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.ย 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.ย 

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.ย  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.ย 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.

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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 stateย 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.ย 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.

Big Time

It was GLORIOUS to walk to PT yesterday with Spring happening all around me. It’ll be a while before bad weather is a memory, I suspect, but this will do for now.ย Yesterday is also a line in the sand: to lift heavier weights, and make proper progress, I have to throw away everything that’s been learnt and start again. I need my feet elevated to lift with enough back on the bench. I have to readjust arm position to compensate. It has to come from my arms as back needs to be more planted when it isn’t, and that’s the task to fix.

Needless to say, brain is still processing what is a seismic step forward.

Also, yesterday I was doing TRX planks with hands on balls. No, I dunno either.

[Note, this guy only using one ball. I have one under each hand. I have officially gone hard bastid fitness.]

It is a real struggle some days to grasp the most basic of exercises. Burpees are a case in point.

It is really easy to see why this movement is hated so much, because of the amount of work you are required to put into what should be a simple set of movements. I’m still very much a Burpee Beginner, mostly because speed is a really big issue, and explosive power does not come naturally. However, now I will do them, whereas before it just did not compute.ย I’m not sure how planking using a TRX and medicine balls became easy but burpees are hard, but it is what it is.

It gives me summat to do that is guaranteed to get my heart-rate up whatever happens.

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Heart rate elevation is, undoubtedly, the key. I can walk all I want, and yeah it will burn calories, but this is not about that level of effort. What is required is above the nominal threshold for fat burn, added to which what is eaten on any given day. If I can get both things right, then there’s a definite change in my progress… and yup, it’s already working. The big girl training pants are most definitely on.

Time to get working.

This is It

I walked to the Gym this morning for the first time in a while: pavements were slippery and required some thought, sky was the Winter Blue of post-storm optimism, and my hip and back were not happy. However, after an hour of exercise, and some heavy weights, things have definitely improved. It has taken a few days to grasp the transformation that has taken place since August: it is also apparent that to make the next step forward, it will be diet that has to change.

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On considered research, I’m going to replace lunch every day with a Huel shake. This will continue to provide a protein hit, but reduce my normal food intake (hopefully) enough to kick-start the fat burning processes. This also appeases that part of me which knows only too well that to save the planet I need to be eating less meat and more plants.ย I’ve enough cash left after Christmas to afford 4 week’s supply, which means January’s food intake is sorted.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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It was genuinely scary getting on the scales on Friday. I’ll do it again after Christmas, but not before. Food logging’s about to get very serious indeed, because to lose what needs to vanish, there’s gotta be a whole lotta hard work. I’m ready for all this.

This has become the most unexpected of transformations.

The Comfort of Strangers

This article appeared at an apposite moment this morning, after a night of Blaze which was, for the first time, questioned as being worthwhile.

I went to Blaze without any kind of body monitoring: Fitbit was left at home, no heart rate belt was borrowed. The freedom this gave was, it must be said, quite considerable, and that’s the first point to make. This class’ main selling point is showing youย  EXACTLY how much work you’ve done.ย I’ve monitored my exercise via heart rate monitors for seven years in January. SEVEN YEARS.ย I don’t need to know sometimes. It’s just more liberating not having the silent judgement there as an ever-present, waggling finger. If I am only in competition with myself, last night giving my mind a night off was a very sound idea.

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The second point is the notion of ‘enjoyment’: my husband asked last night if the class was fun. No, it wasn’t. I was so tired at the end everything hurt, struggled doing every exercise and even the running/jogging was, quite frankly, horrendous. At the end all that was wanted was sleep, and I couldn’t, because brain frankly refused to ramp down from the stress that was generated. However, this time around, that manifested far less externally and considerably more internally.

So, why bother if this is the result? Well, there’s been an important realisation overnight, meaning I am glad that the effort was made. This isn’t about the exercise, or the heart rate recording, or indeed around the other people that are taking part. Last night’s class was only seven people, and even with the reduction in numbers there was no change in the level of internal panic. This really is about how my brain processes information, and the translation of that into action.

My stress generates from what I’m being asked to do.

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I’ve been taught by three people thus far, all of whom have been informed in advanceย  about my comprehension issues. They all have been faultless in not only support but encouragement, but all of this is irrelevant. My frustration is the translation of what is seen into what needs to be done, and that it takes so much mental effort to transform that into the associated physical actions. So, this week in Blaze class I learnt that enjoyment may never ever happen if brain takes everything as an exercise in accuracy and perfection.

The biggest problem, it appears, is trying to achieve what subconscious considers as perfect.

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I’m booked for next week, and in the intervening period there’ll be some thought given to how enjoyment can be obtained, or whether it is in fact obtainable at all. The amount I have learnt since this journey was begun has far exceeded expectation, and makes a push out of the comfort zones more than worthwhile. Maybe if this were a younger me there could be the thought of being less harsh on myself… Life has become worth living thanks to the constant reminders just how miserable I was in the days when nothing was ever done that was frightening.

I was the problem, back then.ย Sure, there’s lots of other stuff that can be blamed, but ultimately had I know realised that it was up to me? We’d not be here at all. So, when you are capable of not only accepting shortcomings, but prepared to push past them… that’s what has to happen. Eventually, if the time is taken to listen to your own mind and soul, there are solutions.

The biggest problem of all, of course, is explaining this rationally to other people.