to go anywhere or do anything other than the present day-to-day schedule I am living.

I tried to be kind and diplomatic in my replies. My response was that if I need to cut back on anything it’s the employment workload, because the exercise is simply to important to skip because it sounds easier than making money. I am not complaining about my workload – I know how fortunate I am to have work I love that compensates me this well. However, I am also not unwilling to sacrifice my hard-won gains in better health, even for a week or a few days.

To some, that sounds like addiction. To me, that sounds like better sense. I know myself, and I understand my limitations. I get that going to the gym every single day seems like overkill to many people, but my priorities and my health are unique to me. No amount of vacation or rest and relaxation is going to make me feel better or more relaxed than continuing on with my activities as they are right now. This includes working 50+ hours a week and exercising as much as I do and trying to eat as well as I can. M is a huge help and support for me. I have my village. I have terrific clients, coworkers and associates, and legions of friends. What I can control within my own life I do and do it well, and what is beyond my sphere of influence and radius of control, I try hard to let it go. This is the best I can do for myself or anyone else.

I began the hormone replacement therapy a few weeks ago, and if there are changes they are mostly very subtle, with the sleep being the most obvious. I go to bed and fall asleep and when I wake up I feel rested and refreshed, versus just more tired and feeling the need of a lot more sleep. My focus seems sharper, and I do have more energy during the course of the day. Since I did not feel particularly terrible before beginning this regimen I’m not sure how much better I can expect, but I’m grateful for the minute and subtle changes thus far. It is definitely not leaving me with negative feelings or greater PMS-like bitchiness, which it truth I had minimal amounts of most of my life.

I am striving to appreciate and embrace the positive experiences. Today was so much fun for me, even if I was doing the work and dripping the sweat. But J ran this through the test kitchen himself over the weekend and left his own puddles of sweat while doing so, which makes me smile to imagine. Apparently those who can do the work can also break it down and teach it as well.

Have a great week everyone!

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