Dinner bell

It has been a rough week, but into all sadness a little levity sneaks.

I put some chicken in the oven tonight for dinner through the weekend. Nothing fancy – just a simple, roasted chicken. Since it was cooking for 45 minutes, I stepped outside to chat with M about projects he is working on with pool and tree maintenance. My phone was in my pocket, because I thought I had set the timer to get the chicken out on time.

Working outside is not my strength, but we have been working on cleaning up old crap from my mom’s home and that we have had for years and years and apparently carted to and from various houses and storage units. Our efforts at downsizing continue, but it’s a long slog. In the back deck area, we’ve had boxes of stuff to be sorted out, some to donation, some to trash, a select few item to keep. I got started on the last few boxes – almost all ended up in the trash can – but since I was sure the timer would be going off for dinner, I completely lost track of time.

Next I know my phone is ringing. It’s our alarm company, which apparently we have some sort of sensor – either a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide monitor that had alerted them. When we did not answer them on the interior speaker, they rang my phone. Conversation was something like this:

Alarm Monitor: Hello, this is alarm monitor. Is everything okay?
Me: Of course. Did the alarm go off?
Alarm Monitor: The fire sensor thing went off and you did not respond to our call.
Me: Oh SHIT! (ripping open slider and smelling the burning dinner)

And that, dear friends, is how homemade charcoal from chicken is created. It is no wonder we tend to stick with the grocery deli rotisserie chicken when we want actual roasted chicken.

I ended up eating a sandwich and M had some canned chili for dinner. Could have been so much worse.

 

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.

When bad food happens to good people

It is a measure of my emerging better mental health that I think of and refer to myself as good people. This was not always the case, for most of my life I have thought myself as just okay people on my best days and not so good the rest of the time. Negative girl, when she was in a conciliatory mood, would toss out that such judgments of self worth left ample room for improvement and insulation against the perils of conceit setting up shop in my brain.

Me wandering the streets with an over-inflated ego and sense of self. Pigs growing wings and flying would be only a slightly less wondrous sight.

Despite such fanciful musing, I have reach the Goldilocks tipping point of Just Right in my assessment of me, the person, and how I am doing in progressing through life. It is my assessment that there will always be room for improvement, and being good and content with where I am right now is not the equivalent of unpinning the unobstructed by clouds blue sky overhead today.

Until a random stop at the grocery happened today after practice and in a moment of genuine weakness, the bottle of Mexican coke slipped into my cart AND made it through the check stand and home to my refrigerator.

Where it sits like a ticking time bomb.

I have all sorts of excuses as to why this demon has entered my realm. The long series of unstructured days. The traditional peppermint mocha black Friday weekend. The sense of deprivation. The pumpkin pie and mini tiramisu cupcake on Thanksgiving. The mashed potatoes and bread from Thanksgiving. The feeling of deserving a treat. The lie that I got it for M as a treat. The negative girl effect of slacking on practice.

All such complete and total bullshit.

The demon is in my realm because I wanted it. A moment of weakness? Perhaps. More likely just one of those impulses I have mostly learned to suppress or distract myself from indulging. At worst I will consume it and savor the sugary goodness as much as the caffeine hit it will provide. At best I will hand it over to M to remove temptation from my grasp. Most likely, though, is we will split it before or after dinner tonight. The world will continue, my A1c will not be orbiting Mars with January’s lab work, and my new meal planning discipline will keep me on the straighter and narrower pathway.

This time of year is always a challenge for me, with the uptick in socializing and the onslaught of goodies being delivered left and right. Our office move is scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week, the end game of a very long, hectic, stressful several months. Surprisingly everything is coming together; my obsessive list-making, phone call/email/text badgering communication with vendors and the property management firms paying off with this last week of moving Hell. For someone who abhors moving, I have discovered that I am surprisingly pretty good at working through the logistics and problems and wielding an invisible cattle prod to get everyone moving at the proper pacing to make it happen. By Wednesday night all offices will be packed on the moving carts and ready to moved onto the trucks big burly men will be loading for us. Desks and other furnishings will be taken apart as needed by said big burly men, loaded on the big truck, and delivered to the new space. When we arrive at our new digs on Friday morning, desks, office furnishings, and carts loaded with office stuff will be waiting to get unpacked.

Whether telephones, computer network, and internet will be up and running is one of those mysterious wait-and-see efforts, although my computer folk tell me it will go swimmingly. That we are getting a new network server and telephone system in conjunction with the new space should make the actual set-up, troubleshooting, and debugging happen with fewer issues than moving and reconnecting the former server and telephone system. I am simply going forward with faith and confidence it will happen without any hair-tearing or screaming from me to make it happen.

Essentially, 7 months of work comes together this week. Being a stress eater, my single splurge this morning is really the only bad food in the house I will actually eat. M has a stash of gummie butterflies, which smell really good yet I cannot abide the texture or taste on my tongue. Skinny pop popcorn is not that bad, and I will only eat so much of it in a sitting. The box of oranges, the bags of grapes – good substitutes for the snacking I’d be doing if I allow myself the luxury of stress eating. I have worked very hard to get to this point; I am not going to let my resolve dissolve right now when the clutch finally happens.

I did indulge myself in some retail therapy: new yoga mat towel and mat bag. I have been doing yoga very casually a couple days per week, and chatting with trainer J about yoga last night made me yearn for an additional mat towel so I don’t have to launder the one mat towel I have after each class. At least it was on sale. Not my first choice of color, but for the $10 difference in price I can enjoy a pastel blue-green colored one.

The week ahead will take care of itself, without any additional fretting on my part. In this regard I’m glad to have found my niche at the gym, in the yoga studio. I’m glad to have found some focus on healthier food choices that tend to restrain me from activity other than mindless consumption and search for more sugar, more fat, more junk in times of stress.

For now, I am putting work aside and getting busy reorganizing my gym bag. My Lists have gotten to be quite a mess, with several copies outdated copies and Lists I have not pursued in several months and want to revisit, and others that I feel I have mostly outgrown or that have been replaced by other things.

There is also some work-work, some study on our bigger camera – I am wondering what it might be like to add pictures to the blog more routinely – and some additional work to be done on my fitness-focused blog that has been languishing and needs some attention.

Then there is the usual weekend domestic choring to be completed. How could I be home this much this week and still have to run the vacuum and run a couple more loads of laundry? But oh well. Add to this list a few emails to write and phone calls to make, and I should be busy the balance of the day. And I’d really love to get back to listening to my Scott Abel podcast series and read a further in my book.

Obviously I have plenty to keep me busy and not trying to implement anarchy in the streets.

Hope you all had a fabulous weekend.

 

Training #86 – Twist and shout

A day late with this recap! I ate some cold cereal Monday night for dinner for the first time in over a year and had it sent my blood sugar to the moon and me into a narcoleptic coma-like state. Needless to stay, this post did not get completed in its usual timeframe.

Monday morning, training with J, and it was review day. I love review day, especially now. Now I feel like review day is more like lets get into the weeds of the exercise and examine the roots and analyze the dirt where its planted. Seriously, I finally feel like I have grasped the majority of the basic movement patterns and am now getting into the refinement and fine little details that “real” people who lift.

The last few weeks, we have fallen into a pattern of Mondays lower body, Thursdays upper body. Yesterday we went over our first lower body List:

  • 1-legged Leg Press
  • 1-legged RDL (Cable) 
  • Stability Ball Glute Bridge 
  • SB Hamstring Curls 
  • Machine Hamstring Curl 
  • Quad Extensions 
  • DB Power Squats
  • Bodyweight Bulgarians
  • Adductor Machine
  • Stability Ball Lateral Squats  

Since it was review day which means dissecting and correcting and commenting and moving things around. It’s an opportunity for me to ask new questions to talk about experiences I have forgotten about in my own practices. Love review days.

We started out with the 1-legged leg press. I have very specific things I watch on this machine. I want to ensure my leg is straight, not going criss-cross to the left or right. I am watching the weight stack go up and down, especially on the down, where it comes close to being rock bottom but not quite. For the most part, I have this exercise down pretty well. However, as happens in review days, we got into a discussion of muscles targeted and how placement of the foot dictates which muscles are worked and the way different foot placement feels to the body and what I am feeling and where I am feeling it. The way this List is written, we do minimum of 5 sets (up to 10 sets) of 10/side. Yesterday machine was set at 140 lbs., and after 5 (maybe 6? 7?) sets of various foot placements, I have a much clearer idea of what having a high heel placement and pressing off impacts the glutes. Still feeling it today.

Next up was the 1-legged Romanian deadlift, cable edition. Even after months of off and on doing these, this exercise remains my arch nemesis. Even with that dubious honor, it is testament to my maturity with regard to exercise in general that I do not inwardly broad and wish to be doing something, anything else. Or getting myself so worked up and tense about it that I either give up or have such a frustrating experience that it taints the whole rest of my day. I still struggle mightily with these. For all the ways I teeter-totter and topple over sideways or cannot find my balance, there is at least one matching good effort where I do the exercise correctly. Focus lately has been on maintaining tight upper body and holding the closer to the body rather than extending the arm outward. Arch nemesis, I am coming for you.

I kind of love the stability ball glute bridge. Even if I am still sort of struggling to figure out where my feet belong on the ball. Glute bridges of various stripes without stability ball, benches, or anything else are a staple in pilates classes, so I go through these in some fashion fairly regularly. But my favorites thus far are these with the stability ball. Trickiest part has been ensuring good foot placement on the ball to ensure I get the right contraction and stretch.

Another foot placement issue is the stability ball hamstring curl. The real work on this exercise is in the last couple of inches, and getting positioned to the point of curling in far enough with the hips elevated is tricky. J made some corrections to my foot placement and I felt that contraction kick in the hamstrings. This and the glute bridge are on a warm-up List; I think they may soon be finding their way to a daily warm-up sequence to work on my proficiency.

The hamstring curl machine is sooooo hard! Starts out okay, but once that fatigue starts hitting, it’s nearly impossible to bend my knee and lift that weight up even half the way. But I will keep working at it. We lightened the weight and of course that helped, but I can still feel how difficult this machine is when fatigue hits. Maybe I need more work at the mental aspect of my training and practice, although I do not know that is me being lazy so much as this is all of a newish machine my poor hamstrings can take.

Same story with the quad extension machine – the last couple of inches are a lot of the work.

Onward to dumbbell power squats. I’m really working at these, trying to get some depth to these, and it does not seem like it is progressing very productively. But I am persevering. For now I am chugging along, striving toward maximum reps per set.

Then there are the Bulgarian split squats. I have come far with these, working on balance and listening to body’s feedback going through each. It is a process, one that lasts the balance of my lifetime. With the Bulgarians, I have done these almost daily as part of my warmup series. Yet I still struggle to maintain good form (per body’s feedback) and to stay focused and in the moment.

We skipped the adductor machine this session. Time was running short and the stability ball lateral squats remained.

The stability ball lateral squats remain a challenge. In fact, I would go so far as to say lateral squats are a huge challenge in general. What I gained from this review day was keeping knee from moving too far forward over the toe. Instead, the glute should be pushing backward instead of knee going forward. New cue, new lightbulb moment of pushing hip back and keep knee from going too far forward. I have a much better understanding of where I am going wrong with lateral everything.

And that was review day for this section of lower body stuff.

Because it’s Tuesday, I had another practice this morning, upper body stuff, which always gives me more insight on what we go over on training days. I have found myself thinking more and more about the mental aspect of my practice and training. Trying to build on my focus and thinking through each aspect of every rep in every exercise. It’s not always easy, and now that I am thinking about it, trying to practice this additional skill set, and like everything on this journey, it’s not easy. But I’m trying, and succeeding, much of the time.

I speak a lot about attitude, about negative girl, about how my outlook and confidence are expanding and growing. It’s imperfect, as Saturday’s encounter with another member demonstrates. Maybe I let it bother me far more than it should have, but the most important takeaway from the experience was that I did not quit or let it get the better of me. I was in the gym yesterday training with J; I was there again this morning on my own going through a List and a half and working on multiple levels at improving my form and technique.

A couple of weeks ago J introduced me to a podcast hosted by Scott Abel, a very practical, pragmatic coach with very down-to-earth diet and exercise advice for regular people (like me). His accomplishments are broad and he presently has a new book out targeted at those of us over 50. While I have zero aspirations of being a body builder or power lifter or any sort of competitor, I am highly motivated and very interested in learning to exercise very safely and sanely. Through almost 18 months of exercise and training with J, I am slowly maturing into the mindset and discipline that is required to have sustainable success in this realm.

I am very proud of my progress, my stick-with-it-ness about getting up and getting to the gym. For someone who has given up so many times, to finally find my groove has been nothing short of amazing. But listening to a few hours of podcasts while working at my desk yesterday, there was one statement by Coach Abel that really resonnated with me and neatly summed up the progression of my improving attitude toward and consequently, my aptitude for exercise. This is not a direct, word-for-word quote, but what I was able to capture the essence of Coach Abel’s comment:

Glass is half empty, glass is half full – both of those are perceptually wrong. As a realist, the glass is just too damn big. It’s not about half empty or its half full, the glass is too big. That’s the realist approach. The pragmatist approach is “I don’t even care about the size of the glass; I care about what’s in it.” Pessimism to optimism to realism to pragmatism – and that’s what excellent coaching is all about.

This is from smartersculptedphysique.com, podcast episode #10, at about minute 46.

Many months ago, even before he began following Coach Abel, J said the same thing to me during one of our sessions. He is an excellent coach and was the best, luckiest of draws in my life as far as getting matched with a trainer that I can work with and usher me along to a place of success despite my own resistance to the idea. I have become obsessed and fascinated with exercise and the progress I have achieved thus far, and the training schedule I maintain can be traced directly back to our training partnership. If you have an interest in real, down-to-earth information on weightlifting and supportive nutrition, I cannot recommend this podcast series enough or Coach Abel’s various books. I’m currently on episode 13, after listening and relistening to parts of the previous dozen, and poor J and other friends who are or have been resistance training enthusiasts almost daily have to read a text from me saying “episode [insert current episode here] is my current favorite because ….” Since there are now 30 of them, and I believe a new one comes out each week, it could be a long stretch of daily texts.

Tomorrow is another day, lower body practice. I think my glutes and hamstrings will be ready for it by then.

Training #84 – Build me up Buttercup

Monday morning, training with J. I probably say this most Mondays, but this is a fabulous way to begin my week.

Today was all about glutes. What we did:

  • Squat Machine “Frog Stance” (100 lbs., 4 sets, 15-20 reps)
  • Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension (3 sets, 15-20 reps)
  • Cable Glute Kickback (20 lbs., 3 sets, 12-15/side
  • Cable 1-legged RDL (12.5 lbs., 3 sets, 8-10/side)
  • 1-legged Glute Pushdown (3 sets, 12-15/side)
  • Adductor Machine (110 lbs., 3 sets, 15-20/side)

While this is “only” 6 exercises, they are 6 pretty darn brutal and hard exercises. That said, they are also infinitely satisfying to complete and exciting to be in the sweaty and gross moments and trying so desperately to keep my head in the game, focused on my count and getting past the minimums and march onward toward the elusive maximum. Of course, I am also running cues in my head, wondering if I am doing this stuff right.

It has been awhile since I have been upstairs where we were working today. The squat machine lives there, and I have conveniently forgotten how brutal that thing can be on the glutes. In today’s “frog stance” squats on the squat machine, we went slightly lighter than I recall last we did this, but then again, we doubled the rep range as well. All is great, though. While nothing has been said (until today, and even that was an almost off-hand and mild coaching comment from J), I have been paying more attention to and trying hard to ensure I am pushing for the deeper knee bend on the squat things. Is that what they mean when they talk about full range of motion? Not sure on the terms, because as I said, until today it has never really come up. But today J encouraged going for a deeper knee bend. In my mind I have been wondering if I fail to try harder because I am lazy, am not paying particular attention. or am afraid of the Very Bad Things that could happen of pushing too hard or the body too far. As I have slowly becoming more cognizant of the thought, I have been equally deliberate in my slo-mo speed of trying for it. Today went pretty well. Squat seemed a bit deeper and nothing bad happened. I am encouraged and will work toward that goal on Wednesday.

The newbie on the block was the stability ball reverse hyperextension. I would say it’s a big giant name for essentially laying across the ball on your stomach and then kicking up the feet without bending the knees, but I realize now that the descriptive name is not really all that long and only sounds super fancy. I have not seen anyone else doing these, but I guess I need to pop in to the gym in the evenings when J is working with other tribe members. Anyway, this was actually kind of fun, and by Wednesday and next outing it could cross over onto the favorites list. It’s brutally effective, probably looks really strange to others walking by, but the only place I feel it is squarely in the middle of my glutes. I actually thought it might bother my lower back, but once I got into right position – ball rests right below the hip bones and feet should be touching the floor – could not feel it anywhere except my glutes. Wrong position, yep, feel too much aggravation in my lower back.

Another we have not visited in awhile, the cable glute kickback. While tricky to get the handle secured around my foot, once there it is a matter of focusing on kicking leg back in appropriate manner to feel the contraction in the glute. There is a certain challenge in thinking my way through each rep – am I feeling it? Is my kickback high enough? Is the weight right? Is the handle wandering and about to fall off my foot? Since some time has passed since my last effort with these, it felt like I was getting reacquainted with how these work and what I should be feeling. All good, though. I like doing these.

My arch nemesis STILL – the 1-legged cable Romanian deadlift resurfaced today. Honestly, no matter how mostly proficient I have gotten with other versions of the single legged exercises, holding onto that cable pulls me into the wobble more than half the time. But today, today I have renewed hope of conquering these bad boys. The primary way I have conquered my wobble bias in almost all single legged exercises is to focus hard on the upper body tightness. With the cable yanking at one arm, it has been really hard to maintain that upper body stiffness. Today I figured out that if I kept the elbow bent and the cable closer to the body, it’s a whole lot easier to keep the upper body tight and maintain the single leg balance. J was okay with my newly discovered technique, because the wobble was considerably less, I was more successful with the balance the muscle contraction, and my lats and upper body stayed tight. And as a footnote to that, feeling some bonus after effect in my lats today as well.

The 1-legged glute pushdown – there is something so relaxing about this motion that it is almost mesmerizing. While I can feel the glute working as I am moving the weight stack up and down, it is a rather trance-like experience to climb up on that machine and go through the sets. As glute exercises go these are fairly benign and seem just harmless-enough to be almost boring in execution. That’s always where I start getting nervous, though. Something that seems this easy is always dangerous, because it’s really easy for me to lose track and focus and do something stupid and quite probably hurt myself. I need to stay present and focused and not allow myself to become overconfident or I’ll fall over, fall off, or screw up my knee somehow. Still, despite my reservations about my own attention span, I am kind of crazy about these.

Finally, we have the upstairs version of the adductor machine. I am not a big huge fan of these, because while effective, they are sometimes downright painful as well. I feel like this is the one machine I should sit down and force myself to do 3 sets of every single week no matter what else I might be doing, or I’m going to pay for it the next go-round with it. The same machine, different manufacturer is downstairs, and I have the debate as to which machine I like better every time I happen to use the upstairs equipment. Upstairs is easier to adjust and has a shorter seat (downstairs is made for much taller folk than my 5’5″ height), but downstairs is more my typical stomping grounds for exercise.

And as I said, while it does not sound like we did  lot today, I was sweaty and gross after the first block and went home with my usual sweat-head of hair. Several inches shorter hair does not seem to impact this phenom at all.

It’s Halloween, and I have this big giant bowl of chocolate bars and plain M&Ms and thus far only 2 trick or treaters. Leftovers will be going somewhere tomorrow, for sure. M and I cannot be alone in the house with that much chocolate.

Today is also the last official day of my smoothie life, although I have been slacking pretty routinely the last several days with social events, etc. It’s completely unsustainable for longer than the month I have tried it out, but I did find it not completely horrible. I like the smoothie breakfast shake – the taste of spinach and kale can be concealed beneath a batch of berries and a single packet of stevia. I love the taste of the powdered peanut butter and chocolate protein powder, but it did not work out very well for dinner for me. I probably defeated the entire purpose of this exercise when I moved it to mid-afternoon snack and at something else for dinner, but oh well. I found myself falling hard for salad again and addition of other vegetables, garbonzos and other beans was not the taste disaster I feared. Still love the sunflower seeds and almonds, especially once I discovered how much I loved the almonds lightly toasted in the oven first.

Did I lose any weight? Yes, a few pounds. However, more and more I’m finding chasing a food structure and strategy that does not suit me only stresses me out more than if I just relax and strive for sensible balance. Going forward, I have no replacement plan or strategy in place other than the idea of continuing with my usual pre-workout protein shake, my greens-and-berries smoothing for breakfast, salad at least 2 or 3 days for lunch, and something sensible for dinner. Maybe I will have another epiphany in December.

I know I cannot expect to outrun my fork with exercise, but I also know there have been days where my blood sugar dropped like a stone and I had very little energy with the smoothie life. After finding so much of my zen with the (almost) daily workouts, I found it disturbing to feel tired and deflated where I typically feel upbeat and energized each morning. Hence implementing adjustments in smoothie life eating to suit me and my fuel needs.

With most of experimenting I have done with eating and eating strategies, I find the simple ideas of balanced nutrition are most suitable for me and definitely easiest on my nervous system. Intellectually I enjoy reading diet books (written by people I feel are both sensible and trustworthy) and about how other people utilize food, but I’m weaning myself off of any self-imposed pressure to try and conform or to be swept up in the marketing. There are foods that work out pretty well for me, and I will retain those. The rest of it, I am a normal person. I have no aspirations beyond better overall health, and I seem to have found a good pathway toward that objective. There is no body building or powerlifting or size 0 planned for my future.

What works for me tends to work well in ways I can feel and appreciate. I really like the way getting up early, getting to the gym and going through my workout makes me feel. In the earliest days it was absolutely exhausting, but those days are now months in my rearview. These days I feel far more content in my own skin. My gym crazy is (mostly) well controlled. My future feels bright even if I still see people doing things in the gym that perplex and make me skittish.

For example, I have observed only one use of a Bosu that makes any sense to me. A couple of ladies in a class meeting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings use it as a burpee aid, which watching them made the burpee make sense. Still not doing burpees. Still vastly prefer inchworming my way down to a planky push-up and back. But watching them with the Bosu – burpees seem like a maybe possibility someday rather than the previous open-and-shut Hell no. Today, I was walking from the locker room and saw a guy balancing on a Bosu with a weighted bar across his shoulders doing squats. Why, I wondered. Is it balance? Is challenge? Is he just batshit cray-cray? No clear answers at all, but I comfort myself in knowing that’s not in my foreseeable future. Like, ever.

I took yesterday off completely and didn’t die, nothing bad happened, and I felt refreshed and energized this morning. If my entire body has rebelled and refused to cooperate I did not notice.

And finally, one of the best things about this journey is expanding my knowledge base. I am evolving into quite an exercise nerd, because J continues to share and introduce me to various resources pursues and experts he follows. This weekend he turned my attention to The Smarter Sculpted Physique podcasts (http://smartersculptedphysique.com/episodes/). These are about an hour long each and cover a broad range of exercise, nutrition, and fitness topics. For me, they are now my new addiction and/or obsession, and likely will continue to be at least until I get caught up and have listened to all 29. In so many ways, this is intriguing to me, regular person. Not now, probably not ever a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or any sort of competitive athlete. I am just a someone who wants to understand the deeper why of my better health pursuits. I listened to several today while working, and now I want to read the summaries and notes from each podcast and listen to them again.

It was a great training day. Learned some new things, have yet another List to pursue, and find myself excited and looking forward to tomorrow and the upper body List. It’s going to be an amazing week. I love when I learn new things and find new content to read or to watch or to listen to that engages me and teaches me stuff.

Yep, it’s true: I am such a geek.

And damn proud of it.