Thursday morning, training with J. So. Much. Fun. And I am almost giddy with excitement about little surprises today with the weights.
It was a review day, and I love review day. We went through Dr. Spencer’s chest and triceps List again and did the following (J’s additions and modifications are italicized):
A1. DB Bench Press (4 sets, 8-12 per set; set 1 = DBx2-25; sets 2-4 = DBx2-30*)
A2. Stability Ball “Reach Up” Crunch (3 sets, 10-15 per set)
B1. DB Chest Flyes (4 sets, 8-12 per set; DBx2-20*)
B2. Floor “Step Off” on Bench (3 sets, 8-10 per side per set)
C1. DB Squeeze Press (4 sets, 8-12 per set; DBx2-20*)
C2. Band Archer Rows (3 sets, 12-15 per side per set)
D1. Lying DB Triceps Extension (3 sets, 8-12 per set; DBx2-15)
D2. Bench “Step Throughs” (2 sets, 8-10 per side per set)
E1. Bench Plank to Pushup Position (3 sets, 6-8 per set)
E2. Easy Band Pull-aparts (1 set, stretch)
* Step up in dumbbell weights this session.
Today was a Very Big Freaking Deal with the step-up in weights on the bench press, the squeeze press, and the chest flyes. While we were working I knew we had gone up on the bench press and the squeeze press, but I had not realized it on the chest flyes. And where mind started down to qualify this accomplishment with minimizing statements like it’s “only” 5 lbs. per dumbbell or “only” 10 lbs. per set, truth of the matter is that it is 5 lbs. per dumbbell increase, 10 lbs. per set. It is a Very Big Deal for me in my world. While I do not (yet) have enough experience or discussions about the technicalities of such matters with others who lift bigger, heavier weights to know how much of a Very Big Deal it is for them in their world, I know that I would never, ever even think to qualify their accomplishments as “only” anything, so why does negative girl get to slink out and try to influence mind for me in my realm? She does not, period, and to let her slink away unacknowledged gives her power to try again, try harder next time, because I know for sure there will be a next time. No idea when – I do not map out and plan these things – but I know it will happen for me eventually.
And damn! What a refreshing change of thinking that is for me.
From where I started – I think we began initially with 5 lbs., then 10 lbs. on the chest presses – it is like a miracle to me. Before I started with the dumbbells last year I had never really worked with weights and thought 8 lbs. was a lot, yet here I am, using these much bigger, heavier units. In what universe should I live in that this is not an exciting and worthy accomplishment? I can tell you right now, it is where I lived a lot of my life and I never, ever wish to return to, even for a brief visit. And while I hope to not be obnoxiously offensive in my happy dancing behind the keyboard, I am extraordinarily proud of myself. For what this represents to me. Persistence. Commitment. Overcoming. Patience. Faith. And the faith, support, and belief of others that carried me forward when I lacked or faltered on my own.
I was pretty amazed at myself during training, but we were chatting about other aspects of our lives, as we do while working through the List of the session, and the impact of what I was doing did not really sink in until I just started thinking about this recap while showering. It is also part of why I write them – to remember and process all the in-my-head stuff that happens in the training and learning and reviewing sessions and has to be churned through somehow. But now I think about it, and I get all teary and emotional about it. Because yeah, it is a big deal, worthy of celebrating. Progress is so often little things, tiny steps forward invisible to the naked eye. Periodically it is a measure I can visualize on the rack of weights, and I want to burn this feeling into my consciousness and my memory.
Forget glitter bombing; this is glitter tsunami.
On the chest press, I was actually a tiny bit doubtful about stepping up, but the worst that would happen is that I was not ready, and J was standing right there just in case I ran into trouble. And honestly, I would never do so on my own, or suggest to J that I am ready to go forth and increase weight. Mind has not yet grasped what it takes to become stronger, more capable; mind thinks strength and such is measured in weeks or months of consistent work and one day, voila! Time to increase weight. To mind, it has not been long enough with the 25 lb. dumbbells. But body knows, and while the first couple of presses J was watching elbows to ensure they did not drop too far beneath the weight, body quickly adapted and handled it.
The stability ball reach up crunches are probably my favorite ab exercise in our current rotation. Not because they are easy, or I am so proficient or even good at them, but because they do not hurt anywhere and I can feel the abs working where they should be working. The first few times I did crunches this way I thought my ab muscles must be necrotizing in there and breaking into tiny little pieces because were so sore for days afterward, but my back felt great. Doing sit-ups on the floor, I have to pay close attention to what I am doing to ensure my back says less involved in the exercise. Unlearning a lifetime of habits with sit-ups requires a particular type of discipline, and I am especially protective of my back and joints. Injury is my greatest fear in the gym anymore. Once upon a time I felt so incompetent and ignorant it seemed only a matter of time before I hurt myself. Such thinking does not cross my mind anymore. Being careful crosses my mind more than once every single day now.
When we got to the chest flyes, I knew almost immediately there was something off about them (because my shoulder did not feel quite right) and was puzzling through it until J used the magic “90 degrees” cue. For whatever reason I always want to put my arms out straight on these fly exercises. The bear hug reach up part at the top I have down pretty well, but left to my own devices I would be putting arms out akimbo and too much stress on the front shoulder. I am apparently the outlier client who needs geometric terms in her training cues.
Floor step-offs today we did on the bench (versus last time we did them off the dumbbells on the floor). I am either doing these wrong, very wrong, or they are getting better for me. Now that I have an improving understanding of planks, I know how straight body is supposed to hold itself and how shoulders are to be above hands on the bench while stepping side to side – no hinging or hip elevation is supposed to be occurring and arms should be perpendicular to bench. Being hyper-aware of those characteristics, I feel there has been significant improvement with this exercise. The recent addition of the plank off the bench with alternating kickback glute contractions (I confess to referring back to the List for an accurate description) has boosted my confidence, because I just really like the glute kickback version. And I know, that presents me as some sort of exercise weirdo. But oh well. We cannot all be mainstream people who despise being in the gym getting sweaty and gross doing unnatural things like planks and plank-based exercises.
I had actually forgotten all about the squeeze press, which reminds me why I typically try to practice what we covered/reviewed in sessions on my own within a couple of days. When it came up on the List my face went blank, because for the life of me I could not recall ever having done something with that name. The minute J lay down on the bench and demonstrated it came back to me. While I hate when I forget stuff like that, there has been a lot of new and different the last few weeks. Before: guilt, angst, certainty that I am village idiot in the training tribe by wide margin, self-berating, calling self Very Bad names. Now: oh well; this is why we have review day. Mind and psyche are better, healing from years and years of abuse.
Of all the rows we do, the archer rows are among my favorites. I just like the flowing movement of them, feels a bit like dancing for the non-dancer that is me. Today J was adding the “pick up the pace” layer on the pep scale. And like the speed squats, mind idly ponders what constitutes staccato movement and pacing. I mostly get it, will work at it, and hopefully not fall trip over my own feet in the process. Focus, focus, focus! Mind wants to wander off the reservation in getting the shoulder stretch and contraction just so while body is hearing peppier tempo … and we all fall down. It makes me laugh to think about it now, because I know we will find the proper timing that works. And if I fell down? Oh well; shit happens.
We do/have done a lot of tricep extensions through the months, but they are definitely more impactful behind the work done in the squeeze press. Typically I run through 15 of these no problem at all, and today I made it to 12 and was so glad we were in an 8 to 12 rep range. I probably could have pushed through to 15, and I may do so next I practice this, but today, I was happy and gratified and the best kind of fatigued at 12.
Those bench step throughs remain this enigma exercise. Not quite in the nemesis stable, but troublesome all the same. I can almost guarantee before I begin rep number 3 I will be focusing on not hinging, bending, or elevating my hips and maintaining my planky shape while moving foot and leg into the crossover position. I watch J do these and it looks so graceful and elegant, and then I imagine the picture of me going through my set and visions of an elephant attempting ballet comes to mind. Anything rotating and twisty becomes tricky, though, and I understand that from all sorts of other twisty and rotating things we do and have done. I will keep working at it, keep practicing until I get them done more fluidly. Because I will get there eventually.
Doing the bench plank to pushup position on the bench seems easier than being on the floor. I am pretty proud of myself on these, because they did not seem so horrifically challenging as they did the first time we tried it. I went through a few per arm, then switched to the other arm, and possibly I am ready to try the timed version of this bad boy. Maybe. I will have to see how the rest of this List goes next I practice it and then decide. But I was very pleased this morning. No swearing in my head, no thoughts of “OMG! Is it over yet?” Just down, down, up, up in a sort of trance-inducing sequence. All this planky stuff has me feeling like there is hope for me advancing from plank groans to just unemotional plank neutral. I still do not envision myself reading a magazine for 4 minutes of straight planking (my pinterest browsing showing through), but stranger things have happened.
And finally, the easy band pull aparts were all about the stretch afterwards. It was awesome. Not feeling of shoulder/arm collapse today, but still, a nice stretch is a nice stretch. I have done enough yoga to appreciate it.
All in all, great, rewarding, satisfying session. Which I probably say every week. Because training is so very good for me on so many levels.
I think everyone wants to feel a little special or good about themselves for something they are doing and/or are doing right in their lives. For me, getting this deep into the exercise is an really amazing, great thing for a lot of reasons that I outline exhaustively on a regular basis.
But while I know J is exceptionally good at his job, the client I am evolving into seems to inspire him to bring forth his best game. And I love that. When M and I returned to the gym last year, I remember telling the membership guy that I was interested in trying personal training, but I really did not want a meathead who spoke to me with his biceps. Part of me feels a little terrible about phrasing it that way, but the stereotype of gym trainers exists for good reasons. For the record, J has perfectly great biceps, and I am sure if they spoke would say very reasonable sounding things. But I appreciate his big giant brain and his cerebral approach to our training partnership, the way his philosophy studies thread naturally throughout our conversations as well as the reading and study of others in his field of expertise.
J has characterized me as an exercise unicorn, and I find that high praise from him. While part of his job is to motivate clients to pursue a healthier lifestyle that includes exercise, he has zillions of ways of doing that without gratuitous or insincere compliments. I know how hard I work at this, and it’s not just to make him happy or impress him with my dedication, although those are nice perks for my efforts. The partnership we have forged provides me with enough challenges and successes in overcoming those challenges to make me want to be at the gym every day pursuing my own brand of excellence. Once I pulled myself together and got serious about consistent practice and the improvements in my performance began to take hold, the feeling of being powerful and in control of my body and my health really took off and me with it into entirely new, upbeat, positive directions. It is a feeling I can replicate pretty much every day – just get to the gym and apply what I am learning each week. And from my position as a client, I have had a front-row seat to J’s test kitchen and his evolving training style. I know he is not just a one-trick pony. He is constantly tweaking his cues, the Lists he writes for the tribe, his method of presentation and delivery. I love that.
Not every single day is an especially great day at the gym or in my practice pursuits, but anymore, even the not so great or bad days boost me more than make me feel poorly about myself or my progress. I might be a little disappointed that things did not go as I had hoped, and I am now old enough, mature enough to understand such disappointments are part of life. Negative girl would have me believing that disappointments are my life. And I do bring her up frequently simply to remind myself why I cannot let my guard down too much lest she escape and find her way back.
Yesterday I used the big cable machine upstairs, first time I have been up there for that in at least a month. And while it was primarily fine, it was not stellar or exceptional or even something I might characterize as particularly good much less great. Thinking about it off and on throughout the day yesterday, the cable machines just feel different to me. I have not used that particular machine in awhile (2 weeks of not pursuing a list seems like I completely forgot about it), but I have done many of the same exercises downstairs on another cable machine. Intellectually I get that it is the same weights being moved to and fro in a different delivery system; emotionally, psychologically mind processes it as rather ho-hum in comparison to the free weights. Maybe it’s the potential Very Bad Outcome of dropping a dumbbell versus dropping a cable stack. Whatever it is, I feel slightly less engaged and invested with the cable machines and have to work a little harder to generate my usual level of enthusiasm. I am sure a week or 3 of daily usage would change that perception, but for now it is what it is and I feel no urgency to work at altering or changing my thoughts on the subject. My habit of late is at least once per week to use the cable machines, if only to keep my mind fresh on how these things should work.
I have the same sort of perception about my technology, specifically the fancy-smancy, oh-so-judgmental heart rate monitor. The fight to stay detached and not give its readings more influence and power over me is real and ongoing. My success in the gym and with my better health quest has made it simpler and easier to stay safe and live here in the land of rational information evaluation and well back and away from the pits of despair because HRM is saying I am not working as hard as I was last month. The pits of despair I must cope with are not “I seem to be slacking off, so I need to work harder, up my intensity” for me. No, the pits of despair involved negative girl using X-ray vision to melt the locks on her cage and be unleashed on mind once more and in turn pushing body to take a header off the “woe is me, sky is falling, my best efforts are not good enough” cliff. The pits of despair have me magically transported back to sedentary lifestyle girl.
I will not allow that to happen. I am so much better, stronger, faster than that now.
But the struggle is real, albeit not as much a daily occurrence anymore. I have days when I feel like 3 sets and done is way too much to ask, and other days when I wish I had enough time after 4 or even 5 sets to do another, or start another List, another something because mind is filled with happy energy and body feels light and raring to go forth and do more. My judgment gene has been disabled to the point of a much healthier perspective, in that every day I get up, go to the gym and practice the List of the day is a good day. And it is true – starting my day out with practice or with training just makes me all around better.
This morning we were talking about the way women worry about strength and resistance training making them bigger, bulkier than they wish to become, and J asked me if I ever had that sensation … or something akin to that. I responded that I felt more powerful, more like a badass. And while that is actually quite true, what I really meant was that I feel more confident and capable, more in control of body and mind. From the way some of my shirts and dresses fit or have changed in their fit, my arms are a little bigger. But looking at my arms, there is visibly less fat and flab, so I find it impossible to be concerned. There is definition in my shoulders I cannot quite describe, but I know it was not like this before. Same with my ass and my legs, even though I feel like my butt is possibly bigger than it was before. But more shapely, M and my gal pals assure me. Whatever. As long as it fits into my clothes I will not whine about it.
This also falls into the camp of external measurement of progress, and I have tended to think in terms of spot reduction, even though I know it is not really possible. I want my batwings totally wiped out or my stomach to be notably flatter and smaller or something equally significant. Somewhere I read that fat is like LIFO (last in, first out) inventory valuation, which makes sense to me. For me, though, with the resistance training exercise I have embraced so completely, I am not just trying to burn through fat with lots and lots of dedicated cardio. Instead, I am building muscle – muscle that even I can actually see in places now – and perhaps losing fat more slowly. And I must be okay with that, because I do not seem to have any intention of trading in my List of the day practice for a dreadmill or an elliptical or even an indoor rower anytime soon.
Even though I have built some safeguards to separate me from the goal-oriented fitness industry it still sneaks up and bites me in the ass from time to time. I start feeling anxious or upset that change is not happening more quickly quickly tends to morph into I am somehow doing a lot of things wrong. All that negative shit is what I tend to think through and resolve while hefting weights on practice days, and I realize again and again that body may be shedding weight in quarter pound increments when it damn well feels like letting go. Not much I can do to make it go faster, so just relax, do the work, let it happen as body intends. Mind, however, believes it is master of the universe and should be able to bully body into doing its bidding and obeying its priorities and commands. Body merely laughs.
I have always been mostly kind and considerate of other people, but I am accelerating the learning curve on how to be kind and considerate to myself. And it is refreshing to not feel shy or embarrassed to be proud of something I do or am doing that is good for me. The specter of conceit or being perceived as conceited used to paralyze me with fear, because my own low self-esteem and sense of worth made me sure that everyone in the whole world would see me as such a fake poser. Better to stay completely invisible, lost in the crowd of nondescript and average, than be seen as trying to portray myself as something I was not and could likely never become.
Fear and intimidation can be great motivators, and much of my life they have kept negative girl in the wheelhouse and in-charge of the direction of my life. The simple act of removing her from the helm has been more life-altering than I ever imagined, and it seems like every day I add a new reinforcement to negative girl’s box.
While I am still very much a law-abiding, rule-following sort of person, I am not so fearful or easily intimidated anymore. Success and self-respect – hard won progress that I like so much better.
The light is sure better, the picture clearer here with a realistic self-image. And right now, I am looking and feeling like a glitter-bombing unicorn. Surely there’s an app for that?
Happy Thursday everyone!