Monday morning, Labor day, training with J. The gym is on holiday schedule and did not open until 7 this morning, so we changed our appointment yesterday to 7:30. While I have been aware of the holiday schedule since Friday, J has more commitments on his schedule this holiday than I do, so I left it to him as to what time we would meet for our 6 a.m. session. Had he not gotten back to me about it (extremely unlikely), I was fully prepared with a batch of vegan muffins and we could sit outside the locked club looking forlorn about not working out and eat muffins and talk.

But of course that didn’t happen. Still, it was a greatly entertaining fantasy while it lasted.

Today we stopped back into the realm of another style of working out, back to our peppy pacing quad blocks. Today was leg, and we went through the following:

A1. Full Squats (DB Optional) or BB
A2. Lower Body Inchworm

B1. Squat Jumps
B2. Step Ups (single leg)
B3. Bulgarian split squats
B4. Alt Lateral Lunge w/ Reach

C1. Stiff Legged DB Deadlifts off Box
C2. Stability Ball Leg Curls
C3. Curtsy Lunges w/ Floor Touch
C4. 1-legged Glute Bridges

D1. 1-legged DB Asymmetrical Split Squat
D2. DB Sumo Squats
D3. Anterior Reaches
D4. Mini Band Swinging Hip Abductions

I have this big, wide swatch of thoughts churning in my brain today, not all of them directly related to training. The Wedding is Friday, the socializing began yesterday/last night, and I feel the bride’s anxiety about her dress and her family like sunburn on my skin. Exercise has become my self-care, the gym my safe harbor. While on paper it seems like we did not do as much as we typically do in terms of sets and reps (other than the initial block, we went through a single set of each exercise), reality is there was a lot of teaching, correcting, refining, updating going on in that hour today. It was glorious. It was an adequate, sweat-inducing session. And because it’s legs, I can run through again tomorrow to ensure I am getting it completely nailed down without any harm.
This List takes us back to July and a period of doing higher reps, lighter weights. Then we started our latest training odyssey and focused on heavier weights, higher reps, more sets, and body part splits. I like both, but I have enjoyed this particular sequence because of its intensity and comprehensive broadness. There is no doubt in my mind I have been doing A LOT of work after this series of Lists. It also reminds me why I started allotting 2 hours for practices each day.

This week’s edition of full squats we used a set of 20 lb. dumbbells today for 15 to 20 reps rather than the 30 lb. dumbbells last week for 8 to 12. I could tell the difference immediately, because obviously, the extra 20 lbs. should be quite noticeable. But it was easy to fall back into being mindful of a peppier pace, even if it took the first couple of sets to get mind wrapped into the change in direction with regard to how the work gets done.

I have been substituting inchworms for burpees in pilates for at least a couple of months. Burpees: bad; inchworms: safe. Or so goes the basic thinking my exercise brain. However, today was the first time in a couple of months that I have done them the gym with J. No big corrections or adjustments on this one, although I always feel awkward going through them.

The B block is where I saw and felt the real impact of the work we have been doing the last couple of months. Squat jumps are technically kind of tricky, the launch and the landing toward the rear of the foot versus on the front part. Last we visited this List, I was doing more squat tiptoes than jumps, and today I ventured forward and into the jumping part. Like I said, kind of tricky. But I got better as we moved along. I got to the point of understanding it is not so much what the foot is doing so much as the balance and positioning of the body and the legs. It seems like a small cakes exercise, especially to anyone who has good coordination and balance. I’m working at both. I already feel like I am getting better at these.

The single leg step-ups feel like my very biggest success of the day. Last we did these, I struggled mightily. Same box. Same legs. Same stepping up motion. Only this time, I was not weeble-wobbling at the top of the box. Again, the launch and the landing are tricky, and as we moved along, with some cueing from J, I did better on the landing on my whole foot rather than just the front. I see a tiptoe pattern emerging here. My legs are definitely stronger this time around, and my balance is much improved as well. I am improving.

Every day I do bulgarian split squats as part of my warm-up. This is the first time in awhile I have done them with J as part of a List. For the most part, like 99% of the majority part, I do pretty well with these. There is a certain amount of rocking back and forth in the upper body rather than staying in one place, keeping back and shoulders and everything tight. I notice it when on my own and make myself stop, but I have been trying to work on my depth with the bend. For the most part, I am satisfied and happy with my progress.

Lateral lunges of any stripe remain a challenge. I’m not sure why, but I suspect that “butt back” is going to rank up there with the shoulders back/unshrugged in my exercise soundtrack. These lunge and reach movements are getting there. I am just not sure what it is about the sideways movements that continually trip me up. Time, patience, practice and I will improve.

We did dumbbell deadlifts but there was no box involved. Last week we were doing heavier weights and more explosive lifting movements. Today is was lighter weights, more reps, and slower lifts. Still need to remember the tighten abs and glutes at the top to not stress the lower back. At least I do listen to body and make the adjustments before I wander too hopelessly far off the reservation.

The stability ball leg curls are another tricky movement. It is illustrative to me to watch J demonstrate, because I then understand where I am going wrong. This time it was the angle of the movement, the last couple of inches of drawing the ball in and what a difference it makes in the contraction in the hamstrings. When it is a small adjustment I can feel that much, it becomes memorable and immediately burned into my brain.

And they’re back – my love/hate quasi-nemesis curtsy lunges. When I am doing them correctly, I can feel them working those side glutes in a very direct way. When I am not doing them quite correctly enough, I still feel those side glutes yet less directly and less direct, less impact sort of way. When I am not doing them quite correctly enough I am also wondering about my knee and if something bad could happen to it. So we went over it again, J demonstrated, I watched, I mimicked. It works for us. Next I practice I will be paying attention to what knees are doing and how glutes are feeling.

Then we come to the 1-legged glute bridges. I understand how these are supposed to work and know where I should be feeling the muscles working, but they are still an ongoing challenge. Rep count is typically 20-something, but I break them up into 10 per leg to get through the set. Right now it works for me.

From single leg glute bridges to 1-legged dumbbell asymmetrical split squats. I don’t use a heavy dumbbell on this one – only 15 lbs. – but the staying upright with the dumbbell in one hand requires more concentration than I recall from the last time we did these. I always thought these things would be hard from a strength/weakness aspect, and sure, it has taken awhile to get to this point and this level of ability. However, remembering all the cues and instructions and form technicalities is not to be underestimated.

Doing a lot of sumo squats with a 35 lb. kettle bell is like old home week. My very first list had these on them, and I was so far removed from exercise basics I really struggled with remembering the butt back and the upper body still and the bending the knees outward – all those basic cues that body seems to know and run on autopilot.

Because they are so late in the blocks series, anterior reaches are more difficult because of fatigue. But I have come so far in the balance aspect, I have made a lot of forward progress with these and my abilities have improved. Other that the split squats, this last block is kind of like the good stuff I know really well as a final finisher.

The mini band swinging hip abductions are another old favorite. They are not so much easy as they are very familiar and good-feeling for the muscles involved.

As I said, we did only one set of the last 3 blocks of exercises, but today actually felt more like a teaching day than a review. There was a lot of small refinements and explanations of the why and the ways to make better on just about everything. Plus just getting back into a different feel and pacing from what we have been doing lately.

It felt and feels really, really good.

Trainer J was asking me this morning about what I felt was an impending breakthrough with exercise. I explained it is not so much something big about to happen to much it always feels like the edge is right there within my grasp and I will inch closer and closer with each passing day. Thinking about it further, though, I suspect it is all about control. The Wedding is Friday … did I mention that at all yet today? The experience with The Gown has been horrible and could have easily been rectified with some better customer service. But it is what it is, and there is not a single thing I can do to make this better for K. My feeling of helplessness there is not a good one or something I enjoy or appreciate, obviously. So while I am at the gym, there is so much within my grasp that I directly control, that I am the decider on whether this is a success or a failure. Maybe it’s continuing for max reps when I feel distracted and unfocused and want to stop at 3. Or maybe it’s simply overcoming my distraction and disciplining my focus and being completely in the present and doing the work.

I am capable of these things now, and it is only when I have so many other somethings going on simultaneously in my life that I truly recognize and appreciate that I have worked really hard and strengthened this skill.

The days, weeks, months have passed and my definition of success has become a moving target, shifting sand. Concepts of failure to contrast with success have fallen away, so much so that I find myself surprised when I characterize something I try as a failure. Mind has decreed things not working are imperfect successes, that there is room for improvement to bridge the gap between here, not as successful, to there, success by whatever current definition I happen to be using.

Around me, there is a lot of really amazing, great, enthusiastic energy. Friends are suddenly firing on extra cylinders, pushing ahead with thoughts and ideas and questions and answers. The negativity of the politic debate and the negativity in the press and the internet is a pretty stark contrast to the sparking of ideas and pursuits going on around me. There are influences I am drawn to for good reasons, that benefit me both directly and indirectly just because they are part of the fabric of my life.

Some days I am a lot more joyously cognizant of that than others. I’m improving and getting stronger because I go to the gym as frequently as I do and I practice. I’m better now because I have a great and caring trainer who is invested in me and my progress, a dietician and an obesity doctor who help me with all my nutritional choices and needs. And I am the person I am, warts and all, because of M, because of my family, and for the tribe of friends surrounding me. Life is rich, life is good. There is so much simple joy in day-to-day things, some days more than others. Today is one of those exceptionally rich days.

Happy Monday every one.

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