Monday morning, training with J, and just a fantastic way to begin a new week. For whatever reason I lost my mind this morning and got to the gym way early, like 5:10 for a 6 a.m. appointment, leaving me an extra 20 minutes to kill. But it was fine. I warmed up well and then practiced some of the other exercises in the nemesis stable and the dive reach that I learned last week. Single leg anything remains a challenge, but when it works it is well worth the struggle.

Today was all about shoulders. Funny (to me) part of this being shoulder day, I was actually wearing a tank top. It’s becoming more the norm – I wake up feeling warm in the house, so therefore I assume it must be really hot outside, so I am reaching more and more for the tank tops rather than the t-shirts. No one is falling down blind from the whiteness of my arms and shoulders, so I think the other members at the gym are either immune to it by now or (more likely) not even noticing me or anyone else wandering around in their midst.

But every week M has at least one incident where I become very excited about some new muscle wrinkle I have discovered that maybe was not there before. Lately it has been shoulders and upper arms. M, look at this! My shoulder/arm top is rounder than it was! M, look at this! I have the missing forearm muscle now. And on and on and one. Being summer now, I am confidently wearing sleeveless tops and dresses, even the dreaded tanks and halter necklines, because I have these new smooth lumpy-bumpys on my shoulders and arms. Oh, and they are apparently not muscle wrinkles; they are creases. Wrinkles = bad; creases = good. Whatever. I am acquiring a few faint ones right now.

And next I see my gal pals? Totally wearing a tank top. I don’t care if it’s Christmas and freezing cold outside, I will peel off my parka and sweater and show off the new and improving shoulders.

What we did today (J’s additions are in italics):

A1. Seated DB Shoulder Press (4 sets, 8-12 reps, 15 lb. DBs)
A2. BW Speed Squat (3 sets, 20-30)
B1. DB Incline Bench Press (4 sets, 6-8 reps, 25 lb. DBs)
B2. Low-High Chopper (3 sets, 10-12/side)
C1. Seated DB Lateral Raises (4 sets, 8-12 reps, 10 lb. DBs)
C2. Bulgarian split squats (3 sets, 10-12/side)
D1. DB Standing Upright Row (3 sets, 8-12, 12 lb. DBs)
D2. ABC Band Extensions (3 sets, MAX)
E1. DB Bent Over Row (3 sets, 6-8 reps, 20 lb. DBs)
E2. Ipsilateral (same side) Anterior Reach (3 sets, 10-15/side)
F1. Bent Over DB Reverse Flyes (10 lb. DBs) or Band Pull-aparts (3 sets, 8-12 reps)

So much exercise talk, so little actual time to write it all down. We are still pursuing the Dr. Spencer prescribed workout, which means body part splits. Each letter represents a set, and we go through all the sets of 2 exercises before moving on to the next, so lots of focused work in one area.

There is something about a shoulder press anymore that is trance-inducing. You push the weights up, you lower them back down, and for me, I watch my elbows to ensure they do not lower too far. In my head I am counting, and we did bump up the weight today from 12 to 15 lb. dumbbells, so the weight definitely got heavier with each set. But the zen of it is very soothing to my nervous system. I know, I am a weirdo about this stuff. Oh well.

From there we went to speed squats. I find myself wondering – how fast does one go to qualify as speeding appropriately in the speed squat? I did not voice the question, though, because it’s hard to think, breathe, and talk while trying to speed squat. Instead of asking afterwards, I choose to just pick up the pace when I felt myself trying to lag behind whatever mind decrees is “peppy” pace. These types of things J usually gives me a broader range, or says go to max, which to me translates to at least 15, preferably 20, and max is 30. Today I was shooting for the 25 to 30 range.

Incline presses, chest presses, they all start the same with dumbbells raised on straight arms and then lowered and pushed back up. Counting, counting, counting. Not quite as trance-like as the shoulder press, but close. Again, for me anymore its all about the elbows and the feeling across the chest muscles, not letting those arms drop too far and stressing the shoulders. J has taught me well on the cautionary tales of what Very Bad Things can befall me with this exercise stuff.

The low-to-high choppers – just a taunting, hateful exercise in a series that vexes me much of the time. All these twisting, foot-pivoting things are perplexing, but this bad boy is a heart rate elevating sweat fest. And I never feel as if I am doing it quite right either. Today I learned a new cue – scooping motion – which not surprisingly helps me get the picture of what I should be doing. Actually doing it, though, is another matter. Someone, or many someones, raided the stretchy bands over the weekend and there were precisely 3 in the group fitness room Sunday and again this morning. Yesterday I went in search in another location where they tend to be fruitful and multiply, but even that place had only a few random red ones. Usually there in the room where I typically hang out there are at least half dozen red ones, a couple blues and yellows, and at least 3 greens. Today we were using a doubled up yellow, the lightest, and it was even less fun and engaging than usual. Because it felt short. And it felt different, harder. But I am determined to improve at this, even if I have to smuggle in my personal set from home to have a green band all to myself. I was chatting with a couple of associates who workout about this particular movement today, and since they also golf, they knew immediately what I was talking about. And this is yet another indicator of why I don’t golf, don’t get why anyone golfs. It seems like an life-shortening exercise in continual frustration. Really, who needs that? I do these or one of their close kin once or twice a week and that is more than enough.

Seated lateral raises are improving. First it was remembering to not have my arms straight, leave a little bend in the elbows, and now it’s all about the shrugging up. More than half my exercise library has me thinking don’t shrug, don’t shrug, don’t shrug; then we have these shoulder specific things where I’m thinking shrug, shrug, shrug! Thankfully my shruggy exercises are far fewer (to date) than my non-shrugging movements and I can pretty easily keep them separate.

Bulgarian split squats, once the bane of my exercise existence, now rehabilitated and performed daily as part of my warm-up. I have actually come to like and appreciate these, but I like them even better when there is a ready-made bench or box or something nearby to lean on or hold onto for set-up balance. The actual moving through them is not that big of a deal – although I am still working on mind and body getting the message that we want to go to 20 someday, not stop at 12 (warm-up) or when part of a List and it says 15 to 20 and we go full-stop at 15.

Now we are moving into the meat-and-potatoes of today, starting with the standing upright row. Oh my, these are complicated. I almost said hard, but they are not especially hard; they just seem to have a lot of little nuances and moving parts to take into consideration all at once. Despite watching J repeatedly demonstrate, cue and correct me as I tried to do these, I was still not getting it. Until, the magic cue – 90 degrees. Before, he used this particular type of cue a lot, and just last week was telling me he had stopped for the most part, because people were not getting what he meant or getting hung up on perfecting their angles and failing to follow other instructions and corrections. For me, however, I must need more geometry in my life because once he said that, I could feel the coin drop and everything he had said throughout the first 2 sets clicked into place. Still not sure my elbows are going to get satisfactorily high enough, but my opportunities for success suddenly improved. I will feel better about trying these (they appear on another List) in my own practice, because at least I have the basic shape set in my mind now.

Then we come to the new exercise in the group, the ABC band extensions. I love how J puts the rep range at MAX, but I’m sure he is envisioning me doing a lot more than a 2 sets of the 3, but like all things, left to my own devices my inner conserving energy efficiency mode might consider 2 sets MAX. Basically, these are anchoring a stretchy band down low, then holding it with both hands and pulling it up straight overhead (A), then pivoting on the foot to the left and then to the right with the same pulling it up overhead motion (B and C). It is so much more challenging that it seems like it should be, and of course watching J do this so effortlessly makes me sure they are going to be hellaciously challenging for me. And they were. And again with the pivoting on 1 foot thing; I think I have ingrained prejudices against anything single leg, single foot. They are effective, though; I could feel my abs and my shoulders.

I can already tell the ipsilateral (same side) anterior reach is going to be a favorite. And not just because I am still feeling hamstrings and ass from this morning either. I now have a whole set of anterior reaches, from the contralateral, the dive, and now the ipsilateral. My balance has improved pretty dramatically in the last 6 months since there was so much of the single leg balance stuff every week, so I am happy to keep working on these types of movements. Balance is still imperfect – I nearly fell off the bench sitting down this morning – but my falling down and tripping over stuff is vastly improved. I do try to do something single leg every day, even if it is just a few per side, to keep up my familiarity and muscle memory. This does not mean arch nemesis (cable RDL) has been regressed back to general nemesis stable, but even that is improving as of last week.

We did not go through the reverse flyes or band pull aparts, because I am very familiar with both and time was running short. And it’s okay – I got plenty done in our session today. I will tack on a segment of those tomorrow at the end of my legs or immediately after my warm-up.

I was getting a can of coke for one of my associates this morning and noticed the song title (which morphed into today’s post title) on the can. Because there is so much I am LOVING about me right now, and I only feel a tiny twinge of the “OMG! I’m becoming so vain!” rebuke from the direction of negative girl’s box. But whatever; I am allowed to like myself, even love and appreciate the work I am doing and the small and steady progress as it appears. This does not mean I am turning into a narcissist; I follow enough who have escaped real narcissists to feel on the safe side of that particular disorder.

I was telling J this morning that up until very recently, I had assumed his powerlifting ladies did something similar to what I do in training, only they are so much stronger and more focused on the powerlifting skills and working toward building even more strength. But I truly believed they worked the whole body as well, because it seems logical to me that they would also need strong legs and abs and back muscles to heft those big heavy weights in competitions. Friend J has recently moved away from powerlifting, but he is apparently an outlier because he has also works at other body parts in his workouts but has a lot more focus on his lifting muscles … if I am even saying that right. So I was confused about how a powerlifter trains. No surprise really; I do not think I have ever been at the gym with friend J to investigate how exactly he exercises. And it has been intriguing to learn how one trains to powerlift. Not my field of interest, but nice to know all the same.

Some days more than others it hits home how much things have changed over the course of the year I have been training with J and the months of consistently practicing what I have learned and learning each week. I am stronger, definitely, and more confident in my abilities. But J paid me this compliment this morning, that I am a lot more competent and resilient than some of my peers in the training tribe right now. My response is of course, I have been working at this steadily for the last year, and there are still things that I don’t get – the upright rows on today’s list is a huge example – but I am trying and working through each thing. And I came to him without any inherent problems or issues and have been careful, conservative, and avoided injury.

Still, even with those qualifiers, I understood and appreciated that he was gratuitously complimenting me. Thinking about it later, I feel like the steady workhorse who pulls the plows or does the heavy farm work versus the prancy, high-strung race horse that looks so pretty and runs so beautifully. It seems to me plow/work horses have a longer, un-flashy career, whereas the thoroughbreds are a few years of running for the roses and then they are done, retired and put out to pasture. I guess, anyway; I am not a big horse or horse racing fan.

My point here is that I cannot imagine life as the glam pony; I am always going to be the stodgy workhorse with calm practicality rather than the high maintenance filly. And that’s perfectly okay with me. Of my client base, the least profitable clients are my biggest time and resource drains, whereas my most profitable engagements are very easy to work with and most efficient to work with. I appreciate and would much rather be the client who comes prepared and takes the exercise and the many benefits it provides me seriously. I like my predictability. I like that I make being on time for our appointments on time a priority, and being “on time” includes getting to the gym with enough time to warm up beforehand. I like that it has become important to me to practice my craft, to learn the things that are on each List, to keep working at the things that vex me still.  I like that I have developed the persistence to keep trying until I am stronger or more capable, because I know I will eventually get it.

Most of all, I love that mind has adapted to the idea and reality of success.

I so clearly remember days when I was more addicted to thoughts of failure it was inevitable. I had no idea how to handle success when it happened, because I was so certain it never would happen. I spent my time thinking, wondering why I was trying, I was never going to get it right, and in the back of my mind I was manufacturing reasons, excuses, validations for being helplessly incapable was going to end up being this time. The contrast is stark.

So I do not complain when we are training, and honestly, that surprises me. If something feels strange or heaven forbid, hurts, I speak up. I hear rice crispies sometimes in the joints, only now it is only the first rep or 2, then it settles and goes silent. Otherwise, I have furrowed brow trying to follow the cues, counting the reps, completing the set.

Anymore, it shocks the Hell out of me that I am not whining to M more about how hard of a time I have it at the gym. I am amazed most of these recaps sound so freaking happy all the time. This is not the me I anticipated under the influence of exercise. This time last year, if anyone ever suggested I would be spending 2 hours every morning systematically working my way through the List of the day and enjoying it I would have had them drug tested or blowing into a breathalyzer machine to see if they had imbibed a bit too much. On the occasions where if I finish before my watch goes off at 7, I am working at the nemesis stable and it’s vexing ongoingness. This time last year I would have said exercise in general is my nemesis.

I rarely complain because because I do not have a single thing worthwhile to complain about with regard to doing my time at the gym. Plus complaining harshes my exercise buzz, and now that I have finally found out what that feels like, I am all about protecting it. I am there early enough in the morning to bypass any young, disrespectful, irresponsible heathens, and on the rare occasions I go in the evenings, I am now confident enough to handle it. Another gym might be another story, but I feel like I now know enough that finding the machines and equipment I want to use would be my biggest challenge.

So life is different, irrevocably altered and for the better, so I am happy with this evolving outcome. It does make me wince just a little to think about negative girl and her fear-mongering ways. Just a little, though; she did not really know how to be any other way. She safe and sound in her box, and hopefully is settling in for a life of imprisonment.

The challenges that remain for me with regard to exercise are the scale and my own brand of technology. Essentially, external measurements. There was a time when I was a lot more squirrelly about this stuff, and I have improved pretty dramatically in how wiggy I let it get, but it is a minor ongoing drama that must be recalibrated from time to time. Lots and lots of people with real problems, much more so than me and my obsessive navel gazing.

Primarily for M’s comfort, I began wearing a heart rate monitor many months ago. He wanted me to be aware of what my heart was doing before I fainted from running the glucose from my system. Of course, at that time I was injecting insulin, and perhaps then his concern was valid. M, being a runner, enjoys tracking his statistics, looking at all the cool measurements his even fancier-smancier running watch does. For me, I wear the judgmental little gadget out of habit, and because in some ways it is nice to see modest improvement … when I bother to check.

But every morning I come home and plug it into my computer to download it’s information and recharge while I’m taking a shower, and then strap it back on my wrist to travel along on its tracking way the balance of my day. Most of the time I do not pay much attention to its statistics, until I do. And that’s when the trouble usually starts.

For a long time I would his my daily goals in my workouts. I mean, I have had this one for about 4 months now and until a few weeks ago it seemed like every single day it was jiggling my wrist and flashing its congratulatory messages. Then I either started getting fitter or it started getting stingier, but now I am either meeting my goals later in the day or not at all. And it was starting to really bother me and make me wonder if I was slacking on my workouts. Maybe I am not working hard enough? Maybe I’m goldbricking and lying to myself about what kind of work I am actually doing in the gym? Maybe, maybe, maybe … and I can feel the lock on negative girl’s cage weakening more and more.

So I decided I had to knock that shit off. I am doing fine. I am working my ass off, literally, and I do not need to let this little gizmo tell me otherwise. It’s nice to look down periodically and see if my heart is actually still beating, and it’s nice to know when it’s 7 a.m. and time to get ready to jet home to prepare for the workday. But other than that, I need to not let it judge me for how active I am or how many calories I supposedly burned in the session or throughout the day.

And it is surprisingly easy to make myself actually let go of those measurement notions as a real thing I need to track or pay attention to. I look at my statistics most days. I think about how nice the little icons look for all the days in a row I was at the gym, the yoga studio, or both. I like the little icons that remind me I did straight cardio that day. But the pretty factor, the tracking my workouts on a calendar is useful to know, but the judgment on the weight of information comes from me, not the other way around. Every so often I have to have a reality check and remind myself of that, and I am happy to report those periods between slapping some sense into myself are lengthening.

Progress happens in the strangest of ways, but it IS progress and it IS happening. Gotta love that.

And I certainly do.



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