Training #83 – The heart of the matter

Thursday morning, training with J. Big fun happens on training days, and today was no exception.

I spoke yesterday about my clumsiness and not having any sort of falls, tumbles, cuts, or scrapes recently. I also voiced concern about speaking of my lack of mishaps and how it has tendency to jinx me. Sure enough, today I very nearly tripped and fell over the weight bench. Thankful for trainer J’s quick reflexes and steadying grip on my upper arm.

It’s only superstition if shit never happens.

Anyway, today was upper body day. This has been such a fun sequence of events the last couple of weeks – lower body Monday, upper body Thursday. It’s very satisfying to my creature-of-habit tendencies, because I can get myself into a schedule of practices that puts me into a secure, autopilot state of knowing what I am doing each day. Kind of ridiculous, I know. But we each have out things that make us make sense.

One of the best parts of getting into a regular routine of exercise has been blogging about it, but also the conversations it spawns with my real-life friends and associates. Many of my friends scattered around the globe read the updates and email or text me “atta girl” kudos or questions or express concerns about my training schedule. I get that; they do not see me but once a year, or maybe once every 5 years. But even friends here in town that I get together with fairly routinely – it’s become an absorbing educational topic for all of us. Our experience range from people like me who have embraced it fully in a shorter span of time to those who have exercised consistently since childhood to other just starting out on their journeys of discovery. I feel like finally, I have something to contribute to the conversation, and the takeaways are more relevant now that I actually have experience doing squats or lunges or presses. There are still big giant machines in the big boys’ room that I know nothing about, and I’m okay with that. No rush for me and I don’t expect to acquire knowledge and experience overnight. Trainer J is very good, but no one is that good.

My friend Christy has been doing crossfit for about as long as I have been training with J. We got together a couple of days ago and ended up comparing biceps. Yes, I have been elevated to a point of comparing biceps with another female friend. *laugh* But she has a smaller frame than my own – she’s a hummingbird in comparison to me as a T-Rex – so she is absolutely blazing new trails in the gym. I do not think the journey is easier for her, but I know our styles of exercise are very different. Heck, I know our need for different styles of exercise are very different. She’s very focused on goals and pounds and inches lost, whereas the only goal I have is to get to the gym for training appointments and practices and to the studio when I have enrolled in a class. Beyond that, all the Lists and the poses and the things I learn is pure gravy.

The differences in our perspectives remains an ongoing theme. Christy is also someone who tries to understand, even if she herself cannot operate that way in any aspect of her life. This possibly explains why crossfit appeals to her; the group setting, the competition, the goals they set for themselves. I do not do well in such an environment.

I find the idea of even a small group class with J or another trainer holds zero appeal; it is totally not my thing. I’d either be dying on the floor or going through with this puzzled frown on my face. Even in yoga class I find myself getting discouraged periodically because I know something is not quite right and I cannot figure out what it is, where I am going wrong. Yet it has been far easier to stick with it more consistently now that I have my attention on other exercise skill development. Plus I write about it, talk about it, and of course overthink it; having outlets is an enormous boon.

Down to business, though. What we did today:

  • Bent Over DB Row (20 & 25 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12)
  • Cross Bench DB Pullover (20 & 25 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12)
  • Bent Over Band Straight Arm Pulldown (2 sets, MAX)
  • Band Row (2 sets, MAX)
  • Incline DB Chest Press (25 lb. DBs, 4 sets, 8-12 reps)
  • Band Triceps Kickback (3 sets, MAX/side)
  • 1-arm DB Overhead Press (15 lb. DB, 3 sets, 8-12/side)
  • Dual Band Reverse Fly (3 sets, MAX)
  • DB Triceps Extensions (15 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)
  • E2 DB Concentration Curl (10 lb. DB, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)

Not a lot of new stuff again this week, which is perfectly fine with me. We are adding weightier weights, or we are working out way toward weightier weights. Either way, it feels like a transitional period, and I’m kind of excited about it.

I have done bent over dumbbell rows many times before, but sometimes it feels as if it has been a very long while since they appeared on a List. Today felt like a long stretch without them, and getting my form and technique back where there are fewer corrections and new reminder cueing takes a few practices.

The cross bench dumbbell pullover has potential for new favorite status. This is like a bridge, where only the head and upper shoulders are supported on the bench. I was surprisingly good at this, because I thought for sure the bridge part would be my undoing. No, it was mostly remember to skim the face with the weight while not bumping it against my face. While it seems like this would be very similar to a regular bench-supported dumbbell pullover, it feels al title different. The stretch, the contraction of muscles working, the focus on keeping abs tight and hips bridged … it wasn’t the terrible experience I envisioned watching J demonstrate.

We moved to the stretchy bands next for the bent over straight arm pulldown. I might have the sequencing confused – I think the pulldown was quick and peppy and the release to starting point was a slower, controlled tempo, but I might have it backwards. These are not hard, yet when J says MAX my mind sort of freezes and fixates on some random number. For future purposes it’s going to be 18; my MAX minimum on these is going to be 20 on this series. I have no idea what I did today as far as counts. Hopefully it was enough.

Band rows are sort of benign as well; I do them all the time. On a List like this, though, I really want to practice sharpening focus so tempo is peppier, form is good, and MAX is truly max, where arms feel so over and done with that at the end of each set. I’m not sure I have ever truly reached that point.

Back to bench for incline dumbbell chest presses. Today there was a new cue and wrinkle introduced, in that we are now trying and focusing on an arch in the back while moving the weights up and down. Up until now I was sure that keeping the back and shoulders flat against the bench was my aim, so this now feels like something new. I was using the 25 lb. dumbbells today, although I have been using the 30s in other recent practices. I am glad, though; with the new twist it was good to have some success without wondering about the why if there was some struggle involved.

Then back to the stretchy band and the tricep kickbacks. I have a new crush on these things; they are just challenging enough with mind focusing on retaining the right elbow elevation that I sort of forget that I am actually working on burning out the triceps until I wake up and triceps are on fire. While this is a MAX exercise, the first set on the weaker side was 18.

I like the 1-arm overhead press; it somehow makes me think about balance, standing upright, and watching what my arm is doing on the way down. While admittedly I am doing largely the same thing when pressing with both arms, resisting the urge to bend sideways at the waist is huge. It makes me feel like my brain is getting a little practice in focus when I have to keep my mind on what I am doing beside counting reps.

While the dual band reverse fly is familiar and has been on recent lists, the cueing or the demonstration seemed a little different today. I have a better sense of what I am doing with this exercise, and now that I am more comfortable with the dual bands and such, it feels like I can move forward and focus on the movement itself rather than the set-up and all that is going on around me while in process. I cannot really explain it, except there is this sense we the exercise is like a tower of legos and we’re making it taller and taller every week.

We have not visited with the dumbbell triceps extensions in awhile, and I was pleasantly surprised to be far more capable with 15 lb. dumbbells than my prior outings. Zero doubt in my mind anymore that arms and upper body are getting stronger.

The concentration curl must be named that because it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right spot where elbow meets leg. We were using a lighter weight – what early on J referred to as teaching weights – and it let me clearly imaging the Very Bad Things that could happen if I ever tried this with something too heavy or allowing myself to lose focus and let the weight drop too far. While it might sound kind of morbid to imagine the worst, I find it keeps me honest and mindful about the exercise.

While looking at the List now it seems a little lighter than sessions past, I am definitely feeling it in my lats and triceps tonight. I am looking forward to test driving this one my own in a Saturday practice as well.

Tomorrow is leg day again, and I think I am going out and using the machines and stability ball from last week instead. Friend J misinterpreted something I said about squats – I actually kind of like squats; it’s lunges and the lunge family that is not on my favorites list – and now I want to get back to the leg press machine and see how that List feels to me after this week’s version of legs.

The year is winding down already – J has planned and announced his Christmas holiday dates and I am starting to contemplate taking some time off myself for a staycation. Part of that is contingent upon when friend J land and takes up residence, part of it is dependent upon when C and A leave the state. But in addition to all that, it’s exciting to realize that a full calendar year is about to flip of this level of commitment to my better health quest.

While I am not a goal-setting sort of person in this realm, I am contemplating some tangible objectives for 2017. Not things like the weight of weights I am moving to and fro or the measurements on the scale or tape measure, but things like improving my counting skills or feeling more confident about my flexibility. K is about ready to commit to my yoga studio as well, so I may soon have a regular yoga companion once or twice a week. I have a whole pile of books in my kindle waiting patiently for some attention, and I have let myself go as far as time spent reading. Part of it is time management, allowing work-work to encroach on more and more of my free time, and it all comes back to personal discipline. I have not so much backslid in this area so much as gone still and stagnant and not exercised any self-discipline.

At lunch we were talking about motivation and inspiration. Succeeding is a great motivator for me. In the gym and my exercise pursuits I have grown less black-and-white, success/failure and more flexible and tolerant with my personal learning curves. I always hope to get some new stuff or have some basic memory of more familiar stuff, but it does not always work out that way. I’m finding that having even a few little wins has made me more focused on going and trying than anything else has done for me in the health and fitness realm.

Some days I do not feel motivated to try very hard or inspired to even try at all. Those days still freak me out, but they tend to happen less frequently and freak me out less period when they do occur. I have a really long list of things that I struggled mightily with at one point or another and now rarely give much thought to when they appear on my List of the day. I’m learning to block out the noise and distraction of people yelling back and forth in conversation in the big boys room and just do my work and move on to something, somewhere else. I still feel like a green newbie in that area of the gym, yet I know I am not all that green or very new to gym attendance.

I suppose if you have been a successful athlete or are generally confident these musings may not be applicable, and that’s okay. In my little gym I blend pretty well with the member population. While I am no young and do not appear hip or fit, I tend to care less and less about that as the days pass. My skin is pretty comfortable anymore, I am not thinking or anxious about what others might think about my efforts.

My friend Christy expressed newfound respect for my efforts and the work I am doing in my exercise and better health pursuits, and the way she said it was almost unkind, although I know she did not mean it as anything other than complimentary. Gyms have a pretty high bar to overcome with the average person, and many who say they go to the gym do not necessarily mean to work the way I work. Some work much harder, of course, but for many it is a social pursuit, a place to see and be seen by others or pursue their fitness objectives in different ways.

Funny how my perspective has changed. Before going to the gym brought forth a reflexive wincing or anticipation of a painful, anxiety-driven experience. Now it’s just another day, another List, another opportunity to put body through it’s expanding paces.

The evolution of a stronger sense of self, more balance in my ability to overcome the anxiety of a place of such discomfort –  I think about this phenom fairly regularly. I marvel that I have come this far. And that is perhaps the most amazing and awesome transformation thus far.

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