Sing it Back

…ooh look, it’s two days into a new month and I’ve not put my belt on yet. Dun worry, that’ll all change tomorrow. For now, it’s probably time to celebrate last month’s achievement.

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4611 MEP’s to beat… that’s gonna take some work. I could strap on the belt 24/7, I suppose, but that rather defeats the object of the exercise. What’s needed here is CONSISTENCY, which is really quite easy to work on. Keep the rest days, know when it’s appropriate not to push, and ensure that there’s a proper balance between cardio and strength training.

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I always knew today would need to be an enforced rest day, and undoubtedly as we get closer to Christmas there will be other days where it is impossible to fit in the exercise required. If there’s a feeling on Tuesday morning there’s enough energy to catch up on today’s missed work I will, but it’s more likely to be a gimme. 22 days out of 31 with summat is brilliant. 

The aim is 20 days minimum on the calendar for November.

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With the news breaking yesterday that Google’s bought Fitbit, you’ll all soon be able to see my data, all over the interwebs without me needing to do screencaps… ^^ Until the changeover happens, I have plenty of opportunities to work on that 12k a day step total. If I wondered why I was so wiped after Wednesday night this week, I reckon almost 20k including a Blaze with hill incline runs probably had summat to do with it…

That’s tomorrow’s task too, with some heavy lifting thrown in for good measure. Why am I doing all this again…?

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However, I will be very much enjoying not having exercised today, oh yes…

Work That Body

Apologies for absence yesterday, but I’m on a bit of a mission. Now this new desk is set up, and the new machine pretty much established, it is time to get a long-ignored set of issues done and dusted. Over a decade’s worth of detritus needs to be organised, much of it removed. Right now most of that is sitting in the middle of the front room. That’s Saturday afternoon’s task after the Gym. Speaking of which…


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Every exercise session I do with my heart-rate belt gives me a MYZONE Effort Point (MEP) score: August was the low water mark, for obvious reasons. I have another five days of exercise to do, and that should then exceed that monthly exercise total. It has been a really interesting week too, with some quite distinct improvements in both fitness and ability.

Those of you paying attention will know I have a historical hip injury that’s being treated with physiotherapy. In the last week, legs have been pushed a lot, especially on gradients, and the effect that had on my left side, particuarly on Thursday, was significant. In fact, at one point, it was as if that entire side was so hot it could be burning. There wasn’t pain, which is still a surprise… but that sensation was not pleasant.

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The highlight undoubtedly was Thursday.

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It should be noted that there’s not a single red minute in any of this. That’s only seven of yellow effort too… so why is this so good? I wasn’t tired at all: there was constant, sustained effort, and good use of both weights and exercises. I split jumped for the first time, and ran on an eight percent incline for thirty seconds. Thursday was a day of solid, undeniable progress.

I’m also raring to go this morning, once I’ve knocked some chores off and cleared a portion of the pile of stuff to my left. Enthusiasm to work has never been a real issue: problems would arise not being strong enough to do what I wanted to do. That is no longer a problem. The strength is here.

That’s all that is really needed.

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When I began my exercise journey, there were blog posts about it. In fact, if you go search my archive, you’ll find them. Things were considerably simpler back then, which seems quite bizarre right now to say, considering how much fear was felt. A great deal has changed in that intervening couple of years, not just my attitude towards working hard. The most significant change however is an ability to pull feelings from head to page without their inherent substance altering.

Let us begin this new venture therefore by looking at my year thus far using only the monitoring tools at my disposal.

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The Fitbit on my wrist has been on there for 51 of 52 weeks: there’s a small gap at the end of December when the Christmas present failed and needed replacement. That graph tells you when I was ill this year (March and August) and despite its monitoring shortfalls, is a pretty decent record of how hard I’ve worked. Since switching to a heart monitor, the actual scope of effort’s been far better recorded.

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For a time, this Fitbit became no more than a glorified pedometer. Using a heart rate belt for every piece of organised exercise is great for effort, but doesn’t recognise all the times my belt isn’t on. Therefore the concept of Active Minutes is gaining more prominence, especially on days when I’m not on a treadmill or lifting weights. This week’s benchmark therefore is 316 active minutes in the first four days of work. Once we have a seven day total, that’s going to guide thinking going forward.

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Then, there’s that ever-elusive Red Zone in my exercise classes. I tried on Thursday after Wednesday’s success but didn’t get close: it wasn’t a mental issue. I was just fucked. The best chance that exists to pull red minutes is when a) the workout is geared towards things I can get my heart-rate up for or b) I cheat. Wednesday night, that’s what I did. I just ran for 4 minutes and BOOM there I am.

Going forward therefore, it might be time to reassess some goals.

If weight loss is my key, this is probably the moment to start reassessing what my basal metabolic rate is being fuelled by. I don’t like using MyFitnessPal to keep a calorie goal but if I wanna get the weight to vanish, it might be the moment. All those people who tell me that knowledge is power aren’t having to fight nearly as many internal demons as me either, I’d wager. There’ll still be the occasional slice of cake. I’m not an idiot.

Learning to form good habits is one of the things I’ve been subconsciously doing for months. These are the kind of positive steps that need to be implemented as we head towards Christmas… and that’s why there’s a header for these posts. Once a week, on a Saturday, we’ll go through the week’s exercise and look where we are. Yes, there may even be a Bridget Jones’ style weigh in.

It gives me the chance to talk about other stuff in the week than getting fit.

Three

On July 7th, 2016 (it was Thursday) my PT, who I’d been seeing for a month, asked me to weigh myself at the Gym for accountability. Three years on, there are some interesting numbers to digest, as another significant exercise milestone is reached.

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My Fitbit is no longer primary means by which attainment is judged, however (hello MyZone, heart-rate belts beat all comers hands down) but having said that, those cumulative numbers are pretty cool. Still gotta go some to beat the 50k at Ride London last year, but that may yet happen over the Summer if I set myself the goal. Notional achievement like this is useful. Yes, you have the stamina to do A BIG THING. 

Others appreciate and respect shows of strength like this.

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This snapshot however is the most useful one of all, as it is the baseline from which I’ve worked from since Day One. The fat mass metric should, ideally remain at zero, considering my current numbers and therefore losing a kilo and a half is totally acceptable. That fat percentage number is most interesting of all.  Still got a fair way to go. Most of my actual weight loss came before confidence to ask for help existed…

The bigger issue however is nothing to do with numbers.

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Mentally, all of this can be a fucking HUGE ask. The day you have a ton of other stuff that piles into your brain and effects everything, to then go and work your arse off can simply be an action too much. It isn’t physical energy required to do the work, but a mental ability; often far more of a struggle when self-confidence wavers. If you’re lucky enough to be one of those people for whom mental toughness isn’t an issue, I salute you.

I call myself an idiot far more often than is healthy. Blaming yourself is easy when the numbers don’t move, or you miss out on something other people seem to achieve with ease. When I’m in these dark mental places, it is the bigger picture that always matters more. Do something. Just keep going. Finish the class. Sure, your numbers won’t look stellar, but they’re still numbers. Doing it well is better than doing nothing.

Everything adds to slow, notional progress.

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Today’s gonna be a tough ask when I get to the Gym. I’m still going, and I’ll work as hard as possible. After that, everything else is a bonus.

Forward is the only direction.

Golden Brown

Hello July.

I could have come home and started working today but as it happens, going to the Gym was my first choice, so summat major’s changed between last week and this. I know exactly what it is: back muscles are no longer an issue. The long-term, historic pain from lower part of my spine that’s existed since an epidural slipped during Emergency C-Section for Child #1 is no longer bothering me.

Sure, it’s still a niggle, but now there’s back strength that did not exist before. That’s because I’m practising negatives for a couple of key exercises, both of which I cannot do well. Sit ups have always been a problem because of that lower back weakness, and if I want to start doing pull ups any time soon, my push up game needs some serious beefing up. Therefore, I’ve been following a particular plan of action.

I’ll warm up, then it’s off to a mat to do three lots of negative push ups, with three lots of ten negative sit ups in between. My PT will attest that body weight exercises are probably the most important thing you will ever do to build sustainable core strength, but for me it is the shoulder improvements the push ups are highlighting that’s the more useful takeaway.

Where the sit ups help enormously is when running, where what used to be an enormous physical effort is being quietly reduced both in stress and heart-rate. I’m noticing the difference as stamina kicks in too, that what used to be frantic out of breathness reduces slowly to controlled, far less panicky lung balance. We’ll do a comparable bike session this evening to see how much that’s improved in the last month too.

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The temptation for many people when trying to improve their physical shape is to go all out and wear themselves out without managing the other elements of a decent exercise regime: proper food and rest. That means that I’m trying my hardest not to snack for the next 31 days, whilst provisioning rest days in a different way. This month, that part of the equation should not be a problem at all.

I’ll be out of the country for one weekend, at a conference for another plus there’s a couple of other occasions when going to the Gym is simply not practical. Out of 31 days, eight are already marked out as booked. So, it’s time to get the planner out and provision what happens between the downtime. I don’t think what I’ve organised is unreasonable, and it’s certainly not out of my comfort zone. I just need to stick to it.

Planning works for the writing, so let’s see if I can stick to it when exercise is introduced into the equation. Now it’s online, I’m accountable and it has to happen.

Let’s see how it goes.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

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Once upon a time, two hours walking was my limit. It was a massive achievement to be able to do so and not stop for a rest, yet at the end be so tired that I’d need a lie down. Yesterday, it flew by. I was full of energy, really wasn’t aware I’d been out for so long. The key however, to showing a largely grey workout at this point is to state that I burnt nearly 500 calories on this task.

That’s the equivalent of a 45 minute Blaze class.

How it affects each individual body is different, of course, but this is a heart rate monitor recording and NOT your wrist. I stupidly managed to delete the Fitbit record of this walk, but it very much erroneously recorded it via a heart rate glitch at nearly 800 calories. The only truly reliable means of confirming effort is using a chest strap, for obvious reasons. The fact remains, however, two hours active is a bunch of work.

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I’ll be off to the Gym shortly: probably gonna do a HIIT run, lift weights and do core work. It is only by the process of continued effort that this level of fitness can be maintained, and I certainly have no desire to let anything drop going forward. Understanding that ALL exercise is beneficial however is the biggest takeaway from the last two months, and that my wrist monitor has other uses.

It may not be an accurate indicator of heart-rate, but the step count feature is what keeps errant brain on the straight and narrow. Knowing I need to move, completed 12k steps a day, got up once an hour and at least done something… those basics are the building blocks of long-term fitness. It stops distraction in other tasks, reminds that there needs to be thought and choices during your day.

The Fitbit really has been a life-changer, all told.

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However, right now I’m not wearing it. It’s charging, and occasionally it is liberating not to do a class with the perennial thrall of progress on your wrist. Here’s where wearable tech ultimately falls down: being permanently beholden to your step count can put some people off the benefits of being fitter by their own design. Learning to let go does happen over time, however: once you know you’re the one in charge…

It also helps that I’m not proving anything to anybody but myself when exercising.

Saturday

Ah, at last…

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An issue with my sciatic nerve made yesterday a bit of a trial, but (as was predicted) I’ve woken up this morning to being largely pain free. This is the benefit of letting properly trained professionals look after your body, and trusting that they will, with time and effort, bring everything to a state of acceptable harmony. Pain’s a tough subject to broach with many, and the realisation that if you’re prepared to suffer it to help yourself be free from it long term… often, that’s the ask most people aren’t willing to even begin.

Not all pain is bad, you know.

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Well now you put it like that… but seriously, when it comes to the process of pushing yourself to greater gains, there is a point where physical discomfort is pretty much a given. To build muscle mass you quite literally rip your body’s muscle fibres apart allowing them to reconstruct themselves as stronger. In my case, by doing so, my poor left hand side (which has always been problematic) yesterday had a portion of nerve fibre caught in said tissue.

The process of this continuous reconstruction also relies on you not just working the major muscle groups in arms and legs: your core (all the muscles that surround your torso with their connecting areas to your limbs) need to be as strong as everything else: if they’re not, you’ll inevitably suffer issues, and that’s where I’m at right now. Arms and legs can do the business, but unless you work on core strength, a lot of the potential is simply lost.

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After decades of sedentary activity, there are inevitably going to be stones in the road. If I couldn’t cope with pain, I wouldn’t have gotten this far. It isn’t just muscle aches, or physiotherapy, but the real physical issues that having a reduced lung capacity initially caused on building stamina, and the mental pain when things simply get too hard to overcome. That’s the moment where you increase your tolerance for discomfort, and simply push on through.

Random bruises appear and are summarily ignored. Footwear is a priority, and if it doesn’t properly support the right parts of my foot it has become effectively useless. The journey from casual participant to hardcore gym goer was largely seamless, and it now means that as soon as this and my archive posts are done, it’s off for a 45 minute HIIT run. It will get really hard (and quite possibly painful) at about the 35 minute mark but it doesn’t matter. We’ll push through today, because the leg is up for it.

The key is knowing when good pain becomes bad.

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If that’s a discussion that confuses you, and you’re of the mindset that pain is just bad… we need to have a chat over a beer or seven. Yes, there is good pain, and pushing past both that and preconceptions of what you are capable of is the first step into a far larger universe.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some exercise to do.