Monday morning, training with J, and the doomsday clock of 2016 continues its toll.

Okay, not really. Thursday, next Monday, and then J is leaving for vacation for a week. He is visiting family in a much colder place, and I know he will be returning all revitalized and happy to be back at work with the tribe.

But doomsday clock sounds kind of cool, like I will notice his absence and being reveling in 2 extra days to practice on my own. It is elevating training days to a whole new plateaus of importance. The cloud got nothing on me and my training sessions.

I potentially could have had way too much caffeine and sugar this morning, having forgotten to order a half-caf, sugar free peppermint mocha-flavored coffee drink. But oh well. It’s the holiday season, I cannot bear to go into our breakroom kitchen for fear of the things-that-shall-not-be-named residing therein. There is no polite way to tell the staff to get in there and eat faster, that I need that stuff purged ASAP, and for goodness sakes do not let more through the front doors! We tend to frown upon barring the doors against clients bearing gifts this time of year, too, so I’m having to suck it up and deal. January with its return to normalcy cannot get here quickly enough.

What We Did

With J’s vacation and the end of the year looming, we are in the midst of reviewing upper/lower body splits. Today was such a technically deep review it feels like a whole new set of exercises. Our List today:

A1  Bent over dumbbell rows (25 lb. DBs, 4 sets, 8-12 reps)
A2  Incline dumbbell chest press (20 lb. DBs, 4 sets, 8-12 reps)

B1  Cross bench dumbbell pullover (20 lb. DB, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)
B2  Dumbbell chest flyes (10 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)

C1  1-arm split stance dumbbell overhead press (12 lb. DB, 3 sets, 8-12/side)
C2  Bent over dumbbell reverse flyes (5 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)

D1  Lying down triceps dumbbell extensions (12 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
D2  Dumbbell concentration curls (12 lb. DB, 3 sets, 8-12/side)

How It Felt

Right out of the box, we had the bent over dumbbell rows with a pair of 25 lb. dumbbells. While I believe there is some basic competency with these, there is always, Always, ALWAYS room for improvement. I started out okay and was doing much better by the end of the fourth set pulling with my shoulders rather than with my arms and not doing the little arm flex that happens at the end. Working on the cadence, Romanian deadlift stance with long arms at the bottom of the movement, pulling up through the shoulders. Feeling the pinch between the shoulder blades as well as my glutes and hamstrings from the holding tight to keep my low back still and out of the movement and emphasizing the thoracic arch (my first new anatomy term of the day). Yep, I’m an exercise geek. You should see me trying to mimic J as he demonstrates without any weights in my hands just to ensure I understand the movements and what I should be feeling.

The incline dumbbell press was like a whole new exercise today. I have the basics down pretty well after this much time – incline bench, press weights up, lower weights to chest stretch, press weight back up. However, today J really emphasized the arch. While I know it has come up before, we really got down in the weeds with this today and went over the various ways the back and shoulders should be positioned throughout the movement. I must say that it made the 20 lb. dumbbells in my hands seems light.

There are so many tricky things about the cross bench dumbbell pullover. From the set-up of elevating/supporting shoulders on the bench and then holding hips/lower body still while getting the dumbbell situated in my hand and overhead, it is a lot to think about and get myself situated. But not too much, it’s not too hard. It is simply several steps that I think about and process to make this happen, make it work. What I learned about this as well, there arch in the back matters and those lats should be locked down tight to pull that weight slowly overhead. And my definition of “slow” is still too fast in reality to fully engage the lats. Learning, I’m learning.

There are dumbbell chest flyes are kind of hard and apparently routinely top the list of exercises that should never be done. Again, there is that arch up and off the bench and the shoulder tuck (kind of like shoulders down and back only on an incline bench versus standing upright) and the ways it felt different lowering versus raising the weights, but not too low, and then tightening the chest muscles while pressing upward. Mind is chewing on this even as I type this post, and I caught myself tucking shoulders down and back driving home to not forget how that felt.

Today’s version of the 1-arm split stance dumbbell overhead press emphasized arm placement and the scapular plane (second new anatomy term of the day). J even put a little diagram on my updated List so I would not forget. I can feel the difference, but my real new bite of information was the keep the abs and the glute on the back leg side tight to prevent lower back from arching and wiggling around. It does make quite a bit of difference for me, although I was as swaying with the movement as I have been in past excursions. I have picked up some good habits along the way.

I have been improving with the bent over dumbbell reverse flyes with the additional practice emphasis of late via the dumbbell matrix. There have been a couple of days of doing a couple sets of 10 in a very slow manner to ensure I get the “shape” of the exercise correct before trying to pick up the pace, and I believe it is much better now. If only my elbows would learn to stay bent rather than fighting me about the locked-out elbow position they seem to want to pursue.

It has been a couple/few weeks since I have done lying down triceps dumbbell extensions. Cadence on this was slow and controlled, and boy howdy, feeling it in my triceps this many hours later. I do not recall any new cues that stand out, except the usual slow and controlled manner of lowering and raising the weights.

My favorite dumbbell concentration curls today, and these have been good for me. I have figured out the shape, I remember to not let my elbow go completely straight at the bottom. It is kind of soothing to do these particular curls; maybe this is what everyone else gets out of them? Finally I have been enlightened by the allure of bicep curls?

Key Takeaways

I worked really hard today on my upper body parts and was listening intently and trying to absorb all the new cues and stuff to be more productive with each item on my List. Frankly, I was simply amazing, and I have the achey-breaky (in the nicest possible ways) body parts to show for it. While this List is an older one with exercises we have done many times before, I always learn something new each time we have a review day. Today was like superset technical review day, and as I said, it was like learning a whole new way of doing each of these movements.

Training days are not like other days. Practice days are never the same either. Even warm-ups anymore are a little different, with the addition of the dumbbell matrix. While that is not technically something that needs to be done every practice, I am trying hard to gain some mastery over all the exercises and find working at it a lot more frequently is the only way I see much improvement.

Between the yoga classes I am trying to pursue and the 6-day schedule I keep at the gym, I am enjoying the best holiday season. Not really in the traditionally festive place, but I also think the traditionally festive place is a product of the marketing machine.

While I jokingly refer to the these last few sessions before J leaves for his holiday vacation as the doomsday clock, our training session these last couple of weeks have been very light-hearted, hard-working review events. I always leave the gym on training days with a head full of information and new things to process and try to remember and I feel amazingly energized. There are all these little technical details that may or may not be recalled immediately next I pursue this List.

Strange as this may sound, the training and learning to do this stuff safely and sanely makes me feel smarter somehow. Having gone through this much of my life, gotten this far as a self-sufficient and independent adult, and so strongly identified as not an athlete, not good at sports, more a clumsy woman who would more likely trip over a dumbbell than use it effectively, my confidence in the gym comes as a pleasant surprise.

I was remarking to J this morning that at one point, months ago, I would have watched him demonstrate the dumbbell overhead pullover and despair that my shoulders did not have the range of motion that his enjoy and felt like a loser. Today, I get that everyone has a different body and each of us have our quirks and limitations. My shoulders may not move in the same ways his do, but they do well enough.

If that is not progress, someone else needs a better dictionary.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I confess – I typically start these posts with this section, because they are the most transitory and fragile of thoughts and feelings from each session and must be captured and contained quickly. But oh well; it all reads the same.

My little club – I do love spending time there. Seeing the same faces day after day makes it familiar and comfortable place to be, whereas the larger clubs – it is so easy to get lost and feel isolated and out-of-place. My attire is not on-trend and matchy-matchy, it is not the “it” brand, I never wear make-up, and my hair is a sweaty mess much of the time – these are the gym crazy thoughts that may not ever leave me when I’m in the big, fancy smancy jewel of the club’s chain. Probably 99.9% of that is my stuff, but I am so happy and grateful to have found footing and blooming where I have been planted.

I have worked very hard to feel this comfortable and like I know what it is I am supposed to be doing, and while I am still struggling with a few things, for the most part it feels like balance and timing more than not knowing what I should be doing or where I should be feeling the muscles work. The soundtrack in my head seems to drown out even the music in my ears, and when J is coaching, cueing, correcting, I am trying to listen so intently to him that I block out everything else.

In yoga yesterday I realized again how far I have come in this better health quest. There are a lot of poses I still cannot get into, and somewhere along the line it stopped bothering me. Just like today, with some of the new cues and ways I have to really work at getting shoulders back and tucked down, it does not bother me that I have been doing this without the various new emphasis for several months.

It finally occurred to me today that prior starts and stops with exercise have less to do with my willingness to try and fail than with lack of real understanding that body takes time to learn new things. Patience with myself is not one of my strengths, and I perceived my frustrations with lack of progress as me not trying hard enough and giving up too soon.

In life there has been success from my own efforts and work toward that success. Giving up was not really an option, when I have had work I enjoy and a family to support. In some ways that aspect of my life has been easier that teaching my body to move its muscles and joints for the health-enhancing benefits of exercise.

While I should probably not mention this yet – there are at least 2 and probably 3 sessions left in 2016 – in the past year I cannot recall a single training session reschedule due to illness, work commitments, or just not feeling like it, and vacation does not count. J has had to move our appointments a couple of times due to his schedule or gym-related conflicts, but that doesn’t matter to me at all. The one close call was a few weeks ago, when I had a terrible allergy attack and not sure if I would be feeling up to our Thursday appointment.

Well beyond my hyper-responsible nature, I have prioritized my training and practices and stuck to my exercise schedule. I am hugely proud of myself for that.

Now I am back into yoga classes a couple of time per week, and I can tell the resistance training has had an impact on my ability in the studio. My mornings in the gym will always be my higher priority and calling, but the yoga benefits me as well in ways I do not even recognize yet.

But it seems to me I think more clearly and without the fogginess of second guessing or doubting myself. I have always been pretty good about work, but my personal life would get fuzzy and muddied. I have handled my daughter’s decision to move across the country with aplomb and one of my closest friends very serious illness with more restraint and less emotion that I might have once upon a time.

Being off diabetes medication, the reshaping of my shape, the stronger limbs, the increased confidence – all great things, all exceptional reasons to not let myself too far off the leash of my still new (to me) exercise habits.

During this time of year everyone is talking about goals and what they want to accomplish in 2017. It is a temptation – new year and new goals – one I shall not be yielding to anytime soon or probably ever.

I think about it, though, and I smile. I am so much farther on my better health journey than I ever expected to reach, so I just need to stay the course and continue training with J and my practice consistency.

The habit has been established, and I just need to stay the course. And I am feeling certain – I got this.

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