Thursday morning, training with J. I am so spoiled. I mean, really spoiled. Not only do I have a personal trainer twice per week, I have a personal trainer who is generous and provides me extra time when there is a cancellation between my session and his. Typically this just means we might run 10 minutes over; today it was more like 30 minutes over. Spoiled ROTTEN, that’s me.

While today was technically a review day, it was a pretty intense and “let us promote you a grade” type of review day. I feel like it went from basics of form and movement to something significantly more challenging. In my mind this was the cerebral training session of the latest upper body series.

What we reviewed and did today:

For the Back
A1 – Lat Pulldown (dual cable machine) (50 lbs., 3 sets, 12-15 reps)*
B1 – Seated Cable Row (60 lbs., 3 sets, 12-15 reps)*
C1 – 1-arm DB Row (25 lb. DB, 3 sets, 12-15/side)

For the Chest
D1 – Slight Decline DB Chest Press (20 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 12-15 reps)
E1  – DB Chest Fly (15 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 12-15 reps)

For the Shoulders
F1 – Seated Rope Facepull (40 lbs., 3 sets, 12-15 reps)*
F2 – 1-arm DB Snatch (15 lb. DB, 3 sets, 12-15/side)

For the Arms
G1 – Slow Tempo Rope Triceps Pushdown (35 lbs., 3 sets, 12-15 reps)
H1 – Cable 2-arm Biceps Curl (35 lbs., 3 sets, 12-15 reps)

Very occasionally I think that I mostly have an exercise completely mastered, that there is nothing more to be learned, J finds a way. Which is why he is in his role and I am in mine and ours is an amazing training partnership. Today was all about working muscles harder and little, subtle ways to increase the intensity and output. More than that, though, we worked at the mental game of the exercises.

Last we did the lat pulldown, we were using the big long bar and working at them with hands in different positions. Today we moved over to the dual cable machine, which has a different feel to it on the one hand, and opportunity to work one side at a time. On this, we worked at the full range of motion, the stretch at the top of the exercise, pre-tensoinining and pulling down slowly, then relaxing back up and at the top pre-tensioning and starting all over again. Only in a particular cadence that was not about speed or peppy pacing so much as a rhythm to going through the reps and getting a bigger, stronger contraction in the lats throughout the entirety of the exercise. Theme of the day: big stretch, pre-tension, bigger contraction. Work the muscles harder. We were using lighter weights than we have been and honestly, it felt like I worked harder and it was much harder than the weightier weights in prior outings. J demonstrated with a much heavier stack, and I could see the difference between work in his lats and work in his arms. When I tried it, I felt the difference immediately as well. Again, must remember to keep shoulders pushed back and down.

The seated cable rows were more of the same cadence of stretch, pretension, contract muscles. Deep lean forward for the stretch, pretension and use the back and shoulders to pull the weight back without leaning back. There is a rhythm to this that I was either unaware of or not thinking about before today, but now going through the steps in my head all I can think about is the sequence and the count that goes with this sequence. I can most definitely feel it in my lats right now.

Big excitement with the 1-arm dumbbell row today, and I’m laughing even as I type that. I mean, seriously, I have been doing these for bunches of months now. How is it possible something new is introduced and has me ridiculously excited about them all over again? Well, for the last several Lists these have appeared on we have been working on the downward stretch. Ever since we began these months and months ago J has always stressed the stretch before the row, and I have been trying very hard to implement it when these appear on a List. The standing stance makes this more manageable than the knee on the bench, but today we did something new with the weight toward the front of the forward foot. It’s almost a cross over type movement, but hips are stable and level, pulling back the weight is much more targeted. It feels infinitely more satisfying to me when a small change makes the exercise feel differently.

When we first began the slight decline dumbbell chest press, my big focus has been on the arch in the upper back. The flat bench version had it in my head that the back was to be flat against the bench, so I have been weaning myself off that habit. Today it was about squeezing the shoulders together at the top of the press. It’s amazing the difference it makes to the feeling in the muscles. The pretensioning cadence of this new layer to the exercise presently requires a lot more focus that pressing dumbbells up and then lowering them down. Perhaps one day the level of steam coming out my ears will decrease, but right now it requires a higher degree of concentration.

The dumbbell chest fly is tricky anyway, but where I have been working at the bear hug at the top before, now I am working at the bear hug at the top and squishing shoulders together as well. Except the cadence is not quite as smooth just yet. It’s lower weights, press up, to top and bear hug/shoulder squish. It does not sound all that difficult, but I can feel the mechanical building blocks of each step right now. Patience and practice will make this become more fluid and smooth.

New exercise favorite: the seated cable facepull. I just love these things. Sitting down I’m not thinking and adjusting to ensure abs are tight so I am not leaning back and pressuring my lower back on the pull part. Seated it is easier to stay upright and in position to keep my mind centered squarely on pulling the rope and feeling the stretch and the contraction through the shoulders.

The 1-arm dumbbell snatch is a shrug-it-up exercise, a small handful of shrugging exercises. I am present trying to catch up on all the episodes of the smarter sculpted physique podcasts (, and they specifically mention the front and lateral raises and to “shrug it up” in order to do the work in the shoulders. The way J has taught me to do this, it’s almost a whole body exercise. While I still have lower-level private fears of bashing some innocent person walking by with a 15 lb. dumbbell, it just another one of those irrational anxieties that crop up from time to time. Truth is I am getting more and more competent and confident with this one. Paired with the seated facepull, this is my favorite block on this List.

We used a different cable set today for the slow tempo rope triceps pushdown. On this set, the cable part was stationary overhead with a perpendicular back pad for leaning against while standing up. Anyway, rather than leaning forward slightly and doing the pushdown, feet are slightly forward for balance and back and shoulders are pressed back against the pad. The pushdown is the same, but damn – this rendition had me dying after the minimum reps. But I liked it. The novelty is unlikely to wear off anytime soon.

On the same cable set for the cable 2-arm bicep curls only instead of pulling the bar up into a curl this was an underhand grip on the bar and pulling down and then raising back up into the curl. Feels slightly different than a regular bicep curl, but I could feel the bicep muscles working.

So now I here with an upper body singing like a choir of angels, as promised. Earlier in the week J had told me that he was working on a List to make my upper body sing, and since that day I had done the same List and was feeling it, I told him that my upper body could not carry a tune in a bucket and was squeaking.

It was a fantastic session and while I did not have any big new movements to add to my repertoire, I did gain a lot of insight and deeper understanding of what I am seeking in my resistance training. The learning is ongoing and will hopefully last forever.

One of the cool impacts of training days is the way practices follow on and in a rough schedule of upper and lower or various sections of uppers and lowers. My exercise library has some mass now, and I can have history that I can go back and revisit with my own practices.

Frequently I look back and marvel at how far I have come with exercise on my better health quest. Hard to believe, but I am becoming an exercise geek, reading books, now subscribing to and listening to podcasts with respected experts talking about diet, exercise, bodybuilding, strength training, and everything in between. During practice, in the car, at my desk, and working at home, I am listening to (and relistening) this series of podcasts.

Yep, completely and totally geeking out about exercise and training.

I did not see this coming or happening to me. Now that I find myself in this odd position, I like it. I like the new frontiers my reading and listening open for me. The idea of being a personal trainer holds zero appeal for me, but I like the learning and information I am absorbing.

While I have not yet hit that stride with the yoga and/or pilates, I am finding that my body can tell the difference when I do not make at least one class each week. I feel stiffer, muscles tighter than usual for not going at all this week thus far. No recrimination going on, merely acknowledging that I can tell the difference from no yoga thus far. Sunday, for sure; one full day off without any exercise is enough for a little while.

On the diet and eating, not putting a lot of thought or energy into what I am eating or why. I do not feel as if I am overeating or consuming scads of junk, but it was Halloween and lots of candy and crap around the house. Still, I do not feel big or gross or as if I have gained or lost a lot of weight. Smoothies for breakfast, smoothies for mid afternoon snack, regular lunch and dinner. Not a huge amount of food or overeating, but I would like to get back to being more mindful of what I am eating. Thanksgiving is coming, then Christmas, and already the goodies are starting to find their way into my office and our social life.

Thank goodness I am in a good groove with the training and the practice or I would be far worse off.

Today was chock full of interesting information and learning new things. Every day is a good day when I feel excited about getting up and back to the gym in the morning.

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