Training #93 – Alive and kicking

Thursday morning, training with J. While this has been an absolutely fabulous week and my euphoria over the office move that went off without any glitchy hitches, today we were in the exercise test kitchen having a teaching day and it was AMAZING. Even if I had had a shitty week, had everything go wrong that possibly could go wrong with the entire office move (and trust me, it’s a lot), I would still say today was amazing and fantastic. But I’m kind of exercise nerdy that way.

Today was adventures in fluffy cuffies, the affectionate way we refer to the bright and shiny new ankle cuffs J gave me last week for the cable machines. We had just a couple of exercises last week on the particular lower body List. Today was essentially an expanded edition, where J has added a few more fluffy cuffy exercises and made it all so much more interesting. Glutes, hamstrings – oh my there is weeping and wailing in my rear quarters today. But no complaints from me. I love teaching days, and I really enjoyed the testing and experimenting with some new things.

What We Did

This is the full List, yet we focused exclusively on the B block of exercises. Since this was a teaching day, we went through 2 sets of the B block, shooting for a rep range of 12 to 15.

A1  Squat Machine “Frog Stance”
A2  Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension

B1  Cable Glute Donkey Kick
B2  Cable Side Hip Abductions
B3  Cable Glute Kickback
B4  Cable Step Back to Split Stance or Reverse Lunge to High Knee
B5  1-leg RDL w/ Ankle Strap Attached

C1  1-legged Glute Pushdown
C2  Adductor Machine

How it Felt

I am test driving a new format for training recaps based on how I have been writing them and the types of information I want to review somewhere into the future. I am trying to be clearer and summarize my brain dump in a way I find clearest and most useful on a standalone basis.

As I said, today was all about the B block exercises on the Freemotion cable machine. We went through each exercise on the right leg and then did the entire series on the left leg.

What we did last week with the arrival of the fluffy cuffies was labeled as a glute kickback, but I learned today it was kind of a hybrid of a couple of exercises on the cable machine. Because of that, I had some initial resistance toward the cable glute donkey kickback. Not terrible resistance, no kicking and screaming and foot-stomping tantrums about how much I hate or cannot do the donkey kickbacks. Not that has ever actually happened in a training session, but sometimes it sure feels like my head pitching a fit on my own time in practices. If anything, it is more reprogramming mind to accept that the knee stays bent and sole of foot is pushing upward toward the sky, versus the way I had initially learned where leg stayed mostly straight while heel was high-kicking backward toward the ceiling. While I can feel the working leg kicking and working, I can also feel the anchored leg and glutes kicking in working hard at providing stability to the body.

The cable side hip abductions were introduced last week on the cable machine (we had previously done these a lot with the minibands). J went over it with me in a lot more detail this morning, and I am so glad. While I was not doing it wrong on my own, I was sort of winging it and wondering why it seemed like the couple of times I pursued this List in my own practice it felt like I was doing it differently every time and trying to reinvent the wheel. He taught me the setup with the cable – line up with cable parallel to shins, then turning away from the cable 45 degrees, and the cable should be skimming the shin in the exercise to ensure the right angle and side glute working. I could tell the difference immediately. A few hours later, I am standing at my desk because my glutes are weeping and wailing about how worked they are this morning. I definitely can feel the work in those side glutes.

Now that I have the original hybrid glute kickback broken down into a donkey kick and a real glute kickback, I understand the difference. The cable glute kickback we did today was leg forward and leg moving backward and all about the ways it feels in the hamstrings and lowest section of the glutes. Again, it was hard to break myself of the initial habit of trying to kick back with heel higher, but I have a better handle on the shape of this exercise and will force myself to be slow and deliberate with each rep.

Surprisingly, the cable step back to split stance to high knee is hands-down the favorite thing we did today. It looked hard when J demonstrated, and I did not even attempt the reverse lunge (I think I have been referring to it as a backwards lunge recently), but using a 6 lb. weighted bar for balance I managed pretty well to just fine. The cable weight is around the leg moving to the high kick and back into the split stance or the reverse lunge. I am fine with the set-up – attach weight, walk forward – yet a lot more cautious on the dismount. Do I walk backward very slowly or turn sideways and sort of sidestep it? Maybe I try to turn around and walk it forward? Silly questions, I know, but I can easily imagine the Very Bad Things befalling me after the fact. While in the moment and actually performing this movement, I found it very soothing to get into the rhythm of stepping back, high knee lifting on the forward step. The bar for balance worked perfectly, and my balance has improved enough that I do not even realize that it is in my hand and working for me. I went through this feeling the glutes and hamstrings doing their work and really enjoyed the sensation and the feeling of control over my leg in going through this. A few practices on my own and I’ll be willing to try the lunge instead, but for today and a first time I feel hugely successful in going through this the first times. Going forward I will be focusing on elevating the knee as high as possible as well as maintaining balance, but this little exercise demonstrated to me how far I have come on this journey.

If the cable step back to split stance to high knee was my favorite thing today, the cable 1-legged Romanian deadlift with cable attached was the most intriguing thing we did today. This exercise can only be performed this way on the Freemotion machine, with it’s 2 arms and cables that can be rotated into various positions. With a cable attached to the anchoring leg, I have no clear idea why it makes such a difference, but I will say it makes me feel stable more stable doing the deadlift portion with the cable in my hand. In addition to that, depending upon the positioning angle of the cable attached to my ankle, I felt the contraction in different places in my glutes, hamstrings, or hip flexor. I was interesting, definitely a creation of J’s test kitchen, and I find myself eager to return and try it again just to experience the differences once more. I felt it in the high hamstring to lower glute with one angle, in the hip flexor in another, and smack dab in the middle glue with yet another. I could be the one-off weirdo client as well, hence my eagerness to test this again tomorrow and testing my ability to replicate the feelings depending upon the cable’s angle and positioning.

Key Takeaways

Let me preface this by saying that teaching days are the best part of training sessions. I was a geek and a nerdy girl long before it was attractive or cool, and I feel as if I am a collector of random facts and ideas. I like knowing stuff. I really like knowing I can learn new stuff. So it seems perfectly natural to me that I would love teaching days. Anymore, I have built up enough knowledge and stamina for exercise that I have a good balance of success and challenge with each training session and new material and exercises. This time last year, there was teach day, review day, technical review day, and then just more review and correction days. I appreciated it then, I appreciate it now. The fact that we drilled and drilled and drilled on the fundamentals in the earliest of sessions, because it has been invaluable for me with learning to self-correct and hear body’s feedback about what I am doing.

I love the experimentation and learning new things. I love my shiny new objects, in this case my fluffy cuffies. And I am really appreciating the resources J has steered me toward that help me on this better health journey.

Not sure if I would classify it as burnout or even the mildest of funk, but Thanksgiving week found me feeling like a slacker about exercise. I trained, I practiced, and while I was distracted more than usual, I was present and did something. My level of engagement was not complete and as normal as it has been this week.

But oh well. One week out of 52 is not bad. I’m happy to be focused and feeling as if I am working at normal capacity.

Growth for me has come not been a series of “EUREKA!” moments, more the slow and steady march of going and working at the Lists, pursuing yoga as frequently as my schedule and my energy allows, and just sticking with the program. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s exhilarating and exciting. Anymore for me, this is my habit, this is my life and my lifestyle. Being busy is not a reason to not be at the gym, to reschedule or (heaven forbid!) cancel a training session, or not appear on a scheduled practice day. There could be a compelling reason to be practicing for less than my usual 90 minute allotment – shaving sleep, early meetings, distraction with other things, illness. I have become extraordinarily serious about better health; it is my priority and the exercise is at least 70% of why I am enjoying feeling good overall.

I think about all these things like white noise playing in the background as we go through the new exercises and I try to wrap my head around it all.

Today in the test kitchen, I felt no apprehension about not being successful with these new things. I can tell where I struggled – the donkey kicks and the glute kickbacks – but I had no doubts I could and would learn and overcome the shallow habit I had acquired. The rear step to high knee was shocking to me that my ability has increased to this degree, and I am not-so-secretly thrilled it went as well as it did right out the gate. I’m ridiculously excited about tomorrow, because my new plan is that I do my dumbbell matrix before completing this List in its entirety.

The 1-legged Romanian deadlifts were intriguing to me and have captured the little professor inside my brain that wants to understand the differences of the impacts of the anchoring foot with the cable pulling from different angles. It occurred to me long after I was at the office and dealing with move-related matters and vendors that at the time we were going through it, I had completely forgotten that without the weight cable attached the glute felt a particular way and with the cable attached it felt both more stable and the muscle work more intensely. However, next I do this I will do a few reps beforehand without the weight cable attached. For comparison and contrast. And I will test drive the different angles to see if I can get a clearer sense of where and how I feel it.

The Lists expand and new layers are incorporated as we move along. It keeps me challenged and learning new things, getting stronger and fitter as the days and weeks pass.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

There was a random comment this morning about my blog being unrealistic in being happy happy joy joy all the time. Frankly, it made me laugh. I didn’t publish it, because it is irrelevant and obviously someone who had read very shallowly through the blog and is not genuinely interested in what I might have to say or share here, instead complaining that I am not pissing and moaning enough. I will get over it.

I have written extensively about how impactful the regular exercise habit has been on both my mental and emotional outlooks. This week – it’s been amazing. Work at the law firm has gone extraordinarily well this week and I worked very hard at work my stable of private clients needed over the holiday week to ensure nothing fell through the cracks while I had a full plate with my other job. Time management, organization, and developing the discipline to manage my own time are not natural talents for me. I have had to push myself very hard to ensure I stay on top of everything going on in all aspects of my life. With negative girl in the wheelhouse, a good portion of my energy was spent imagining the worst and preparing the plan B for what I would do when I failed or dropped the ball. It was exhausting.

While I would never say regular and consistent exercise is a cure-all for what ails us, for me it has been done A LOT to build my mental and emotional muscles and endurance as well as my physical self. While I work with J and he teaches me all sorts of things that have a direct impact on me physically, our conversations and the resources he has steered me toward have done wonders for my mental game game as well. I am immersed in an entire series of podcasts right now on exercise and fitness topics. I do not always understand what the topics they are discussing, being neither a physique or power lifting competitor, yet there is a lot of common sense information and advice for the regular person looking to learn. On my blog bucket list are notes for future posts about my favorite episodes of this podcast series.

As part of a broader, far-ranging conversation with J this morning, I have been contemplating and confronting my own body image biases. M and I were watching an old documentary on Ike and Tina Turner. There was a lot of footage from the earliest days of their career, and I remarked to M that many of the women in the documentary would be considered fat or overweight by today’s entertainment standards. Not a darn thing wrong with any of their figures, except they actually had flesh on their bones and were not as skin and bones as the models and actresses that are famous and considered so beautiful today.

My own body has changed with the consistent gym practice. I’m not going to be thought of as undernourished or underweight, but I can tell from the way clothes fit and the way I actually look at that I am smaller than I was when I first met J. There is less fat. There is more muscle. And it is incredibly gratifying to be visibly trimmer. With all this glute work I actually have a shapely rear end.

In my book, these are not small cupcake-sized accomplishments. While the inner changes of blood sugar and overall health as determined by my labs are far more impressive, seeing signs of positive exterior changes is gratifying. My latest small victory is the my skinny jeans are now another pair of loose fit jeans.

In my most confident moments, I’m pleased with the way I am looking, that the work is showing to my own self-critical eye. If negative girl gets to bleat out a thought, it is to chastise me for being so big-headed about my efforts. Even writing this post, talking about my successes and how fantastic I feel about it, I feel a little un-humble to even bring it up.

I do not take it for granted. Reinventing myself as someone who gets up at 4 a.m. to make it to the gym well before work has not been a simple task, and I would still never classify myself as a morning person.

But my perception of what “fit” looks like has been subtly changing as the months have passed. The young man who completed our gym membership application last year was this chiseled, buff-bunny type that just looked like he worked in a gym. Yet the current operations manager at my club is a fuller figured woman. The powerlifting ladies J coaches are all heights, weights, shapes, and sizes, yet none have the smaller, thinner physiques of a maturing supermodel or online fitness pro. Those ladies are very strong and have many admirable accomplishments, and it is so impressive to watch them going through their training routines.

I’m trying hard to apply the same standards of understanding to myself, and not feel poorly about not being skinnier or ignoring the judgmental scale that lives in M’s bathroom. It had to be banished, you see, because it was depressing the shit out of me every single day. I tried to make friends. I tried to not let it upset me. It didn’t work. For me, external measurements are only tracking my failures. Does not matter that I am using weighter weights this year, or doing more reps, or more complicated exercise programs. If that dreaded scale says I am 0.2 lbs. heavier than the day before my confidence and self esteem takes a hit. Forget all the knowledge I have gained about weight fluctuations and what I am trying hard to absorb about science and biology. Mind sees a higher number, mind freaks the Hell out and reacts as if the sky overhead has lost a critical support feature keeping it aloft.

I like the sky right where it is and vastly prefer not to contemplate or feel the weight of it’s potential falling. So I ignore any and all scales in my path, tape measures are banned in my home. And stay happily ignorant of such external measurements of progress and careening happily along in pursuit of my better health habits.

Because I’m fine. I look fine. I feel great. I feel particularly alive and lively right now, but that could be the sugar coursing through my system. The partners brought me back a piece of cheesecake (from Cheesecake Factory) from a client lunch today, and I can eat it, all of it, without feeling guilty or ashamed or worrying about the extra calories and only a little concerned about my blood sugar. I did check it in advance of eating half my treat and again 90 minutes after, and it was higher than usual but not bad. This is a rare treat, not an every day occurrence, although I will be finishing it tomorrow after lunch. Still … thanks bosses! Key lime – my favorite.

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