Archive for November, 2011

I got the HyperTrophy…

Workout, that is.

Not an award the fitness gods bestow on some super-speedy, uber efficient gym star who can whiz through a workout like an over-caffeinated road runner. 

No, no. That would not be me at the best of times. Let me explain.

Tonight’s program at the gym is called – in full – the muscular hypertrophy workout.

In short, this means making muscles bigger, faster. Stefan explained that the time had finally come for me to build muscles.

I was a little shocked, I confess, and asked what we had been doing up to now – I honestly thought ‘making muscle’ was in there somewhere. It is, sort of. But if I have this right (and it’s highly possible I don’t), there’s a difference between developing ‘new’ muscle and increasing the size of that muscle.

Getting stronger – a lot stronger – and making that lean muscle mass work for you (to burn fat, give more energy) requires targeted action (hypertrophy stuff).

I want to be strong. And run a 5k. And hike many kilometres on El Camino.

Just wanted to include a Camino pic - here's one small section of it.

So hypertrophy it is. This means more challenging moves, higher weights, and no less than 8-10 reps, and usually more.

We also have moved into the ‘divide and conquer’ stage – tonight was primarily focused on the front of the body (quads, chest, for e.g.). Next time will be about the back (I’m guessing glutes, hamstrings, etc.)

What we’ve done so far has been setting the stage – getting my muscles, spine, back, chest, etc. ready to go – ready to compete in A-ball, if not the majors. (hey, I’ve been in a gym, I can resort to tired sports metaphors).

Tonight’s hypertrophy:

Superset 1

Squats (with a 60 lb barbell on my shoulders)

Yes, I know he's lifting more than 45 lbs, but just so you'll get the idea.

45-lb barbell press on a bench (see pic)

Superset 2

Stationary lunges (without dumbbells which Stefan said were too easy for me so next time I get weights)

Standing freemotion 20lb press

Superset 3

70 lb step-ups. (have you ever seen 35lb dumbbells? I had not, until tonight)

20 lb freemotion fly (I will admit here that Stefan dropped the weight on this one twice) – I am to say this in a positive manner, such as: I found this to be quite challenging – oh hell, I don’t know how to say it better.

The fly - looked SO easy. Why do I keep making that fatal error?

I just know, as I’ve said here repeatedly, Stefan pushes me hard especially if he thinks I’m giving up, giving in, or about to whine piteously.

At the same time, he is adamant that I get rid of the negative talk if I don’t achieve the workout plan for that day.

Like tonight.

There were supposed to be 4 supersets, the last consisting of lateral step-ups and close grip press dips (god only knows).

We didn’t have time – it took me longer to cycle through the 3X each of the first 3 sets, so on the workout sheet Stefan gave me to take home, there’s a big fat DNF at the end.

Did Not Finish. We’ve all grown up on medical drama so this was *way* too close to DNR for my liking.

However, this was just a factual note to himself, not a blackmark. In fact, he said I did very well tonight, edging into ‘A’ territory.

And on that positive note, I hope my head doesn’t swell along with my muscles.


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Run before you walk

It’s time to pick up the pace.

Starting today, treadmill intervals will now involve running instead of walking. So the drill will be: run 1 minute at 6.0 speed, 2.5 incline, walk (rest) for 2 minutes, keep doing it until half an hour has elapsed.

I’m excited and terrified.

Fast walking intervals, especially uphill, are a fine way to build cardio endurance, true. But there’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and the only way to get there is to throw a little running into the mix for now – with more to come in due course.

Chose this pic to illstrate 5k race since at least some runners look more or less my age.

I want to run a 5k.

My big goal is still hiking El Camino next September, of course! That’s a whole different dream, and while it is about long days of walking, it’s as much about seeking as it is moving.

I just have this thing about running. As a kid, I loved to run-Tennessee and Texas climates meant my brothers and I lived outdoors all year round. I spent a lot of that time running – we raced, played kickball and baseball, and ran whenever walking would do.

I will acknowledge a tiny competitive streak here and say that I liked challenging the boys in the neighbourhood to a race and then beating them handily every time.

Fast forward through the running childhood years, adolescence, an adulthood of up and down health habits, and running became an ever more distant memory.

When I started with the marathon group in Toronto a few years ago, I signed up as a walker for that specific training program. I joined with my friend Linda (Camino comrade), a walker/hiker by preference and we bonded deeply with each other and our fellow walkers over many, many shared kilometres.

I mean, we had time!  We weren’t strolling but we weren’t racing and when 15, 20 or 30k practice distances are a part of every week, you’re out there for a lot of hours.

We talked about everything; we also were comfortable with long, tired silences. All weather. All year. I could walk Toronto’s lakeshore from High Park to beyond the Beach in my sleep, I think.

Part of the route in the Beach - other parts a lot more urban, traffic swishing by.

I enjoyed every minute. But every now and then, I would look at the other part of our group, those who were training to ‘run’ the marathon and wonder, ‘could I do that?’ And I would feel the stir and pull of childhood running memories.

And so today. For the record, I do *not* want to run a marathon. I’m very glad I did it once, but I’m not sure I even want to walk one again, much less go that distance at even a light jog.

But it has come into my head that maybe I could, in fact, manage a 5k run. And that I would enjoy the chance to run again – for a MUCH shorter distance, just to see if I could.

I love being part of the ‘races’ – all the bustle and goodwill and energy that people bring to charity or competitive events, getting your number pinned to your shirt, the swag bag of t-shirts and water bottles, and, of course, getting a medal at the end of it all – simply for showing up and finishing.

Here's an example of a really cool medal given at a New Orleans race.

Sure, I could do these races again as a walker – but why not change it up a tad? (though I’m likely delusional to think that running 5k is only a ‘tad’ different than walking. For the record, my fastest 5k is 40 minutes. It might actually take me longer to run that distance.)

When I first started at the gym, I naturally talked to Stefan at length about El Camino and my desire to be in better shape to take this on. Somehow I also mentioned this whole running deal – and my secret 5k wish.

You don’t say stuff like that out loud to Stefan and expect him to say ‘that’s nice’. He’s a doer. He suggested we add the 5k goal into the mix and aim for participating in one of the many races going on this coming spring. Yow!!

Game on.

Postscript: Back from the gym – did the running intervals, loved it, woo hoo! Now off to Toronto to see women sing the blues at Massey Hall.

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Broken Records

Dateline: Floor of the gym

Lead: Katharin Harkins stunned her trainer, gym comrades, her 11 Twitter followers, and most of all herself when she smashed her previous plank record of 32 ab-wrenching seconds to pieces tonight – 3 times!

Here's hoping most readers recognize this image. One day it will be a total relic of bygone days.

Plank 1 – 55 seconds

Plank 2 – 54 seconds

Plank 3 – 1 minute even.

A very surprising high note in tonight’s workout – no supersets today, but a return to TRX, lunges, and some stability ball work. And planks.

I was thrilled, especially since no defeatist face plants were involved. Progress – measured in a few seconds that tonight sped by a little faster instead of crawling.

About broken records. Stefan more or less is one – all the time, every day. In a good way.

Here are a few constant themes:

Get your shoulders out of your ears. We seem to have the impulse to lock into a kind of shoulder shrug position when we’re expending effort. Don’t do this – it causes neck problems and other bad stuff.

Turn on your abs. This essentially means hold your gut in, don’t let it sag all over the place while you’re doing pushups, or, well, anything in the gym. Waking up those important ab muscles is a big part of resistance training.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pulling your arms towards your torso, during rows, and trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together increases core strength and certain under-used back muscles.

Think positive thoughts. This is a message Stefan – and others (daughter, work pals, friends, family) keep repeating.

These messages turned up on my white board at work one day, where they remain. Thanks, Jazzy!

When on occasion I struggle, as I did tonight with one or two things, my first reaction is more negative than I would like.

Not that Stefan wants me to do anything but try my absolute hardest, but he doesn’t like it when I dismiss what I have, in fact, achieved or immediately determine I must do better for it to ‘count’.

Tonight, for example, he pointed out that he had added more reps, I did the lunges without the help of the pole for balance, I did 3 planks for much longer than before (30 seconds is 7 days in plank time) and more.Yet what I focused on was the couple of times I couldn’t hang on to the row or that the second plank was 1 second shorter than the first.

I didn’t fuss or fume or take my toys and run home. But. I ‘may’ have muttered a bit, sighed once or twice, and I guess my face truly is a mirror of the soul. And Stefan sees everything – seriously, he doesn’t miss a single trick. And what he wanted from me tonight was more Norman Vincent Peale and less Negative Nellie.

So there’s a balance to be struck – stay positive, give yourself a back pat now and then, acknowledge the effort, the progress, the successes, the change going on.

At the same time, push, work hard, strive, break the record, do more, don’t quit, this is worth it. Don’t let drive and desire to succeed become so entwined with impossibly high standards that failure is always hovering nearby.

Or something like that. I’m working on it.

Every day, I learn. I see that the physical rigours of this process – as huge and different and important as they are for me – are just one piece.

As I’ve worked on in so many other parts of my life, the reshaping of my inner world is happening right along with the shrinking waistline. There’s still some old nattering, persistent demons in my head that need to chill – and be still.

I will ask them nicely to quiet down. Or make them do planks til hell freezes over.

And on that old-timey religious note, I’m done. To sleep the sleep of the righteous.




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Language, Learning, Lifting

My drive to work takes about 45 minutes – turns out, this is a perfect opportunity to practice the Spanish lessons! My wonderful daughter put the online course onto a CD for me (since my ipod died and I probably couldn’t have figured out how to get them on there anyway).

So now, instead of flipping through random radio stations looking for a) a great driving tune, b) the weather forecast or c) news of the world that won’t dishearten me, I am happily babbling away to myself – well, to Mauricio and Amy.

Completely free and uninhibited because what happens in car world stays in car world, right?

Mauricio and Amy are my faceless Spanish teachers whose voices coax and support and urge me to talk out loud – they say many people try to learn a language ‘in their head’ which fools them into thinking they’ve got it. When they try to express themselves in a new country, however, they find it’s a bridge too far between brain and word.

I’ve had this same synaptic lapse musically.

Classic rock (still kind of unsettles me that the music of groove and rock and metal from ‘those’ days is now considered ‘classic’ – read: very very old) is imbedded in my head.

So, for example, I may want to remind someone what check-out time at Hotel California is. I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve only heard this 28,000 times in my life.

So, I summon my best Don Henley voice and begin belting. But what comes out of my mouth is emphatically not the bluesy, lilting sound in my head. More like tin-ear caterwauling. Let it Be.

(Mind you, I still do sing in the car – loud and raucous and off key be damned).

So I’m going for it.

Hola, Mauricio, como estas? Encantada! De donde eres? And more along those lines, over and over and over again.

Reps are not just for the gym, it seems.

Though we live in the bluetooth age, I still have people staring at me at stoplights – perhaps I look too classic to know about wireless, hands-free anything, and they simply assume I’m senile. Or talking to my imaginary friends, (which isn’t far from the truth).

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64? (which, by the way, used to seem incredibly ancient – now, not so much).

To continue the old music riff and return to the gym for a moment, tonight’s theme was:

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.

Supersets – again. Some special tracks from tonight’s program:

60 lb step-ups (up from 50 on Saturday). AND a somewhat higher step. Who knew that an extra 10 lbs was the killer weight?? This was hard.

24 kg kettlebell lifts – 2 sets with both hands, 2 sets with one hand. Yow.

The two-handed kettlebell lift - I swear the one I lifted was bigger than this one.

Pushups, on a bar (like a very low chin-up bar between two posts), lower this time, so harder.

Planks – 4 again, 30 seconds each, abs screaming! VOM (to quote someone I adore at work).

I worked hard. I also struggled hard. I didn’t feel like it was the best workout, though Stefan said this one (and Saturday’s) were high level, very tough workouts, and that when I started at the gym, no way was I doing any of these moves – or at least not very well.

Don’t ask me why – I think I had some grade-school relapse, but I asked him what ‘mark’ he would give the workout today. He said ‘a solid B’. Much better than I expected!

Build Me Up, Buttercup.

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Today’s workout – well, there practically aren’t words. Another set of supersets (see link for those just joining – I don’t have energy to explain again because I got my butt – and every single other body party that can be named – royally kicked today.

Stefan looks and sounds like a nice, gentle kind of guy. (ok, he actually is, but he has a lot of semper fi mojo to him, too). Remember, I did the Marine Corps marathon a few years back.

I saw Marines in action – these people are fitness paragons! Our group was also lucky enough to be led through a round of calisthenics in front of the White House the day before. So I had a brief taste of what drill sergeant workouts could be like back then – and today.

This was the guy who led our drill in Washington- yeah, I know, whew. (all a little surreal for a hippy Democrat like myself - fun, though)

Let me be clear. Stefan brings ‘it’, you know what I’m talking about, every day – this morning, it just felt ‘more’. Actually, it was ‘more’ – heavier weights again on stepups, deadlift, etc. etc.

I sucked back my giant jug of water well before the workout was finished. I also made a *lot* of noise – no, not whimpering, but all-out groan-with-effort type exhalations, such that someone said to me in the change room after, ‘Torture? He sure put you through it today, right?’

Yes, he did.

I’m happy to report that it was a good one again. I didn’t crack, wimp out, or cry, though I believe some of the final reps were on the shaky and ugly side.

AND – big plank news! The last superset was 30-second planks and glute lifts on stability ball holding some gigantic weight. When I saw we were going for planks and not for end-of-workout stretching, I started muttering to myself, obscenities I think. Stefan’s sympathy response?  ‘What’s that you’re saying, Doctor Negative? Get down on the mat’.

At least I think he called me doctor – all I registered was the negative nelly accusation. I truly should know better by now.

And then he tricked me! The planks – 4 of them! – were 35 seconds, not 30, and I made every one. He didn’t show me the stopwatch until after, and said ‘I knew this plank failure thing was in your mind. You just proved it.’ No one likes a know-it-all. Meh, not true – Stefan’s obviously got my number and I love him for it.

Speaking of numbers: ok, here they are for month 2.

6 inches down and 6 lbs of fat, though only 1 actual lb of weight loss on the scale. This math upset me at first – I am completely in the thrall of the scale, it seems.

But once again, Stefan explained how the lost inches translate into body fat reduction (a primary goal) and how much more space fat takes up vs muscle and some other context that made me feel better.

Total to date: 13 lbs lost (on scale); 18 inches down; and enough reduction in body fat percentage for Stefan to say all was well, though I could still stand to ‘tighten up the diet’ a bit.

He thinks – and of course he’s right – that I still work in a lot of ‘cheats’ that add up much the way those seconds of planking did today. That is, without me being aware of the steady increase at all.

Some minor adjustments still required, along with what has become my mantra: Stay conscious! And just as I had a built-in ‘fail’ thing going on with planks, so too am I with food. Well, this is a longer story, not for today.

Diet tip of day: Peanut butter (the all-natural kind of course) is great with apples. I already knew this and it’s a frequent snack. BUT – peanut butter, like cheese, must be measured by thumb-length, not by giant dollop after dollop.

That’s ok, I’m too tired to open the peanut butter jar anyway.





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Workout shakeup…again

I had a distinct feeling I was in for it at the gym tonight, since the last workout had gone so well and elicited such high praise from Stefan. When that happens in resistance training, and with a good trainer who doesn’t mess around, you’d better get ready.

No way are you going to stay in a place that could even remotely, ever – ever become a comfort zone. Of course, comfort is a relative thing. It’s never a breeze for me in the gym, (more like a hurricane) and I try to give it everything I’ve got.

But, as I’ve come to learn, Stefan can always tell when it’s time to lift more, do more, try  a new thing, step it up. And so we did. Big time.

Stefan said, in explaining the new regime “you had adapted, your body knew what to do. So now we have to change it up.’ I know he could offer more science to explain why constant change is important…but let’s just accept it as a self-evident truth in gym world. Change is good. Even, or especially, when it’s hard.

Not that we stayed at the last level long or anything – felt like 5 minutes, but the time was right to move, and move on we did.

Tonight we did something called ‘super sets’ – which essentially means doing two exercises back to back with no rest in between – e.g.step-ups and deadlifts. We did 3 super sets, for a total of 6 different exercises, with less rest, more weight added, and a couple of other variations on this theme.

At first, I struggled – even when I was doing moves I’d done before. Stefan explained that all the training we had done prior pushed and instructed the body at a basic level – laying a foundation, setting the stage, pick your metaphor.

Supersets are more intense, can activate certain muscles faster, and simply require even more focus and effort. In short, we were in a whole new ball game tonight.

I suspect this explanation is as garbled as my head and muscles feel right now, very sorry. At any rate, I caught the wave and the workout, all in all, was a good one – tough, exhausting, challenging, sweaty and intense in a whole new way.

Some of the highlights:

50 lb step-ups (up from 40)

70 lb rows

55 lb deadlifts – ‘real’ ones this time, lifting the weighted bar straight up from the ground, putting it back down, and doing this – with proper form – for 8 reps, if I recall.

40 lb hip raises on stability ball

3 30-second planks (I didn’t fall on my face once!)

When I caught myself in the mirror at the end of the workout, I was horrified – bedraggled hair, fogged glasses, sweat-drenched…the usual. Stefan kindly said ‘you look like you just worked hard’.

Home – where I did not start laundry, pick up the scattered newspapers, or tidy the living room. I could probably superset myself through most of the chores, (this is a timesaver workout, too, apparently…not for me, yet, but it’s supposed to work like that), but no.

Book and bed – those 2 activities I can manage. Together. Right now.

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It’s official! Going to Spain…sorry, Espana (forgive lack of accenting mark – virgula – over the n).

Wendy, Linda and I now have plane tickets in hand – return flights to beautiful Barcelona, where we will stay a few days to shake off jet leg and, of course, see some sights before lacing up our hiking boots on El Camino.

I love the beautiful tile 'frame' to this picture.

To call Wendy and Linda more seasoned travelers – and hikers – is an understatement. But none of us has been to Barcelona so we are already quite buzzy with anticipation. Since we don’t fly for 9 1/2 months, someone may have to throw water on us to curb our enthusiasm a tad. Or maybe this is just me. I’m excited, ok?

Here’s what I know about Barcelona: not very much.

I had an opportunity years ago, before the earth cooled, to teach English as a second language there. I took another job instead, which has long since been erased from my hard drive. Oh well. I’m going now.

Here are a few highlights picked up from the usual sources: (google, wikipedia)

Barcelona is one of the most energetic, livable, and interesting cities in Europe, steeped in culture and history.

It invented World Book Day, an important festival there that celebrates books and literacy.

A famous carving of a donkey, which decorates the main portal of La Sagrada Familia (right) was created from life. Apparently, architect Antoni Gaudí was presented with the finest donkeys in Barcelona to use as his model but rejected them in favour of an old, broken down beast that belonged to a woman selling sand.

This magnificent church was described by art Critic Rainer Zerbst this way: “It is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art”.

People rave about the tapas and mojitos in many (affordable) restaurants there.

All good so far!

Barcelona also reportedly has the worst drivers, traffic, and accident rates in the world (seriously, this came up first on a few sites). In odd contrast, more than 50% of people there consider themselves pedestrians, not drivers.

So, pay attention in Barcelona – to books, art, architecture, and people. Pay particular attention to cars and where they’re going. Stick with water – mojitos masquerade as fresh, minty, alcohol-free drinks, and go down way too easily. Ok, maybe one mojito.

Does anyone have any Barcelona recommendations they’d like to share?

After Barcelona, we fly to Santiago, then hop a train or bus to Sarria. Then we walk. Those arrangements: still to be made. As in all things, one step at a time.

In ever-present gym news: Intervals tonight. Went well, since no planks involved.

Place crawling with people including many ‘tourists’ who were deciding whether to sign up or not. Ended up huffing and puffing next to a woman I’ve treadmilled beside before. I simply don’t get her. She runs for an hour or more, at quite the pace, and does *not*  sweat, breathe hard, or look remotely tired – ever. Cyborg.

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