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Archive for January, 2012

We almost got fooled. After weeks of rain, the occasional snow flake, and no need for boots, winter finally arrived in my little corner of Canada. With a making-up-for-lost-time vengeance. Nope, we do not live in the town winter forgot.

We got lambasted. Pelting snow mixed with fog and freezing rain and then some more snow. And some high winds and black ice thrown in for kicks.

White knuckle driving, even with snow tires. Slip slidin’ away from work, creeping along country roads transformed into unfamiliar moonscapes, dividing lines invisible.

Home just in time to eat a small snack, grab new gym clothes since my freshly-walked snow dog made a nest in the ones I’d put out, and race – slowly – to the gym.

Me, watching people doing very nice pirouettes with their cars at stoplights.

Speaking of crazy, I wondered if I was. Safely home and I’m turning right back around to go to the gym??? Yes, it seems that’s what I was doing.

Hadn’t slept much the night before either. And work was, shall we say, a little intense. (we have a special acronym for those kinds of days – BSC. I’ll leave you to figure that one out).

Arrived at gym just in time, circled lot waiting for parking spot, clomped through wet snow that had already soaked through boots. Getting my drift, so to speak?

I was not feeling peachy keen about – well, about anything.

To be clear, I didn’t for a minute consider cancelling. I am in this thing for the long haul, even when I don’t always recall why. (sometimes the answer is ‘just because’).

I even managed a fleeting inner ‘atta girl’ as I dog-shook myself in the gym doorway, warily eying all the “WET FLOOR – WATCH YOUR STEP” signs everywhere.

Tired, hungry, and clenched in scary drive posture, I was expecting ho hum results in the gym. So during warm-up, I thought, ‘well, I’m here anyway, may as well go for the gusto.’

The workout, the 3rd in this new phase of balls, balance, and endurance, was the BOMB! I threw down – and got to it, in a big, sweat-pouring, heart-pounding way.

Same routine as described before, only I made it through 4 sets, instead of 2 or 3. Stefan said it was a great workout – he often doesn’t comment, waiting to see how I assess matters.

That's Stefan. And it's me, too. Gotta love endorphins.

I felt fantastic – a super endorphin hit, and all work/winter/whinging thoughts completely blown away – an uber snow-blower of a mind cleanse. Wow.

This new phase of workouts, as I’ve said, is completely different. I don’t mean to imply it’s easy – it’s jacking up my heart rate and calling on the smaller muscles and core to come alive in untold ways.

I also didn’t think I could sweat more than I did while dead-lifting. Turns out I can. My hair froze when I left the gym last night – in a very attractive ratty, uncombed coif, must say.

I’m still dealing with strain or pull or inflammation issues in one leg, though during the workout, it feels fine. Oddly, it’s sitting and driving that hurt the most, by far. So I’m still not back on the treadmill, and will be seeing the local rehab massage guy (as fantastic as my Toronto pal) tomorrow for 2nd treatment.

I’d like to get back to the cardio intervals – despite the injury, I was enjoying my ‘learn to run’ program in between Stefan days. I’m on a mission here and would prefer not to give up the 5k goal just yet; we’ll see.

For now, Phase 2 is one fine substitute if sucking wind with the Endorphinator  is any indication.

Climate Update: So that was yesterday. Today, the sun has shone brilliantly. It’s above zero. The roads are cleared. It’s like yesterday’s winter hellion outburst never happened. Did it? Anyone?

 

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For now, the Iron Kate workout is done – no dead-lifts, bench presses, barbell box squats. No hanging out in the gym basement with the big boys.

Stefan has planned this year of getting fit and strong in segments. The first (after some basic intro stuff) was about building muscle – quickly. Lest we forget the joys of hypertrophy,  here’s a little reminder.

All I know is that now I don’t hyperventilate when I hear the words ‘let’s go dead-lift.’

There is method in his madness (and sometimes vice versa).

The times, they are a’changin’. No danger of settling into a comfortable rut on this journey. Stage 2 begins.

We’re now 2 workouts in – wow, what a difference! Same guy, same gym, same sweat – totally different feeling. You know how even when you’re reasonably fit but go do something completely new and you then use the time-honoured phrase: “I’m feeling muscles I never knew I had.” Like that.

(I uttered those words after going 5-pin bowling once. I was fit and active and then went to my niece’s birthday party and was practically in traction the next day).

This new stage is about building muscle endurance (as opposed to strength and size) using lower weights, increased reps and, get this: stabilizers and synergists.  (you should really check out the link – the names and definitions read like a Shakespearean tragedy, antagonists and all).

The idea is to work the smaller muscles, wake up and activate the core (my abs truly prefer to sleep), and strive for better postural alignment (or something like that) – a requirement for my eventual return to heavy lifting.

Apparently, if all goes well during this 6-week stage, I will have the core strength to manage the explosive torque required for *much* heavier weights and different types of lifts.

Ok, I will suspend disbelief and trust the process. (though the idea of bigger weights, lots bigger, makes me a tiny bit terrified).

This endurance training is in a different country than the resistance work to date. It involves a lot of balls – no kidding.

Standing on upside down bosu balls, draping over stability balls, throwing medicine balls, using balls to do planks. Balls, said the queen. And so on.

Here’s the line-up to date:

2 bosu step-ups with 10lb medicine ball toss, 15 reps.

Even Google sputters when I try to find a pic using these descriptors. So here goes nothing. There are two bosus placed side by side. I am holding the medicine ball. I step up on the balls, toss the medicine ball in a high-ish arc to Stefan while I step down, and we keep playing catch this way a bunch of times.

Stability ball back extension with lateral 8lb weight raise in both hands.

Back extension on ball - now put 8 lb weights into each of her hands, stretched out to the side and up, and you have the general idea.

I drape over a big ball while holding the weights, lift up into a back extension posture and raise my arms to either side.

Hip raises with 15lb medicine ball chest press/pass, 15 reps.

You drop your hips to the ground (no touching), raise back up, tighten glutes, and throw the (heavy) ball straight into the air. (see right – though she’s just pressing, not passing)

 

 

10lb medicine ball chop on upside-down bosu.

This one is a balancing act that made me realize I would have had *zero* aptitude for Cirque de Soleil.

Get on the flipped bosu, one foot at a time (carefully!), lift medicine ball high to one side and swiftly down to the other, a chopping action like the title says.

This guy looks wobbly and he’s not even holding a big heavy ball!

Bosu and stability ball planks.

You know how I feel about planks, right? Well, doing them using a bosu or the big ball instead of the floor – so now I have learned to hate them in a whole new way.

The good part? Only had to hold them for 30 seconds.

The last exercise was called “dead bug on the floor.”

I swear.

On my back, knees to chest, arms in the air, and then extend opposite arm and leg back and forth, back and forth.

Despite lots of wobbles, arm-waving, near-crashes, I’ve enjoyed this ballsy workout, too. For whatever reason, these strange balancing acts produce an all-new endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment.

Dead bugs, dead-lifts – it is not ours to wonder why. (Think I won’t quote the next line, though).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I moved back to this community not too long ago.

The gym I live in used to be a grocery store – way back in the last century when I attended a nearby high school.

My friends and I would dash out every noon hour, race through the fields (now full of houses), over the small hill to the grocery store which had a tiny short-order grill in the basement (now full of barbells).

We’d pool our cash to buy french fries and cokes, when we weren’t dieting – which was often.

As I was hefting iron the other night, I recalled one noteworthy food plan: the apple and chocolate milk diet, our rationale being that we needed fruit, milk was a protein, and chocolate – well, we were teenagers. 

Despite the strange circle of life resonance here, I would like to think I am embarking on this health/strength/and yes, weight loss endeavour today with better information, a better attitude, and a different vision of success.

Still, I do think fondly, and a little sadly, about my actually quite slim and athletic teenage self, active and happy yet convinced I was fat – even before the current redefinition of female beauty – ie. verging on skeletal.

I was on the track, volleyball and basketball teams; I loved to move, compete, sweat. I look at that girl now and see athlete – strong, fast, fit and healthy despite the daily teenage junk food habit. And the weird diets.

The chocolate milk thing seems to have stuck through the years. I have a tiny addiction for it, and have, like many, believed somehow that drinking calories didn’t really count in the same way that cake or fries do.

Stefan explained one day that the individual bottles of chocolate milk contain something like the equivalent of 32 sugar-cubes. I looked it up on nutrition sites – he was right.

So here we are. Back in the grocery store/gym, still selling chocolate milk, with an older, occasionally wiser me still working it out.

While weight loss is on the agenda, I know I think about it differently now. I am looking at whole health – from what I put in my mouth to how I move in the gym to what’s going on in my head. I am hoping for better results than the apple/choco diet.

Monday’s workout with Stefan was a repeat of the ‘modified’ workout I’ve been doing, involving:

  • hamstring curls on stability ball
  • hip raises on said ball
  • rows
  • deadlifts
  • lunges
  • planks

I arrived there with my brain revved up into overdrive. Spin, spin, and more spin.

Ever seen a skinny hamster? Think about it...

Stefan picked up on my mental hamster-wheel  immediately and worked in a few new intro exercises to help me focus, shake it off, and ground myself in the here and now of the workout.

So it was good. I felt lots better, and texted him as much later, to which he replied, “It was too easy. lol.”

I’m not laughing.

He also let me know we were moving into the next phase of his plan tomorrow: the fat burning phase, also known as building muscle endurance. Tomato, tomaahto.

In a nutshell, this phase will involve lower weights, lots more reps. He noted, in his mild way, that it would not be easy. Why does this not surprise me one iota?

I am trying to channel my teenage athlete-self now. Not the apple diet obsession. (which, by the way, lasted about a week).

The quality I look back and love to see is fearlessness. A belief that challenge – physical, or otherwise, for that matter – could be met head on.

For the joy of it.

I know I have older bones, muscles, and aches and pains unimaginable at that tender age. I am not delusional – I know I need to take care.

But I also know the biggest workout I do today is mental. I am still working hard to let go of all the ‘inner’ resistance and other mind-traps that clog my spirit. Not all the time. But enough to make me want to keep pressing on, change the way I see and feel, not just the way I move.

It feels right I’m doing a lot of this work on the same stomping ground I went to every day – still seeking, still eating apples, still an athlete – of the heart.

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Since I sometimes feel like a kindergartner in the School of Gym, (despite being in the senior minority there),  I’m resorting to an old nursery rhyme to express the rhythms and contours of this week – and what I learned.

Monday’s child is fair of face.

Modified though the workout supposedly was, it was intense, challenging, sweaty and amazing. It would be a long stretch to describe my often red face, furrowed with concentration, as fair, exactly.

But I was happy – I had an odd sense of lightness, and the good kind of exhaustion, driving home.

At one point, I stopped singing old rock tunes along with the radio and thanked – out loud – my body for all the good work it has been doing. I sent special gratitude vibes to my legs, in particular my somewhat bunged-up one.

I’ve repeatedly asked these legs – from childhood onward – to run, jump, walk (a lot!), haul me around and now help me lift big heavy barbells, even when they’re hurt. Seemed the least I could do to give thanks.

I don’t believe I’ve gone over the edge (though some might argue that). I just felt a visceral sense of connection to my physical self – battered and sore and powerful – and I felt deeply grateful I am able to do something like this. I think I live in my head a lot, so this was interesting and good.

Wednesday’s child is full of woe. 

Then came the mid-week workout. A full and frantic sort of day at work, racing home to grab gym bag and an apple, mind still pinging around the ever-lengthening ‘to do’ list.

And I threw in a worry or two about the dwindling groceries, the warren of dust bunnies at home, and the fact I was getting my news of the world on Twitter because it’s so quick. Ugh.

Still, I really wanted to be at the gym and repeat Monday’s ’emptying the mind’ experience, sweat out the stress, and maybe break a plank record or two.

Didn’t happen. I was unfocused and distracted, forgot how to do things though this was, in large measure, a repeat of Monday’s routine. I took longer at everything so the 4 supersets from before dropped to 2. And so it went.

I could certainly feel the difference and muttered something to Stefan, who said ‘we’re still in the building phase, doing well’. I guess my disbelief showed.

To which he said, ‘we’re building character’. Oh.

Thursday’s child has far to go. 

And so tonight. A double-header because Stefan is teaching all weekend.

Usually, two in a row is a true double whammy.

But tonight was weigh-in and measuring time. I am working awfully hard to view these as milestones, just a quick look at how everything’s going. Look, listen, learn. Instead of dread, emote with elation or despair, judge. I am happy to say I am indeed making progress on that mental front.

As for the physical – well, let’s note for the record that Christmas serial eating occurred in this month, numerous missed workouts due to holidays and injury, and high tea one day in Toronto.

Also I pretended way too often that giant globs of peanut butter were 1 tbsp, and if spread on an apple were really just fruit, kinda sorta. (fats are quite ok, by the way, essential food, in fact…it’s about balance).

In other words, life happened. And that’s ok.

I didn’t work out tonight. Stefan and I talked about everything, a lot about food, from soup to nuts. In his always-calm, thoughtful way, he once again helped me understand just a little bit more about what I’m doing, why, and reinforcing the need for a positive, conscious mindset. And he gave me some great food tips.

Results: 2 lbs down. Just under an inch lost.

Progress. Not quantum leaps, but not standing still either. I’m doing something here. It’s a life change and it has to work in my life, too.

I have no idea what day of the week I was born on, but I’m going to go with Tuesday’s child on this one and be ‘full of grace’.

 

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I would like my leg to hurry up and heal.

So I can go back to the ‘real’ workout which is suddenly looking like Pleasantville compared to the so-called ‘modified’ one I’m now on. Though, in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ constant lesson plan at the gym, I should zip my lips and carry on.

So what does ‘modified’ look like with Stefan?

For the first couple, there were a lot of stretches mixed in with some ‘heavy lifting’ that didn’t involve the actual barbell – seated cable rows, a free weight or two, and various contortions with the stability ball to strengthen glutes and abs, mostly. (see just one sample maneuver below)

You roll the ball towards you, then back out again, butt in the air (mine's about a half inch off the ground compared to this gal), many reps.

Though I often feel like an idiot with her legs on a big ball, about halfway through I’m often pouring sweat, face clenched, and praying Stefan lost count and we will finish soon. He never does.

So these workouts were good but I didn’t have to wring out my shirt afterwards.

The last couple – while still ‘modified’ (a word that has lost all meaning now) – different ball game, different universe.

After a few intro exercises, down to the weightlifting depths we went.

Most of the workout we spent doing supersets (see link for reminder) – 4 sets of each, on an apparatus that Stefan says is the king of them all. Of course, I had to ask if it did windows. It does not.

It’s called a Freemotion EXT Dual Cable Cross.

Looks like a friendly, welcoming robot, doesn't it? It can make you cry.

What ensued was a no-holds barred, flat-out, MODIFIED workout of:

  • Rows
  • Deadlifts
  • Chest Presses
  • Squats holding a 25 lb weight

Remember, 4 sets of everything, 12 reps, with short rests in between the sets of two exercises.

I was wearing my favourite ‘I believe in donkeys’ t-shirt, proudly advertising the incredible Donkey Sanctuary in Guelph.

It’s a lovely, thin, bamboo fibre shirt I thought would be perfect gym wear. It is, if you want people to ask about donkeys. But it’s not high tech – that fake breathable stuff that was essential on long marathon-prep walks on summer days. Sopping wet, that was me, but I felt rather proud of that sweatfest – my donkey shirt a merit badge for effort.

Back upstairs for some planks (51 seconds and 1 minute!), back extension machine, and, of course, foam rolling and many stretches.

I felt great, just sayin’. I told Stefan I was surprised at what a ‘modified’ workout could be. Tough, the kind of tough where thought ceases. The gym sort of disappears. All of you – mind, heart, and body – galvanizes around the deceptively simple act of lifting, pulling, and breathing.

It’s mindful, not mindless. There are many things to do and consider – or weight-lifting can be dangerous at worst or unproductive at best.

Yet for me it’s also an experience I don’t have often – ever? For those power lift moments, every work issue, ‘to do’ list item, and all of the other ‘stuff’ – good, bad, or indifferent – that we all carry around every day – poof, gone.

Apparently this is a pic of the ashram where the Beatles went, oh so many eons ago.

It’s an extraordinary, though brief, meditation – the gym as ashram. (ok, there’s no rap music and spandex in ashrams, but still…)

Anyway, my comment about the workout earned me a rather withering look. He wondered whether I thought I would be getting a fake workout or spa treatment or something?

Uh, no, guess not. Stefan tailored everything – very deliberately – to what I could do that wouldn’t hurt my leg more, or prevent its recovery, but would challenge me hard because that’s what we do.

Mission accomplished.

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Deja vu all over again

The hamstring, quad and shin pain, especially in my right leg, has persisted, though it’s felt a lot better during the modified Stefan workouts. Time to do the massage intervention Stefan requested.

So, I took the train to Toronto yesterday to see the tough-talking gentle giant rehab massage guy, Bogdan, who worked me over good through my entire marathon training and beyond.

Couldn’t get an appointment locally for a while, and besides, I wanted him to take a look. After all, he’d had an up close and personal relationship with my legs and the beating they took during the zillions of kilometres I power-walked.

It was weird and wonderful to be back in my old ‘hood (his practice is attached to the building I lived in). The look, smell and aura of the place time-traveled me back to the previous ‘long walk’ I’d trained for.

The train was great; but the Tardis...need I say more?

He took it in stride that here I was, nearly 3 years later, again with a walking dream in my head, again with strains and pains.

After hugs and a quick catch-up, back on the table I went while he pounded away, checked out the ‘bad’ leg, which he said was in significant spasm, and gave his advice:

Continue with the deep tissue massage for a time, warm up and stretch longer, eat bananas, drink more water, take magnesium, epsom salt baths…

My pal Thumper.

And use ‘Thumper’, a Draconian-looking device he’d had me buy several years ago that is the next best thing to taking the masseuse home.

Classic Bogdan quote:

“When you first came here, you were a big baby. You got tougher. Now, I can beat the crap out of you and you can take it. You’ll get better.”

I adore him, by the way. So he doesn’t think I have the kind of injury that would require more aggressive medical intervention nor does he think I need to stop.

His thinking lines up with Stefan’s – all good. He accepts, as I do, that ‘s*#t happens when you get physical. No one’s advocating carelessness or ignoring medical issues.

But what I know, and remember from the marathon time, is that there’s *way* more to health, strength and change than walking a lot or showing up at the gym. I think I’m only beginning to understand this – for real.

In a way, the gym is the easy part – at least for me. Ok, easy is not the perfect word. But you show up, you work hard, sweat, and then there’s the other 23 hours in the day to:

  • Eat right. I don’t mean diet. I mean taking seriously the ‘your body is a temple’ message. That’s a seismic mind shift for me – and I still fight it.
  • Drink lots of water. I drink more now in a regular work day than I did on 25k hikes in blazing heat.
  • Stand up straight.
  • Get enough sleep. Chronic problem for me.
  • Do the multiple additional steps required when there is injury to attend to – I have a tendency to do one or two things, usually only for a day or two, and think I’m done.
  • Know your body. Listen to it. Take care of it. It’s gotten you this far despite the abuse. Be kinder to it now – it deserves love!
  • Know your mind. Recognize that it has sublime, enormous power. To keep you back or help you bloom.
  • Be positive – this is not a Hallmark sentiment. It’s much harder than it looks. Trash talk – whether it’s directed to yourself or others – is not helpful.

Health, in the big picture sense of the word, takes time, thought, planning, *doing* and silencing the voice in your head that says, ‘I’ve done enough. I’m too tired. I don’t have time. I’m starving. It’s too boring. Why do I bother? It’s not world peace I’m doing here. And so on.’

I have said a lot of s#*t to myself over the years. I’m guessing I’ve said my fair share of s#*t to Bogdan and Stefan, too. I could star in one of those ubiquitous “SH*T people say to: fill in the blank” videos.

You’ve seen these, right? In case you haven’t, here’s one I had to pause twice because I was laughing too hard to hear it – not that I recognized myself at *all* in any of this…

S*#t Women Say to their Personal Trainers.

 

 

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Benched

Just for a little while. No treadmill. Not even the low-impact cross-trainer.

After days of icing, epsom salt baths, Advil, no pounding runs, I still have pain that wakes me at night, from hamstring to knees to shins. It hurts to drive. And sit at a desk. Since these two activities take up a lot of my day, something new had to be done.

So last night, Stefan ran me through a series of movement tests, asked a lot of questions, watched me carefully, poked around (literally) on various muscles, (which caused anguished yelps from me) – all of which spoke to him about what might be going on.

He thinks that significant (think Gordian knots) tightness in my quads has caused my hamstring to – well, do something, perhaps overcompensate? And that action reverberates into the front of my leg – anyone ever had shin splints?

I will still do the Stefan workouts, though these will also be different, for now.

Very politically incorrectly, I called last night’s session a girly girl routine, because I could see it was going to involve stretchy cables, stability balls, and no lifting.

Visions of rhythmic gymnastics (calm down, RG fans, and I know there must be some out there, I realize those women could probably kick my butt and twice on Sundays). But come on, does it look like an Olympic sport?

Ok, can the human body even go in that position??

Stefan coolly informed me the workout would simply be ‘modified, not diminished.

Of course, it was tougher than I expected. And much foam rolling was involved afterwards.

No free passes in Stefan world.

He also told me to go for rehab massage – something I did regularly in the marathon days. Continue icing. Drink water. Other stuff.

So, how did I feel about all this? Not great, and I thought I’d better take a closer look and try to figure it out.

Frustration, impatience, tiredness, annoyance both at having to slow the journey down, perhaps a lot, and also fit in one more ‘thing’ to try to ‘fix’ me, and finally, a sense of impotence. Despite everything I’d given to focus on health, strength, and empowerment, internally and externally, this had happened, and at a pretty early stage of the journey.

Not pretty. I decided not to stay mired in the slough of despond. What could I learn here? How could I think differently about this – in a positive way?

Look, I know in the scheme of things, this injury is a mosquito bite. Some people – many, I expect – deal with far more extreme challenges or limitations with grace, determination, some form of spirit strength that’s often quite breathtaking, I find. So that wasn’t me yesterday. Not at first.

I thought more. I banished the ‘I’m just not good at this’ talk. I made a massage appointment.

And, I found – again – a wonderfully fitting message in the current Camino book I’m reading called Walk in a Relaxed Manner, by Joyce Rupp.

Joyce had just turned 60 when she walked the full Camino with a friend. At first, they both tried to go quickly, keep up with the younger pilgrims, always pushing to get to the next town as fast as possible, their measure of value expressed in miles traveled, how fast they reached a chosen destination. They were hurtin’, but pushed on.

A former pilgrim e-mailed her in response to her query about blisters. He said ‘drink more water and walk in a relaxed manner’.

She got the message – her ‘life lesson’, from the first week on the Camino, was, to coin an old one, ‘stop and smell the roses’.

She began to walk a new way. Her blisters and pain went away; and in came peace and a much more contented pilgrimage.

She made it to Santiago. So will I.

 

 

 

 

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