Thursday morning, training with J.

It was a teaching day today, learning new upper body exercises on the FreeMotion cable machine. The more time that passes, the more I recognize that for everything I know or mostly believe I know there is so much more yet to learn. Now if I can just retain enough of the cues to mostly replicate this on Saturday.

Lots of thoughts to download today, so getting right into the recap. What we did today:

  • Kneeling 1-arm high row
  • Kneeling 1-arm lat pulldown
  • Kneeling wide grip pulldown
  • 1-arm low row
  • Decline chest press
  • Cable crossover
  • Overhead cable rear delt
  • Stablity ball 1-arm side lateral
  • Rope horizontal triceps extension
  • High cable concentration curl

The kneeling 1-arm high row was new today. It is not terrible or difficult, but when anything is new there are always these subtle technicalities to learn and then implement consistently. Which knee is on the floor (same as the pulling side). What the underhand grip looks and feels like. Pulling the shoulder back and ensuring the stretch from the starting position. Plotting the pilfering and use of the thicker, cushier kneeling pad from downstairs. But that’s just me doing my best princess imitation.

We have done the kneeling 1-arm lat pulldown a few months ago, and it lingers on other cable-centric List that I periodically pull out and run through. Having recently done versions of lat pulldowns on those types of machines, I know the feel I am looking for in the muscle. I don’t recall doing quite the underhand grip, but it could just be the difference between sitting at the machine versus kneeling on the floor. The stance is definitely different from the floor, but I quickly forget about that once I get started with the movement. It’s only when I have to move the mat and change positions that kneeling becomes an issue I contemplate. I am not very graceful getting down onto the floor and into position.

Onto the kneeling wide grip pulldown. I’m not sure how it can be a wide grip with only one hand; it’s more an outward wide side grip? But we’ll go with that. I am not part of the exercise naming committee. Arm is parallel, elbow pulling toward the back of the ribcage, and feeling it in a different way in the lats. Looking forward to some practice time with this one, because the way it feels on training day versus the way it feels settling down in practice can be very different.

The 1-arm low row is strangely challenging from other types of rows and yet satisfying from my ability and familiarity with the many other versions we have done. Split stance, rear foot on the pulling side, and I write it down because those are the fine details that get me confused when on the loose on my own practice time in the gym. J referred to this as the “lawn mower row” and makes perfect sense to me. If I should ever have to start a lawnmower again in my lifetime (fat chance – if yard work were left to me I’d hire a gardener) I’ll be ready.

On the List J has written decline chest press or seated chest press, but since we did the decline chest press that is what I will be going with now and into the future. I like chest presses – they are not so much easy as they are familiar and I have a good understanding of what I am doing and which muscles I should be feeling and tightening with each rep. Plus the feet, confusions reigns when split stance makes a difference on the 1-sided everything. When it’s 2 arms, it’s easier; I just swap back and forth between which foot is forward for each set. The way this is performed also reminds me of the way a fly feels. On these, watching the elbows and ensuring there is no lockout or hyperextension, pretensioning those tricky chest muscles, and finding the right balance of peppy cadence and timing.

The cable crossover is similar to the reverse band fly from another List, but this version seems a lot tougher to keep arms elevated and stretched outward (without locking out the elbows). Because it is a teaching day, I expect some to a lot of challenges. These definitely did not disappoint, yet I am also not beating myself up or feeling discouraged. Because these are middle of the List, the fatigue coming on and having to push through is important here. I know these are going to be an exercise to watch more closely when I am practicing on my own.

For the first time in what seems like a very long time, I had a total big giant blank on the overhead cable rear delt when I sat down to write this part of the recap. A quick scan of the internet brought the basics back to mind, but I actually had to text J to ensure I had the basics straight in my mind. This one is back to the Freemotion machine and hands overhead, shoulders shrugged up, and pulling cables straight down to palms together in front of me. While we were going through this I got the feeling in the chest, but it’s hard when I am sitting here writing down the details. Again, avoid locking out the elbows.

The stability ball 1-arm side lateral is a variation of the dumbbell lateral throws. What I notice about these, anything that is cross body like this from low to high or high to low I have a certain amount of challenge learning the movement pattern. Eventually I get it, but usually the first few outings are more about trial, error, adjust, adjust, adjust. And I’m okay with that – teaching day is learning new skills after all. My biggest takeaway on this one is to keep the weight light enough at first to get comfortable with the movement, and the starting point is a pretty deep stretch with across body, hand down toward the opposite foot (arm is across body holding cable). First set I did these, I actually hit my teeth pulling the cable – silly, clumsy me. That was a pretty clear lesson about body position and where upper body should be situated when pulling.

Since I have started going to the gym I have observed many others doing the rope horizontal triceps extensions. Today was my turn to learn how these are done. Teaching day typically means lighter weights, so I can figure out what the cues mean and learn good form. I don’t know that these are so challenging, but I am also more than a year into this and have done quite a few different triceps exercises as the months have passed. I can understand why these are popular, though; I can feel my triceps even now.

New favorite for arms is the high cable concentration curls. We had been discussing the different angles of and planes of movement, and these work the biceps, for sure, but the way they are performed feels completely different from other types of curls. Maybe it’s the novelty of it all, but these were pretty cool. It seems easier to avoid the potential for Very Bad Things befalling my elbows.

I love teaching day. Love learning new things, trying and correcting and then trying again.

It occurred to me this week that the weight of all these months of consistent training sessions with J and going to the gym to practice on my own, I have a much different perspective on teaching days, review days, training days. I also have a head full of memories of our history and prior experiences. It makes me smile to recognize that I am far from the longest standing consistent training client he has in the tribe, and I am very glad he is so skilled and so steady in his style. Observing other trainers in the gym I truly understand the differences in style and why our partnership clicks where I would have likely quit long ago working with someone else.

The thing about blogging about  my training sessions and exercise in general is to document the journey. I see a lot of my steps up, the changes from insecure, gym crazy, negative girl into this more zen-like gym person who actually knows people in the club other than J. There are people I see regularly, other tribe members I will make it a point to stop and say hello when our paths cross. I do not feel self-conscious about what I am doing anymore. Frankly, I’m barely aware other people are in the club next to me on the floor. I do look around, of course; I certainly do not want to be doing a single-legged something into someone walking by behind me.

More important than all that, though, is the growth and education in science of exercise.

When I started, like everyone else I thought I might lose some weight and perhaps impact the need for as much diabetes medication. I figured I would end up following the standardized advice and walk 30 minutes per day and do resistance training 3 days per week. Now a year later, I am still off the drugs. I am not doing any deliberate cardio and instead doing resistance training of some sort 6 days per week for anywhere from an hour to 2 hours. I do yoga or pilates 2 or 3 days per week. While I have lost some weight it’s true, I gave up paying much attention to or tracking it long ago.

The no specific goals plan of goal planning is working out really, really well for me. My better health quest is all encompassing and just specific enough to give me a reasonable explanation for how much time I spend at the gym.

I have a better, stronger understanding that I am not in this to reshape my figure; I am in this to improve my health and sustain those gains. The point in my future where I stop exercising is injury, illness, or death. If I ever had a vague idea that I could cut back significantly or stop for awhile, I have purged them from my thinking. I have to be in this for the long game, the rest of my life, and I realized that my little tiny successes at first set the stage for my bigger, better progressions now.

Reading articles on fitness, body building, power lifting, diet, and just exercise in general has given me a much broader picture of what types of things people do for exercise. They are not all runners or walkers or cardio experts, nor are they big bulky people lifting hundreds of pounds of weight just for the fun of it. I do not judge anyone for pursuing their interests, but it has just surprised me how much is available for me, normal person who has not plans to compete in anything ever.

While I am suffering with my sinuses and allergies, I am still going to the gym. I am listening to body, and if she says “nope, no more today” I heed the call … makes up for the times when she’s crying out for a soda or a cookie and I just say no. If I think I cross the line into fever/cold country, I will stay home until it passes. And I will resent the disruption to my schedule, because I have fun new Lists to pursue and work on my proficiency.

The remarkable shift in avoiding going to the gym, trying valiantly for any flimsy excuse to not go has become a quest to keep going in spite of life’s other obstacles. I have become fully entrenched in my practice schedule and habits, so much so that after missing yesterday morning I felt some compulsion to go last night when I was sure I was feeling better. I am obsessed and admit it freely.

But I am also humbled and inspired by other people I see at the gym. The population in my club is older – my age (55) seems pretty median. I see the same faces day after day, the same elderly ladies in the silver classes or working with J or with another trainer. Or the powerlifting ladies J coaches who do such amazing things. While our goals are different, I see them in the gym regularly, pursuing their own Lists, and it makes me feel as if I am part of a larger, more active community. Everyone I work with at the firm is younger – average age of the associates is 29 and one of the partners is turning 42 next months – so I get a nice balance of younger/older in my life and lifestyle.

More than the reshaping and strengthening of my limbs, I have spoken before about the healing and strengthening of my thinking and ideas. Negative girl has not peeked out in quite awhile, and when she does, it’s far easier for me to put her into perspective and sort the reality of what she is bleating about versus the fantasy of what she believes.

Teaching day, a genuine pure teaching day for the first time in awhile, feels completely different now. If J has to correct me 50 times in 50 minutes then it’s obviously a lot more complicated than either of us realized. Either that or being stoned on sudafed and trying to learn new exercises does not mix. I did not feel a twinge of bad feeling today about questions I asked, corrections he made, adjustments that I had to look at myself to understand what was truly happening with my own arms or elbows. The transition to this is just the way we roll is now complete, and I have no worries that I am the village idiot who is going to require review day after review day for the balance of the year to get this stuff.

Because last year, when we were going through the PT basics Lists week after week after week, I was practicing and honing my skills for the very basic foundational exercises that expand my understanding now. I did not get it then. I could not imagine being where I am today. I just though I was kind of stupid for having to review, practice, review, practice, and learning new things every single review, every single practice.

Trusting the process has been an intriguing journey. I honestly don’t care what we do each training day and feel zero urge to ask about things I see others doing in the gym. I like knowing what things are called, or why people are doing what they are doing, and sometimes I think my inner J-installed training eye cringes when I see people doing things that look dangerous for whatever reason. Bottom line is I have come so far under J’s tutelage and have learned so much. I am not in any rush to advance to other things.

Education is a life long event. When J showed me what the Smith machine was, it was enlightening, because I have read about them and “Smith” made no descriptive sense to me. Squat rack, leg press, bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, etc., etc., etc. give a big clue as to what body part applies. But Smith machine? I don’t know that I have a Smith part, and it seems likely that it’s not a machine in my future anytime soon anyway. I’m cool with that.

Because there is a lot for me in my club. My big girl capris are getting their workout, going into the big boys room and using the machines I have on Lists. While I frequently flee back to my bodyfit room and the comfort of my own flat benches there, it’s primarily because the flat benches in the other room are occupied, not just because I’m a scaredy cat.


Training days always make me happy on a very base level. It’s fun hanging out with J for an hour – our conversation tends to span well beyond the boundaries of his job classification – and I love learning the new tidbits I pick up every time we talk and go through the various Lists. Then there are training days like today, when I feel as if my spirit is soaring well about the moon and stars. Today I feel really strong, really powerful … like the glitter-bombing pollyanna terms friend J and others use t describe me.

And that’s okay. Today, that glass sneaker fits very well. If only I could find a replacement training shoe I like as much.

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