Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways.  Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

Puddle jumping all over the place

It’s cold and raining and blustery here today. Not nearly as cold and miserable as other parts of the country, but for we wimpy Cali folk, it’s plenty cold and wet and windy enough.

Despite that, I love the rain … when I am mostly indoors and warm and dry and away from it. For the times I actually have to be out and in it, I love when I get to don my rain boots and run through puddles with absolute impunity. As it is with most things, when I have the boots on, there is not a puddle to be found anywhere I wander. If I am wearing street shoes of any sort, there is not a just wet pavement spot in sight.

Partly why I remain miffed about my gym bag theft. While I had removed my gym-related inner bag with my mini bands and fluffy cuffies and current Lists, my extra socks and sneakers were in there as were other must-haves like hair brush and extra pony holders. Nothing worse than having a pony holder break just before beginning a practice. But now I have to decide which other pair of sneakers becomes my back-up shoes for the gym. It’s early in the season; I have yet to step into a big puddle on the way into the club, but the longer they are absent from my gym bag the more probably it becomes that I will need the dry shoes and socks at some point. I feel as if I have been tempting fate running around without spares these last several days.

While I am actually not working at the office today, it has been quite a busy, hectic day for me. Gym this morning, then last-minute scheduled a coffee/breakfast meeting with a client, then had lunch with RD this afternoon. He looks great, despite gaining 12 lbs. with a broken ankle. Now without cast or boot, back in regular shoes and starting to hit the gym once more, he will bounce back and recover quickly. I was so happy to see him again and sorry he has to leave on Monday for the long drive back to Santa Barbara.

Tonight M and I went to a Christmas party with old friends of mine from high school. We hosted this gathering for several years, but this year an old friend’s parents really wanted us to gather at their home one last time. They are selling their home and moving into assisted living in January and while still vibrant and fairly active, they are in their 80s and frail. My friend, their only surviving child, lives a few states away and worries about their well being. Being in a senior community will ease his mind.

This was in its way a wonderful evening, but there was an edge to it I was both anticipating and hoping to avoid. At least I handled myself and the situation much better this year.

I am now about 18 months into training with J, and almost 15 months of near daily time in the gym. But you all know this; I talk about it constantly. However much I have reshaped my shape, the scale remains somewhere in the 10 to 15 lbs. down range. I think. It has been at least 2 months since I climbed on the scale. My point being, I am not notably skinnier even while being notably fitter. Sometimes that does not show in the way clothes hang.

Anyway, this gathering is of friends I have known since elementary school. Some of us still live nearby, but many moved away and return for the holidays to see family members or old friends. We try to get together one night around the holidays at someone’s home.

My friend whose parents were hosting has been married to his second wife for about 15 years. First wife and mother of his grown sons was beloved by all of us and died in a boating accident. Present wife is at best okay, but mostly tolerated because she’s a snarky bitch. I cannot fathom what my friend saw in her – not especially intelligent or pretty or known for her kind and gentle disposition. She tends to be very direct in a manipulative and cruel way.

I avoid her whenever possible. Truthfully, I cannot stand to be around her and she challenges and pushes the boundaries of my tendency toward good manners and politeness.

Anyway, back to the training and exercise timeline. Last year, I cut ties with a long-time friend over her bitchiness about my Incredible Hulkette apprenticeship, and it was a very tough transition and situation for me to endure. I was still in the embryonic stages of developing my confidence and finding my way with the exercise. The thoughts and opinions of my friends mattered a great deal to me and this former friend’s thoughtlessness caused me a great deal of anxiety and anguish. I tried hard to not let it bother me, I tried harder to brush it off, but in the end, the only way I could cope was to terminate a life-long friendship. Because my arms were too big and my weight loss inadequate. The former friend is a bit crazy with her own vanity, and I was still battling my own gym and other types of insecurity crazy. She and her husband were there tonight, and other than a very cool hello and holiday wishes directed toward the group I was chatting with, she barely looked at me much less spoke to me directly.

Fast forward 12 months and boy howdy things are different now. With all that backstory and dramatic scene setting, here’s what actually happened tonight.

I’m standing there with M and other friends talking, laughing, catching up on hilarious stories from the year. The people I’m chatting with I/we have known for years and year and usually only get to have face-to-face interactions during the holidays. We do stay in touch in other ways, but our holiday party time is something I look forward to every single year.

Into this comes our hostess to both greet us and chide us for not paying for more attention to her in-laws seated across the room. As we stood there, her in-laws were 3 and 4 couples deep saying hello and catching up, just as we all had before moving out of the way so they could spend time with their other guests. My friend S smiled brightly as her almost invisible fangs elongated at the thinly-veiled rebuke that we were having too good of a time without paying homage to her. S suggested the should have had stickers printed – “I greeted N and M” instead of “I voted” – so she could tell who has good manners in the group. The rest of the group laughed, but snarky bitch (SB) did not even crack a smile. If anything, her lips and faced closed inward into that disapproving pucker she gets.

She then turns her gaze toward me, and I could actually feel M tense beside me. With that really sickeningly sweet fake smile she tells me so brightly that I am looking well, and how is that diet and exercise working out for me? I smile back, very blandly, and say it’s going very well, thank you. Then she proceeds to tell me (1) she thought the pictures of G and K’s wedding were lovely and I was “very brave” to wear that dress, and (2) if I am still working with a gym trainer, did I think I was getting full benefit for my money?

I was very calm about this, and said yes, I was still working with trainer J and he was worth every single penny I pay and then some. If she were a smarter woman, she would know better than to push it further from my tone. But no, she believes herself so clever and nods knowingly and says J must be a one-trick pony training women to be big muscled body builders.

Okay, bitch, it is ON.

Why do you say that? Because I’m not rail thin? Well, she demurs, if she was in the gym as much as I am in the gym, she would have lost half her body weight, but of course, she’s a much smaller woman than I am.

I physically step in front of M to keep him from opening his mouth. I smile and say yes, because while you are smaller than I am, I will bet you dollars to donuts that I have less batwing fat under my arms and more muscle mass on my legs than you do. Plus, I’m off blood sugar medications and far more capable, more confident than I was. With those types of wins, who the fuck cares if my ass is bigger – yet more shapely – or if my arms are fucking huge? Yes, I have a  discernible bicep. Get over it.

She was wearing a sleeveless dress. I was wearing a sleeveless sweater with a cardigan over it. And yes, i whipped that cardigan off and flexed my pretty damn admirable bicep. And the people near us who overheard this exchange? They are looking at my flexed arm and its barely there (anymore) batwing, versus her arms at her sides and its smaller physical size but obviously higher percentage of batwing to muscle.

Needless to say she was suddenly needed elsewhere at the party. And I was neither embarrassed or upset at the throw down. For 15 years I have either been avoiding her completely or ignoring her snarky to be polite and keep the peace. Tonight I had simply had enough. She can say what she wants about me, but please, never insult my family or my tribe.

The rest of our evening was really pleasant and really fun. Most of these people have known me since grade school, and I have grown up significantly since I was the chameleon girl who was camouflaged completely by her surroundings. I am typically extremely pleasant and easy going; I still was tonight, only unspooled a bit when pushed. Cest la vie!

Thinking about the month past, particularly the last 10 days, I really need some me time to recharge my batteries. Poor M has been dragged hither and yon to various client dinners and events this month, but he has all day to be at home alone pursuing solo projects. I’m at the office, where I love the people but my time is not my own. Or I am at home working or attending client wing-dings, going to yoga too much, and not sleeping deeply enough to feel refreshed when I should. Late last week M’s bestie began working on our front yard remodel, so there have been rocks and materials to be chosen, designs to be discussed and approved, and while I love M’s bestie, it is one more person I am interacting with when I really just want to crawl into bed with my kindle and read in peace awhile. Essentially, I have not only been burning the candle at both ends I have been setting bonfires on the candle mass in between.

I think a break may be in order. Yes, Christmas is Sunday, we’ll likely be hanging out at home with few to no visitors. It will be amazing. But tomorrow we’ve been invited to M’s bestie’s holiday open house, which is a big thing for M because the volume of runner friends. I asked him on the way home tonight if he minded I bailed this year, for the simple reason that I am absolutely exhausted. While he really wants me to attend, he understands. He also understands that I have far less in common with the runner friends he enjoys so much and will likely enjoy himself far more if we either take 2 cars or he goes alone. Reality of our long marriage is that we have different hobbies and interests and the 2 do not always mesh seamlessly.

It has been a long week, long month. I need the “me” time. I need to write, to read, to relax without a lot of distraction or the pressure of the clock. Maybe tomorrow will be the start of a long weekend of that … after the gym, of course.

Which today did not go so well. I had a client text and then call last night to get an urgent appointment with me, which was the coffee/breakfast today. It was a pretty good problem to have – unexpected windfall – but it was also stressing him out to the point of not wanting to wait until after the first of the year to meet with me about it. I am tired already, battling something attacking my sinuses, and then feeling the pressure of an appointment when I anticipated a more leisurely morning. Result was a unfocused, distracted effort.

I follow Scott Abel on Facebook, because he is a very smart fitness coach who also seems very sensible in his approaches. Several of his posts the last few days have resonated with me, while at the same time make me feel a lot like a miserably bad client in that maybe I am not listening, trying hard enough, want it (whatever “it” is for me) badly enough, have an inadequate work ethic, am to dependent on outside validations.

None of that is true, and I know it. But I am just worn down enough to be vulnerable to shredding myself over my potential to be and do all those things.

Ugh.

At the end of it all, been a very long day with a lot of good and great things. Holiday celebrations are cresting this weekend, whether I like it or not, whether I feel ready for it or not.

Sleep is the great equalizer. No alarm for me tomorrow morning, and hopefully my internal body clock will let me get all the rest I genuinely need.

Training #97 – Walk this way

Thursday morning, training with J, and the doomsday vacation countdown clock continues. One more session before J leaves on his vacation, and then one more after he returns and before the end of the year. For someone who does not watch a lot numbers in  fitness-related things, I am acutely aware of how many sessions until off the training session leash for a week. Not that anything will be all that different, other than 2 extra practice days in lieu of training sessions. But I am a creature of habit, and I very much appreciate as much notice as J has always provided about his planned vacations, etc.

Thinking about it this morning, though, this year is a little different in that I have a huge library of Lists and exercises should I get tired of pursuing the most recent Lists from these last couple of weeks of deeply technical review. But also, the deeply technical review has been enormously rewarding for corrections and paving the way for other small breakthroughs with other Lists and exercises.

What We Did

Our List today as listed, but not precisely as performed:

A1  Dumbbell power squats
A2  Dumbbell Bulgarian split squats

B1  Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts
B2  Dumbbell curtsy lunges

C1  Dumbbell step-ups with hip hinge
C2  Dumbbell lateral lunges

D1  Dumbbell sumo squats
D2  Dumbbell anterior reaches

How It Felt

Started out with the dumbbell power squats using a set of 30 lb. dumbbells. Working, working away at this one, because I still feel as if my cadence is not quite there yet. Slow, slow, slow down, pause, pop up with the brakes on at the top and then start all over again. In my head it sounds easier. In reality, not so much. Improving, though. Today we went over the upper body positioning, the way I am holding the weights, how upright I am standing, where my shoulders are positioned. Before today I would not have said my lats are as engaged as they were apparently need to be in doing this series. Learning, always learning.

The dumbbell Bulgarian split squats are a staple in my exercise library. For months I did at handful (8-12) every single day as part of my warm-up. However, lately here, as I have been pursuing other warm-up activities, they have not been part of my typical rotation. It has been mildly curious to me that I never seem to progress in my rep range due to a building ache in my lower back. Today, we did these without weights, as J had the trainer eye on laser focus and brought forward some minute corrections and adjustments that had me leaning forward, tucking ribs under, shoulders back and arms tight against the body and lats engaged as I proceeded, and voila! No more low back engagement. Part relief, part booster shot of encouragement, I feel as if forward progress had been kick started. The shape, as I now think of most set-ups, is more the angle of me about to get test-fired from a cannon, sort of 70 degree angle and in line with the elevated back foot. No idea how I have drifted away from these, or why I have not mentioned it to J before now, but today it came together and I will remember the cueing going forward. Lean forward, rib tuck.

The dumbbell Romanian deadlifts now seem more mysterious and complicated than their 1-legged cable brethren. Again, there is this new focus on the upper body tightness and maintaining the arm position and engaging the lats. Funny, but I now know for sure what lat engagement actually feels like and that I should be actively seeking that. But on these RDLs, my new thought is keeping the weights pressed tightly down the front of my legs as I am hinging forward. Up until now, I know it’s been sort of a loosey-goosey thought in my head, but today, I have the cue stuck in my head and how different the feeling is from before. Still, a very long way from the earliest beginnings when I could not quite figure out how this was supposed to feel with the hinging forward.

Then there are the curtsey squats. I have this tendency to avoid these, because they are like ice picks being inserted directly into my ass glutes. I am also not sure where exactly I fell off the wagon, but I was not getting it right today. J was trying to suggest and cue me to get me in the right direction, but it really wasn’t working. Brain was just throwing up a big giant wall and not hearing. The demonstration portion – epiphany much? Seriously, he was trying to explain to me how to turn the spine away, in the opposite direction of the rear foot, and I was thinking twist the spine and brain was rebelling against the idea. Watching him more closely, I finally realized it was not turn or twist, merely get the body and spine in alignment with rear foot, which does equate to turning body sideways in the opposite direction in my head. In my head it was a lot more complicated than it actually is in reality. I had been standing too tall, trying to face forward as if doing a standard split squat, and it did not feel good or precisely right. Now I have it that the shape is similar to the Bulgarians and considering myself about to be shot from a cannon at a 70 degree angle. Once I saw the shape when J demonstrated the correct posture, the coin dropped and mind absorbed what he was cueing and saying. Still feels like ice picks, but at least no low back engagement or potential for wrenching. Other sets went well once we got that part figured out.

Okay, big giant early Christmas gift was the step-ups with hip hinge. Again, we did these without weights because J added a hip hinge (lean forward from hips on one foot, elevate other foot) at the end. Watching him demonstrate, I had doubts, but I am always willing to try. The first couple I stepped up and hinged, but after the second one J said to put the other foot down on the box, recenter, then hip hinge. I am quite sure I smiled at the way he said it – I’m going to have to insist you put the foot down and then do the hip hinge – because I never argue about anything. He says “do it this way” and I try valiantly to do it that way. So for him to use the “insist” word still makes me laugh. But anyway, back to the step-up/hip hinge – I was hugely, amaze-balls, OMG-I-am-actually-doing-this-without-faling-off-the-box successful. I mean, even thinking about it now, I cannot believe I was standing on that box and hip hinging without falling sideways every other one. Last we did these, I struggled with the step-up, balance being one of my ongoing challenges. Today, I stepped up like it was not an anxiety-inducing crisis exercise … once upon a time. Not today. Probably not anymore.  And I’m over the moon with excitement. For me, it really is the littlest things in life that make me happy.

One of my least favorite exercise has got to be the lateral lunges. Today we did them with a 15 lb. dumbbell held in the goblet squat position, and they were not as dreadful as I have found them in prior Lists. I attribute this to my recent pursuit of the dumbbell matrix and building some confidence as well as ability and strength. Strangely, the right side feels less fluid and than the left, as there was a pause on the way back to starting position. J suggested shortening the step on that side until the fluidity of the movement builds. While I still do not love these, I know continuing with the dumbbell matrix gets mind and body more comfortable with doing them.

Who knew there were so many variations of squats? Probably my favorite is the dumbbell sumo squat, today with a 30 lb. dumbbell. I kind of love these, if only because I have been doing them so long in some fashion I have actually gotten pretty good at them.

The dumbbell anterior reaches are also part of the dumbbell matrix, so I feel a lot more confident with them. The matrix I always use a 5 lb. set of dumbbells, and with the List version we use 15 lb. dumbbells. I kind of love the way these feel in my lower back, the stretch of bending forward and then standing back up, unless I forget to tighten abs to protect the lower back on the return to the starting gate. But pain is typically a pretty great reminder of where I am going wrong on these, so I pull myself together pretty quickly.

Key Takeaways

Today was a lot of technically relevant adjustments that have either been forgotten or my progress is such that they became significantly more relevant. I have no doubt there are some bad habits acquired in my own practices, and I also believe my performance on different exercises looks different in conjunction with the order on other Lists. But no matter; I had some very relevant lightbulb moments today and am ridiciulously excited (as per usual) about going forward on my own in pursuit of perfecting my practices.

Way back when, within the first 3 months of our training sessions, J had told me that if I have a weaker side with individual side exercises to always do that first to max the reps and keep it even. He also said the weaker side could vary from exercise to exercise, which I have also found is true. It came to mind today while we were doing step-ups, and I reminded him today of that conversation more than a year ago that I still think about every time I do individual side exercises. Some gym and exercise wisdoms are universal.

The dumbbell matrix that I have been striving to do 4 days per week has impacted my overall progress in ways I did not realize until today. I do not always do 2 sets of everything – depends on time and what List I have planned to pursue – but on non-training days I go through it as part of my warm-up routine. Until today, I had not really realized how much it has done to improve both my balance and my overall progress. I know it is also the rest of my library of Lists and the level of practice I put forth. Funny, it never occurs to me how important my consistency with practice makes a difference in getting better and stronger, yet it is at the forefront of my mind whenever I contemplate something occurring that will keep me out of the gym.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Today was so much fun, and I wonder if it is fun because it’s productive and beneficial or if it’s fun because it’s fun. How far I am ventured from my early beginnings in the “I hate exercise” camp.

I had never considered what one of these technical reviews looked or felt like from J’s perspective, other than the potential for sighing inwardly about bad habits I may have developed or the fact that I still do not get it or cannot execute the movement in a higher quality fashion. There are things to correct, of course, but there is progress to be applauded and technicalities to be layered into the mix. The thing about learning new exercises all the time is that aspects of similar shapes get added to other exercises when it is not necessarily appropriate. I am not beating myself up over it or feeling like the village idiot, merely recognizing that I have learned so much and sometimes my very human self adds or subtracts in the wrong equations.

It makes what I think I mostly know so much more exciting, to know I can delve deeper, pursue more perfect shapes and angles and deeper muscle contractions. Refreshing it so something even newer and exciting for the definition and my own ability to understand the bigger picture.

This exercise habit has become so ingrained in my days that I very nearly take it for granted that I will get up and go to the gym or to the yoga studio (Sundays). Of late I have been relaxing ever so slightly on Tuesdays, because I work from home and typically have no where to be at before about 11 a.m. so I either sleep an hour later until 5 a.m or dilly-dally or occasionally even work and get to the gym between 6:15 and 6:45 rather than my usual 5:15 and 5:30. Because it is what I do every day and because I tend not to track results in pounds and inches lost or gained or weights used, progress after time has passed and I revisit a List and I am more successful or at ease with it truly surprises me. I expect on technical review days there will something little or occasionally something that shocks the Hell out of me big that I must adjust to be safer or more productive. But I love review days. I love the affirmation that I’m doing things mostly right, or J’s text would still be blowing up with questions or worse rather than the idle chit chat we exchange. I also love the updated cueing and seeing and feeling my progress.

J remarked this morning that I win the attendance awards, and that was an extraordinarily meaningful compliment to me. As I remarked in an earlier post, I have not missed or had to reschedule a training session this year, and with only 2 left in 2016, it seems that record will remain intact. Of all my accomplishments with exercise, I am probably most proud of that, because never before have I been so committed to prioritizing my own health and wellness. Granted I am hyper responsible about keeping appointments I make, but when I get into that mode of not wanting to do something for whatever reason, I find ways to make them not happen. Immediately my mind begins manufacturing good and valid points about how I have a supportive spouse, no children at home requiring my time and attention, flexible work schedule, good health, bottom line is that I made it a priority and stuck with it. I get to accept a little credit for my success in this endeavor.

The year is winding down and my plans to change and rearrange in 2017 continue, with a new exercise-centric blog debuting on 12/31. I will still be posting here regularly, but I want this to return to more personal ponderings, and my friends in real life and out there in blogville who are primarily interested in my exercise, fitness, and health aspects will have an exclusive home. If I want to talk about the gym daily for the entire year, the message and progress is not lost or mixed up with my family’s adventures and friend drama. I would like to grow that audience and feel okay about telling my friends in the gym about my blogging, so they do not have to be bored by my car issues or work stuff or anything else outside of exercise and fitness. I’m also hoping to entice some guest posts by family members (M, my son, trainer J, friend J, others I know with their own fitness interests that differ from m own). For whatever reason, I will feel far more comfortable inviting other voices on something as focused on our shared interests rather than this, my personal blog that discusses all aspects of my life.

While I will not know for sure until January about where I stand with regard to the diabetes, I feel stronger and healthier. I have maintained my drug-free status for a this last year, and honestly, other than an allergy storm and a couple of food-related stomach aches, I have not been sick this year. Outside the diabetes, I have been ridiculously healthy, especially for not getting the recommended flu and pneumonia shots. Now, I feel like I have actually earned my feeling this good and being this energetic.

Food and healthy eating is not something I am thinking about much right now. We have crap food arriving daily and getting shuffled into the office kitchen, and I probably eat more lunches and meals out in the last couple of months each year than I do the entire first half of the new year. It’s not the end of the world, I am not especially stressed about it, more aware and resigned to doing my best to not give in to every temptation.

After the first of the year, when diet and weight loss resolutions abound, I plan to just return to brining lunches or not eating the same volume of less desirable food.

I was realizing earlier today that my body mass is continuing to reshape itself with the exercise. Every week there is some new lumpy bumpy or crease that I will show M with shock and awe, because it is still hard for me to believe that my consistency with exercise is actually yielding such visible results.

After 97 training recaps this year, I am very pleased to have more than just thousands of words to show for my progress. But I admit – I’m generally very pleased with my thousands of words as well. It’s fun going through and reading random entries, to see where I was 6, 7, 8 months ago.

I have come a long way, baby, and have miles to go before I sleep.

 

Training #95 – Best day of my life

Thursday morning, training with J. And I confess – I have this doomsday clock countdown going on in my head realizing that his well-deserved holiday break is 2 weeks away and we are down to 4 sessions remaining in 2016. Okay, so maybe doomsday clock is a bit (okay, maybe way over-the-top) melodramatic, but I am cognizant of another year concluding. Thinking about it, there is no sadness, doom, or gloom about it; the calendar is winding down on 2016 and the new year will begin. This is also no hurry-rush-push to end the year and start fresh with a new calendar. If anything, 2016 has been a deeply satisfying year for me; I got a lot of shit done.

But here we are, at training session 95, and honestly, I am amazed that I have stuck with the weekly recaps this whole year. Granted, there are still 4 left to call this year a complete success, but I am engaged and in enough of a well-worn groove to be confident that I will not falter and fall off the recap wagon now.

What We Did

Lower body review day today, and anyone who has read even a couple of these entries knows I love review days. Okay, being fair, I love all training days, but review days do not bore me or feel like anything other than lots of opportunities to ask questions, discuss techniques less traveled, or just learn more about the why of it all. After almost 18 months of training with J, the method behind the master plan is still shrouded in misty cloud. And I’m okay with that. We talk about a lot of stuff, much of it even training and exercise related, and retaining everything is just not happening for me. Hence my love of review day. Here’s our List today, although we skipped the D block due to time constraints:

A1  1-legged Leg Press

B1  1-legged RDL (DB, KB, or Cable)
B2  1-legged Machine Hamstring Curl
B3  Stability Ball Glute Bridge
B4  SB Hamstring Curls

C1  Quad Extensions
C2  DB Power Squats
C3  Bodyweight Bulgarians

D1  Adductor Machine (skipped today)
D2  Abductor Machine (skipped today)

How It Felt

I was mostly engrossed in our conversation and trying hard to stay present with the exercise and hopefully within the ballpark of rep counts and was not paying much attention to the weights used. On top of which, I am learning in my travels to and from the cable machines that they all feel different. Setting one on 30 does not necessarily mean the one around the corner set at 30 is going to feel the same way. Then there the fancy smancy (and much loved) Freemotion machines upstairs – I don’t even know what their weight plates mean. My point here, there is no apples to apples comparison. And in truth, it barely registers to me. As long as I feel in the ballpark of some work in the muscles that should be working I call it good.

The leg press machine, I wonder why I do not do more 1-leg presses. Or even 2-leg presses; that machine quite literally kicks me in the ass, and I still feeling it hours later. On the list, set/rep range is 5 to 10 sets of 10 reps/side, which gets to be a lot. I lost count of sets after about 5 or 6, so I know it was well within the 5 to 10 sets range. And it felt amazing. Which could be indicative of the need to use weightier weights – I typically use 150 lbs., but today started at 130 (set myself so I do remember that one) because I haven’t been on this one in what seems like a very long time. It’s very hypnotic to sit there alternating between watching your foot press the plate and the keeping an eye on the weight stack to ensure it drops not quite to the bottom and complete rest.

Former arch nemesis, 1-legged Romanian deadlift with the cable, is improving. Every time we do these, I learn a little more about the “shape” of the exercise that helps with balance and feeling the muscles work harder and more productively. I know to keep my shoulders and spine straight, but knowing and doing while trying to stay balanced on one leg can be a tall order for me. But we went over it again today, and I must say the new cue about the stationary/grounded foot hip pressing forward while elevating the torso helps. While we have had this cue previously, I always think about the leg descending at that hip pressing forward. Yes, that makes some sense as well, but from a balance/working muscles perspective the new clue cue today focuses me more clearly on my objectives.

While I really like it, the 1-legged machine hamstring curl is hard. It just is not natural for me to try and lift a cable weighed down with 30 lbs. (I think) by bending my knee. Plus, this machine is tricky on the set-up, and when I am on my own, if it takes me 5 (or more) tries to get it right then that’s what it takes. Today was not bad – only had to adjust the kick pad. But I always have to adjust it, then climb in and get situated with the weight before starting. But anyway, it is more complicated to set-up, but once there it goes pretty well. Except it’s not natural behavior and I have to really focus, dig deep to make my rep count. I’m trying very hard not to rest mid-set, but sometimes there is no other way to get it done. I will get over it.

Oh me and the stability ball have this long and checkered history. From my days of referring to it as an “instability” ball to now when we are mostly friends, I still have my reservations about it. Into this comes the stability ball glute bridges, which are not terrible, not horrible, and should not be all that challenging. The glute bridge was on the very first PT Basics A or B Lists this time last year, yet it feels as if I have not made that much progress in a year. Key word here: feels. Truth is I am sure I have, but maybe I just do not like them all that much. I watch J demonstrate and think my hips are not as flexible or elevate that way. With my current obsession with exercise shapes, I understand where this feeling emanates. Still hard to shake, even if I understand its root cause. Only thing I can do is practice them more, do my best when they appear on Lists. I will get better; my shape in this exercise will improve.

Into this mixed feelings about the stability ball in general comes the stability ball hamstring curls, and again, my shapes need some work toward improvement, even if could be primarily in my own head. I do dislike these things – they are a huge challenge – while at the same time they are effective as well. More than anything, I will continue to pursue regular, consistent practice at these to improve my technique. Maybe then they will become less of a genuine pain in my ass. Okay, not really … but I associate them that way because they appear on lower body glute-focused Lists that usually do result in tight and aching sit muscles.

The quad extensions machine is another one of those complicated machines with little adjustments necessary besides just setting the weight. While intellectually I understand what is necessary and should be done, there is something in lizard brain that rebels and freaks out with the idea of it. Still, I will persevere and not let the lizard brain win this round. Once I get past the brain meltdown over the complications of this machine, I go along just fine. It’s not the easiest or most natural feeling exercise, but I know what needs to be done, how it should feel (quads – burn -check). I just have to overcome the initial intimidation and make it work for me.

The dumbbell power squats are a staple. I realized awhile back that I now know a few ways to do squats, but these power squats are still a bit unique with the weightier weights we utilize. Today’s big reminder was not slow-slow-slow on the descent, up like a poptart in the toaster, and keep those shoulders back and the spine tall. Seems so much easier and nicer to roll the shoulders forward. So I mostly got this – slow-Slow-SLOW on the descent, pause 2 seconds, pop up, shoulders back, spine straight. Yep, along with the “butt back” on the slow-Slow-SLOW descent portion, this is pretty much the sound track in my head. Unless my palms and hands get tired of holding 30 lbs. of dumbbell and want to just let them fall, at which time we mind starts projecting “grip tighter, grip tighter” alerts as part of the soundtrack.

Once upon a time, I did the bodyweight Bulgarian split squats daily as part of my warm-up. They they became less of a thing in favor of other warm-up activities. I think it may be time to bring them back a few days per week. Not that I am faltering failing, but just because I feel sort of stiffly awkward with these, especially when using the quad extension machine as the foot elevating holder. I know how these work, how they are supposed to feel, but I felt a little out of practice after months of doing at least 10 to 15 per side just about every day. For the last set J added the offset weight, just an 8 lb. dumbbell, and boy howdy does that make a difference in how much I felt them. All good, but I feel I could do better. I will do better. I did not work so hard on these for so many months to feel as if I have given up some hard-fought ground only to have to learn the balance and how painful these bad boys can be when sitting idle for too long.

Key Takeaways

Occurred to me this morning that review days are not that involved or exciting for J, but not every session can be amazing and exciting glitter-bombs of discovery and new beginnings. Still, it’s so much fun just running along through a List I am familiar with and always coaxing some new kernel of information from it. Whether it’s shoulders behind the ears on the power squats or what the grounded side hip should be doing on the Romanian deadlift, I learn something new or remember something I have somehow forgotten with each and every review day.

I have come a long way since this List first became a thing in October, yet I still feel there is a lot more practice to be done with it, a lot more to learn. Then again, and this has been a gradual process and realization for me, that perfection is an impossible bar that remains comfortably out of reach, just like the average unicorn. But sticking with practice and staying consistent with the gym and the Lists means I stay closer to the good enough standard I have set for myself. And while that may sound sort of pedant and mundane, it is important to me to stay the course with regard to practice.

Funny thing about regular practice: I rarely get frustrated with exercise anymore. Being bored, distracted, or tired is common enough and I have developed my own skills in overcoming each. But frustrated rarely happens. I find that my exercise knowledge has expanded and my abilities increased to a point where I am stronger and can substitute if something is just not working on a particular day or List.

Part of the reason I genuinely enjoy review day is that it helps me remember where I have had issues, why I may set aside a List in favor of another that I feel more confident about and competent with. Another part is its an opportunity for me to explore and appreciate my own progress, however great or small. Thing is, I do make progress. I am getting better and stronger, and equally important, I feel so superior than I did even a year ago. Depression? Funks? Reflective states? Of course they still happen. However, the regular exercise and my elevated level of fitness has done so much to improve my overall mental health. Granted I start from a baseline neutral, where I do not suffer from any sort of medical issues that cause depression or anxiety or other mental/emotional health conditions, but being overweight, being insulin-dependent diabetic, the ways that being less fit and healthy drag me to edge of sadness is not to be discounted. I now know enough people who have stepped away from their own emotional ailments by working at improving their overall health through diet and exercise to recognize that it is a real thing.

The holidays are hard for so many folks, and even M and I are not immune. My daughter and son-in-law are on the road for their new home and next chapter in their life clear across the country, and it has it’s own emotional challenges for me even as I am happy for them. Change is not always easy to accept. One of my very dearest friends has struggled with a serious health condition that continues to plague him and concern me, even though I believe he will overcome and be better. Home for Christmas? Maybe not, and it saddens me. However, sacrificing one holiday now for many, many into the future is well worth it. But I’m selfish enough to admit I wish he were for sure able to come home for even a brief visit, if only to reassure myself that he is improving and will soon be completely well again.

But my issues are small ball issues, and I think them through, work them out every morning in practice. Or in the evenings during yoga class. I write my pal a note every day, filled with boring and mundane details of our life. M sends regular texts and missives as well. It makes little sense to anyone else, but for me it’s hugely comforting to write down the minutia and share it. Every Monday, every Thursday I train with J I send a text from my car in the parking lot of the gym, giving a quick and happy response to whatever we happened to do that day. To anyone else it is weird and maybe even a little (or a lot) off-beat, but beside M, he is such a huge cheerleader for my fitness efforts. I like reminding him how much he matters to me and to others, to keep his sometimes flagging spirits from leaning toward permanent deflation.

My point here is – the regular exercise has changed my life in so many big and little ways. I am still not a morning person; if not having to get to the gym at my preferred time I would happily sleep until 7 a.m. every day and even later on weekends. As it was this morning, I felt less perky than usual in our session this morning for lack of my usual caffeine boost. Every morning I drink a protein shake boosted with amino energy powder, which is kind of fancy smancy caffeine infusion, only I allowed myself to run out. The horror! I know, I know – me and my first world problems. Thank goodness for Amazon prime and the very fast shipping.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I love success stories. I love when other tribe and gym members make big or small strides toward goals or just improvements in their technique and exercise mastery. Even on days like today, where I feel kind of tired in the nicest possible way and feel no new wowy-zowy breakthroughs, I am delighted others are doing well.

And in truth, I am equally delighted that I am doing this well as well. Once upon a time, I would be feeling depressed and anxious that I did not have some success to write about. Anymore, I can appreciate the simplicity of having a good week. I am making tiny step progress toward my focused List – of late it has been the dumbbell matrix that is more cardio intensive. Some of the movements seem to require more coordination that my brain can process gracefully, so what does not come naturally must be practiced until it feels like an accurate mimic of gracefulness. And again, every day i get up and get myself into the gym is a good day, one more thing crossed off my to-do.

When J demonstrates or I see others in the club doing exercise I struggle or have struggled with, I no longer wonder what is wrong with me that I struggling. Anymore, my admiration for their efforts has taken over any inward negativity, and I am relieved that I can be a big enough, grown-up enough to accept the different waypoints on individual journeys. My pathway is my own, and its got piles of glitter along the way from prior wins and steps up, steps forward.

More than the little lines and creases I celebrate and ask my husband repeatedly if he notices (he does … at this point how could he not? *laugh*), I genuinely appreciate my mental and emotional gains from the routine. While I think about the long game, what I will be like at 60 or 70, I do not imagine myself sitting around waiting to die. This was not the way I felt 2 years ago before I started, but I was sort of resigned to never being an athletic sort or someone with health-minded hobbies. Now it seems that’s a lot of what I discuss with friends and associates at work, partly because they are all young and active when not strapped in behind their desks, and partly because it is where life and its focus seems to find us right now. The ladies I work with and walk with regularly – we are always discussing the diet trends, the newest books, cookbooks, recipes, eating plans and programs. I learn a lot from them, even if I do not follow the same guidelines or like the same types of food. Same with the fitness reading and listening I do; it expands my horizons.

I am plowing my way through a list of business and marketing-related books clients and peers have or are reading, because it intrigues me on some level. I feel so far behind the times, working with young, hipper, scary smart folks, yet it is good to be excited and invigorated to follow along and see the world from their perspective. I like being able to relate … eventually … with what they are doing, thinking, talking about. I am not their peer nor would I ever want to be again. Just like with my kids, though, I like to have a general grasp on what their interests and things they follow in their own realm.

To have a good attitude – I never truly realized how poor my inward attitude was until it improved. I have all sorts of reasons, all kind of backstory that supports my flawed reasoning and skewed self-image, and healing those breaches will be an ongoing effort that will span my lifetime. Thing is, what I was accepting as adequate and enough was neither. A little (okay – a LOT) of hard work and I could have more, and I do have more. But strangely, the work does not seem so much effort anymore. New stuff, sure – lots of energy expended in the learning, adapting, mastering, perfecting. And then you set that aside for a little while and start a little farther up the learning curve when you return to it. This is where my improving outlook has gotten me – to understanding that the learning curve is not so steep the second, third, or twentieth go-round with something I learned a year ago.

I continue writing my own success story – one line, one paragraph, one post, one chapter at a time. And there will be no epilogue or final credits rolling anytime soon.

 

 

Training #94 – Peaceful easy feeling

Monday morning, training with J. It was shuffled review day, where he took an existing List and rearranged it and added and/or subtracted exercises to make something new. Since we are now in the final month of 2016, J will be on vacation for a Monday and Thursday this month for the holiday, we will be doing review and such for the balance of our 2016 sessions. Which is perfectly fine with me. Last thing I want is to be frustrated or avoiding doing new things because I have questions and he is away on well-deserved time away from the gym.

Besides, I love review days. I always learned something either brand new or that I have forgotten along the way. Complacency has evolved into a genuine enemy and results in bad habits I end up having to break at some point.

What We Did

A1  Lat Pulldown Dual Cable (60 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
A2  Seated Dip (Chest emphasis) (80 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)

B1  1-arm DB Row (25/30 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-15/side)
B2 Slight Decline DB Chest Press (25 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-15 reps)

C1  Cable Row or Rope Facepull (80 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
C2  DB Arnold Press (10 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)

D1  Triceps Pushdown (30 lbs., 3 sets, 8-15 reps)
D2  Standing DB Curl, alt. opt. (15 lb. DBs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps)

How It Felt

We began with the lat pulldown on the dual cable machine. I am torn between really, Really liking this machine and being crazy in love with it. The single cable machines in the big boys room use a long bar, which feels different and does not have the bonus of being able to alternate arms. But I admit to liking both, just liking this one a shade better. I haven’t always liked this; in the earliest days of training J introduced it and even included it on a List, yet I rarely to never went forth and pursued it. My gym crazy was still on full display in those days. Now, though, I feel very competent and confident with the lat pulldowns. I can feel them where I am supposed to feel them, and body can perform the movement smoothly and competently. J took a quick little video of my back muscles moving while I performed this exercise, and call me vain, but I was pleased and impressed. I mean, how often does a girl get to see her back in action while doing lab pulldowns?

The seated dip machine has been sitting dormant for awhile, although I did really enjoy the reintroduction today. I confess when J said the word “dip” in our pre-session conversation I was thinking of bench dips or worse; I had completely forgotten about the dip machine. So this one, we had to go through a set and a half before I got the positioning correct to work the chest rather than the triceps. Not beating myself up over it; this machine has bunches of little adjustments and ways to sit and work various body parts. But once I grasped the basic of how it should feel under J’s watchful eye, I have the framework of how to replicate this on my own in practice. And I will be working at it to improve. Along with my push-ups, newly elevated back to arch nemesis status.

I have a love-love thing going with the 1-arm dumbbell row. Ever since J introduced me to the stand-up leaning version, I feel as if I have improved with it. Maybe I would have improved with it in the knee-on-the-bench version as well if I continued to do them that way, but I vastly prefer the standing version. It just feels as if I have more control and can feel it more fully. Today J noted there was a little flex of the arm at the end, and now I am cognizant of this little flex at the end. I do have a whole string of queues on this one – pulling leg backward, pull weight toward the hip, use the shoulder not the arm. In my head, I do pretty well with these. In practice, I generally feel relatively confident that I am doing them correctly, which makes me like them. As is typically my habit, I do the first set with a lighter weight. Started today with a 25 lb. dumbbell and stepped up to a 30 lb. dumbbell for sets 2 and 3 and it went very well. This is one of those exercises that reminds me I have made considerable progress in the last year.

We are back to the slight decline dumbbell chest press. While I have been doing these awhile, it always seems like the potential for something new on review day. J reminded me about where the dumbbells should be on the up portion of this bad boy, but other than that, it went pretty well. Also, I stepped back up to 25 lb. dumbbells, as I had been using 20 lb. dumbbells when this was paired with the chest fly. The contrast between working the back with the 1-arm row followed immediately by the chest press for the chest – I guess I had not noticed it previously. Today, doing these particular super sets, I most definitely noticed it. Now, whether I would have ever made the connection all on my own remains the bigger mystery. Moot point really, but considering my generally overwhelming curiosity about this exercise and fitness stuff, it is difficult to believe I have not wandered down this particular pathway sooner.

Next we continued on to the cable row. While I have improved at this, my years of rowing on a rowing machine gave me some different habits in how rowing is done, habits I have had to unlearn in order to improve on this exercise. It feels as if I am still unlearning, but improvement has been achieved and is ongoing. Striving for the upper back arch is almost as difficult as breaking myself of the shrugging habit. But I’m getting there. I feel much better about the incremental progress. No facepulls for me today; maybe Wednesday when I revisit this List in practice.

New today was the dumbbell Arnold press. It seemed very vaguely familiar, but it could have been a demonstration at some point that did not make the final cut to List status. J told me he does not teach this one much, which set off and immediate, “OMG! It’s really complicated and difficult!” alert in my head. So I just asked why he did not teach it much, and he explained that it was a lot of shoulder work all at once. Good enough for me, and once he demonstrated and got me started, I completely understood what he meant. I have been using 15 lb. dumbbells for shoulder presses, but today we dropped to 10 lb. dumbbells and toward the end of each set I was starting to think that 8 lb. dumbbells were sounding really good. Going from arms positioned in front with dumbbells facing me, then spreading out sideways and overhead into a press, then down to the side and back to start. Sticking with the 10 lb. dumbbells for awhile to come on this seems very prudent. And I now understand why J does not teach it much; it is complicated.

The triceps pushdown is mostly fun. Having done these enough through the months I get the basic motion and know where it should be working and how it feels. The standing up machine I happened to be working at today is right across the aisle from a mirror and J remarked it was a perfect station for viewing the triceps at work. Yep, upper arms have more muscle on them, and in my view it looks nice. Then again, I am not a small woman; the thickness of my bone structure alone does not bring forth visions of small or petite.

Finally, the standing dumbbell curl, and while alternating is an option, today I liked the 2-arm version. Curls are still not a favorite, but they are okay and recurring enough that I do a fair amount of them in some form or another. This is probably the only exercise in my entire library of Lists that ever makes me think I should be using weightier weights. The rare occasions this thought flitters through my mind I push it away as irrelevant, because it truly is irrelevant. One thing I have learned is if I ever feel like the weights feel light do more reps. So sometimes I do more reps, and sometimes I struggle to get through the 15 dictated by the List.

Key Takeaways

I am feeling very good, very pumped, and very powerful about today’s session. While in my head that all sounds newish and a little different to write that sentence for the me I know, in my head it also sounds like me turning into a massive egomaniac. I struggle with false modesty as a concept, because my self-depreciation is a deeply rooted habit that is meant to deflect attention, even positive affirmation type attention, away from me. But I am far more hesitant and self-critical about any sort of real or imagined conceit and vanity. The balance is an ongoing challenge for me, so much so that I have to include this warning paragraph. Public service announcement is now concluded.

Having had a mother who was both small and petite – at 130 lbs. she was 25 lbs. heavier than I had ever seen her in my entire life – I understand and accept I’m never going to be the tiny girl in the group … unless I’m standing with a bunch of lady sumo wrestlers. And you know what shocks me even more? I am fine and happy with that. Body is body; I can starve weight off of it by withholding food, build muscles with exercise, try to twist it into pretzels with yoga, but I am never going to be able to shrink it down to doll clothes like a 100% cotton sweater in a super hot dryer. My frame and bone structure will not be altered no matter how desperate and misguided my transformation efforts. Acceptance and appreciation for the physical assets I have is the first step on the path to blissful peace with my appearance.

Friend J asked me a few weeks ago if I understood why the exercises were set-up the way they are, and I replied they were on the List that way so I follow the instructions and work the exercises in that order. I mentioned that to J today, because as I understood it, the method to the List madness differs from List to List. And I’m okay with that. Most of the time I am so focused on the minutia of mastering form and such I cannot think too much about the why of it all. Besides, in my mind anymore, this is why I engage trainer J, to write me beautiful Lists to learn and to follow. But to be fair, I do know trainer J has explained some of the under the hood of program writing to me in the past, but with the multitude of other details I am working on retaining, the why of the order is not high on the priorities. This is why he writes them down, so I do not have to remember the big picture details.

When we were on the last set of the triceps pushdowns and bicep curls, I idly asked J if we were done, a first in all the months we have been working at this. It was not that I was ready to be done so much as I was going to put the dumbbells we had been using away, but if there was more I would leave them. He laughed, I laughed, and I felt rueful about the clumsy and blunt way I put the question out there. It was just another of those funny, awkward me moments that still happen from time to time.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

J and I had a long-ish training-related conversation before we got started this morning. In hindsight, I recognize that he was kinda/sorta responding to my funk-light post from yesterday. Either that or he is practicing his mind meld on me again. While our chat was sort of free-ranging, my key takeaway was that boredom with exercise or the Lists I am pursuing could be a factor in an overall fatigue or burnout with my evolving practice and training habits and routines.

While this time last year it was impossible for me to imagine ever overtraining, that was then, this is now, and it does seem like a possibility, however remote. I am not there yet, do not feel bored or burned out, but as a manager I can appreciate J’s foresight in hoping for the best and planning for the worst. There is no boredom at play right now, but the colder weather makes me want to stay huddled under the covers rather than drag my sorry butt out of bed at 4 a.m. to get to the gym for practice or sessions.

If anything I feel excited about the work we are doing and the Lists I am working to perfect. There is still much work to do ahead. On top of which, my random student of exercise pursuits have been somewhat scattered and random thus far. Now that I feel more solid in my experience and knowledge, I am contemplating ways to be more structured and focused in my studies. Because I’m interested and motivated to continue to learn.

It is also now December, and we are counting down to our final sessions of 2016. Today was the second of the 7 we will most likely schedule and complete this month with J’s Christmas holiday, and I realize by the time we are all done it will be 99 personal training sessions this year. This is of course barring illness, injury, or flight delays.

Thinking about this and other things this morning, I realize I am not much of a numbers person anymore with regard to my better health quest. While I still wear my fancy smancy Fitbit Blaze watch and remember to turn it on 99% of the time while I am at the gym or yoga or pilates class, the numbers are pretty meaningless to me anymore. There was a time when I’d feel disappointed and mad at myself for not achieving a greater calorie burn in 90 minutes. Or I would be frustrated at my inability to get my heart rate higher despite being breathless as well as sweaty and gross. These days, if I feel weird I will look at the watch to see what my heart rate is doing, but that’s about it. Majority of the time I am looking at my watch I am checking the time to gauge my progress through a List. Heart rate? More an “oh that’s nice” type data point.

On the actual Fitbit site that tracks my progress on these things, I am far more interested in my sleep statistics than anything else. If I wake up feeling tired it’s a great indicator of how restfully I slept, but even that is more a curiosity than anything else. But I keep it because (1) it’s reassuring to M to know that I can keep on it, and (2) it works perfectly for me as a watch, and (3) I like the alarm feature. The fitness aspects are pretty much meaningless anymore.

Such is the case with training sessions. I thought I would feel unhappy or disappointed for falling short of 3 digits, but no, I am not. I marvel at 99 over the course of a year, and I feel pretty damn proud of myself for sticking with the weekly recaps for each and every one of them – thus far, anyway. December is not over yet. The only place I feel a bit concerned was Thanksgiving week when it took a few days to pull it together. Rest of the year I have been pretty consistent about getting it written and posted.

Perhaps I will remember 2016 as my year of consistency. Other than my week of vacation, I have been in the gym at least 6 days per week most of this year. I have done a fair number of yoga and pilates classes even if I do not talk a lot about them here. Rarely has more than a couple of days passed here on the blog without a new post.

I know I will remember 2016 as a year of better health taking root. Not just with the exercise either. My eating and food consumption has improved as the months passed, but it’s still far from more perfectly balanced, or even just imperfectly balanced. At times it is wildly out of balance, when I seem to be consuming all sort of junky food and way too many carbohydrates for a well controlled type 2 diabetic. Through the months this year I have lightened up considerably on beating myself into the equivalent of an emotional bloody pulp.

Over the course of the past week I have been involved with several conversations about food and the holidays and eavesdropped on a few more. I hear words like “tracking” and
“calorie counting” and “measuring” and the hairs on my arms start to rise up in rebellion. I have tried various methods of food tracking, and this along with the person scale in M’s bathroom and the tape measure I threw is just another measure of failure for me. My happiness and contentment quotient reached new highs when I discontinued MyFitnessPal on all my devices and completely cancelled my account. Other than listening to body (when it speaks sensibly and does not plead for chocolate, soda, sugar) and striving to eat fruit and/or vegetables with my daily meals, I do not really track anything.

I am very aware of how much sugar is sitting invitingly in our breakroom kitchen right now, and I know tomorrow I’m having lunch with a client who traditionally hands me a lovely box of Godiva chocolates and a nice bottle of adult beverage. The chocolate will be delivered immediately to the office, where the younger and fitter can enjoy it, and the booze will find its way to a new home later in the week. This weekend there are bigger client events both Friday and Saturday evenings, with lots of yummy food and drinks. I will eat what I eat, drink what I drink, and hope for the best. But I will not obsess about it in advance or punish myself afterwards for real and perceived food and drink sins.

That said, I do not perceive myself as losing gazillions of quarter ounces or pounds this month. My clothes are fitting fine, some getting looser, others just fitting differently. Next month’s blood tests will let me know if I remain on a good track or need to make adjustments. I don’t cycle diet – I do not actually diet at all – nor do I have free-for-all eating meals or days. If I want a piece of chocolate I have it. If When I want the entire box of chocolate I restrain myself.

For me, this is a huge step forward in my relationship with food. I can always do better, but right now, I am doing well enough. For me, I am learning to celebrate my wins, not matter how small they may seem from the outside looking inward, and not mourn or feel regret for the “shoulds” I did not meet. One is real, the other imaginary. I have learned to tell the difference.

In some ways this seems to be my year-end post, where I recap all my successes and short comings for the year past. And I suppose in some ways it is just that. But I am evolving into a more reflective person and thinking about this stuff all the time. Only difference is that in a few weeks, when we are closer to the end of the year celebrations, I am as likely as not to have forgotten all about this train of thought.

I will restate the obvious: I am incredibly fortunate to have financial means to afford personal training sessions with uber fabulous trainer J twice weekly. It is a luxury item for most everyone and not something I take for grated as my just due. While my husband, my kids, my closest friends are incredibly pleased and proud of my efforts, I find myself thinking this morning that *I* am incredibly proud of me. And that’s a pretty new admission for me, and I am almost embarrassed memorializing it here on the blog. Because it feels very vain and self-centered to be on my own damn blog talking about being proud of myself.

Another thing to fall away in 2016 – self-consciousness about being pleased with my accomplishments. I’m sure I have mentioned crowing about newly discovered creases from the exercise, also new behavior. Confidence? VERY new behavior. But all good. All very, Very good behaviors.

Some things are still pretty much as they always have been. The feelings of inadequacy continue to rear their ugly little heads from time to time, that I am not thin enough, strong enough, interesting enough, smart enough, kind enough, self-aware enough, enough enough. In my ongoing flawed humanity I have found new strength and facets of my personality that make me unique and interesting. And I like myself better now than I did at the start of the year.

Progress, amazing and beautiful (2 words I so rarely use about myself or anything directly associated with me the person) forward progress.

Love my life and the ways I see it so clearly in the present day. I am very rich indeed.

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.