Change

Day Three of having a piece of exercise equipment that can support my weight. I could have gone and found a tree in the woods over there [/points] and really would have. The benefits of lifting my own body weight have already been shown with press-up practice. Now, however, I can do this after a brief walk outside and honestly, it’s a game changer.

My shoulders have always been the weak link in my chain of arm muscles. However, this morning I can feel improvement everywhere. Resistance bands will build muscle and sculpt, but I need some beef in my arms. Legs are getting a daily workout, and that needs to happen with both arms and core. The pull up bar gives most to one and some to the other.

Therefore I need to put together some daily core ‘maintenance’ which will allow me to keep everything in a comparable state, because your core is the key to making everything operate effectively. Fortunately, there’s been a bit of that floating around the curated feeds this week. This means planks, bird-dogs, squats and lunges, plus what my Trainer calls ‘happy knees’ as a daily sub for the push ups.

This is not going to be pleasant, nor should it be.

Yes, I’m also thinking about making walks into jogs, but this is early days and yes they will be baby steps and it will be what lungs dictate first and nothing else, because experience now tells me it’s those muscle groups that need the most work. Core will help with that too. I am also thinking that perhaps I need to relearn how I breathe, if that’s not a massively ridiculous statement in the first place.

There’s definitely some work that needs doing: slow is possible, controlled is doable but finding a way to be active and still keep going is the next step forward. This might explain why swimming is such a had ask when it’s going underwater where I struggle most. Knowing your shortcomings is good, kids. It helps iron out so many other kinks in the lifestyle.

Fear is part of the journey.

The Race

Forget for a moment that there’s a pandemic going on, that this is NATIONAL TEA DAY (how did I not know that?) or that I woke up after the best night’s sleep for about a week with a bloody dehydration headache… yesterday was GREAT. Really, exercise great, VERY AWESOME, in a way that I’d forgotten. The difference isn’t the routines. It’s me. Somewhere between last week and this, something has shifted.

In order to shave about 30 seconds off my previous sprint record, there actually needed to be some effort exerted.

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HELLO Z4, it’s been a while, and although that 49 seconds may not seem like much, it’s pretty significant. It also corresponds with a wattage output I’ve not seen for a while. That’s the physical effort you shove into pedalling. Normally, I’m struggling to maintain 120 watts on the bike: last night I effectively doubled that. It was hard to hold, but undoubtedly the strength is coming.

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Speed’s not really a great indicator of power when cycling: I can top 70kph going downhill, hardly pedalling. The highs in those stats above are various: 262 watts is close to my husband’s basic output, but my FTP right now is only 119. That’s the first time since Lockdown I’ve seen 155 bpm on my belt and to hit 105 RPM was really an achievement. The last few weeks I’ve been pushing to get my cadence to sit in the 80’s without effort, and I’m still not really there. 77 is about my average.

What made that ride different however was the exercise session that preceded it.

We only have one weight in the house, a 12kg Kettlebell, which is a struggle for me to use as a one handed weight to lift above my head… or at least it was, until yesterday. If I wanted evidence upper body strength is improving then I have it after yesterday’s hour, which was genuinely a hard ask. I’m still doing push ups and rollouts with a wheel, every day, and we’re up to 60 of the former and 40 of the latter.

Depending on how long this all goes on, I can see those numbers increasing again. It is getting easier, there is no denying the fact. Everything is getting stronger. The only thing I’ve not yet had the nerve to do is weigh myself. I think we’ll start making Fridays the weigh in day. Then there’s no escaping the fact I still have a job to do, even in the depths of mental stress and trauma.

This physical body is not going to improve itself.

Round and Round

Regulars will have heard me talking a lot about Zwift in the last month, since training at the Gym became impossible and I got a bit nervous about going out on my own. My husband is an avid cyclist: he completed the inaugural Ride London (and every one since, though we are predicting this years will yet be cancelled in August and are looking forward to be proven wrong.)

That means, in the shed at the bottom of our garden where the ironing happens and music is played, there are two static trainers, and over the last month I’ve been doing my best to get back to the form I possessed a few years ago that helped me complete the shorter form of Ride London (the 46) for charity. It’s not a ‘pain cave’ as the Zwift people like to call it. It’s therapy. This is what is helping me keep positive.

It is a new, and quite different experience from what has come before.

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I am very much aware I am a VERY long way away from the ‘pro’ training users that Zwift is targeting in that video above. This is not about massive gainz or training for races. It is trying to find the way I can stay fit, and remain mentally comfortable whilst doing so. Being socially isolated because of my health, I’ll be honest, is beginning to get to me, as I suspect is the case for many others.

I would really like to be running on a treadmill and lifting weights. I miss the rubbish dance music soundtrack someone else clearly thinks is motivational. I miss my friends terribly. Writing those three sentences has been enough to reduce me to tears, so it is fair to say that any reasonable substitute for all of these would be great. Zwift gives me the illusion of lots of people, and the certainty that behind each avatar is someone who may well feel the same way I do.

Even if they don’t, I can imagine they are frightened and uncertain too.

My husband keeps encouraging me to chat whilst riding, but it currently takes all the brain power possessed just to ride. I’m not even sure there’d be that much to talk about  with all the serious and clearly far fitter people anyway: as I literally crawl around the courses at 1.2w, one assumes such endeavours are paid scant attention. All the courses and special events do, in all honesty, make me a bit nervous.

I didn’t come here to win things. That’s not what this is about: there needed to be a place where exercise could happen, to a soundtrack of my choosing, where effort could be monitored, recorded and then improved. Last night, discovering the Free Ride function meant I got to choose the effort, and Zwift simply provided a backdrop. For an hour I felt more free and relaxed than has been the case since this real life nightmare began.

That alone is worth more than than could be currently quantified.

Right now, I am (pitifully) slowly grinding my avatar to max level. You are awarded XP for finishing rides, custom workouts and group events. I also discovered that all the different courses grant extra XP if you complete them, and last night began a journey that will take months to complete at the speed I ride. That’s absolutely fine. It is a notional goal that grants motivation for attainment, and is exactly what is required right now.

This has never been a sprint, and at 53 maybe I can aim for the occasional best time going forward, but that’s never why this is happening. Mental wellness, right now, matters more than the level of fitness, that’s just a bonus. In what can be quite a dark and lonely place on some days, Zwift grants me a purpose, and is the constant reminder that there has to be something other than just leg days.

Eventually, I will climb high enough for the Tron Bike too.

Eventually.

Run for Home

I’ll be ditching my Fitbit over Christmas, because no Google, not happening. Instead, I’ll be picking up a Garmin watch. I’ve been doing some research on what the new system brings me, and it’s already getting me quite excited.

Last night’s Blaze was also a triumph, despite the fact my mouth’s still fucking painful. When I’m told to run at 8/10 for three minutes and not go balls out, a part of my brain quietly celebrates. The irony of course was that I was the only person doing what was asked of them last night. Everybody else struggled. Regulation has become my real, abiding strength.

Yesterday’s workout was also notable for another reason.

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Yes, I ceased to exist at 8.05 :D That drop out is why I’m in blue at 7.44 too: my belt is not happy holding charge right now. It could also be the belt, after a year of use, that’s not optimal, it may be time to investigate that as a possible reason. Despite this, that’s a 77% effort score, closer to 8/10 than seven. Nine minutes of aerobic threshold run was, it must be said, the most satisfying part of all.

It makes me want to now run in three minute bursts, with active recovery in between, to see how long I can go. That’s certainly a game plan going forward. It’s not running at particularly high speed either, just 7 kph. It is why cycling has such massive potential for stamina training too: being able to keep going, for long periods at a time, is massively helpful. Except always, ultimately, I am at a disadvantage.

Lung capacity is the intractable that must be managed.

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There is nothing that can be done about the shortcomings of my body. There’s no way to undo the damage of pneumonia and poor lung function. All I can hope is to maintain a certain level of fitness, and hope that is enough to allow an increase in both strength and capacity. It would help if I could find a peak flow meter to check whether anything has improved on that front since September.

Never tidy anything up, kids.

50 Words for Snow

This weekend was always planned to be off the exercise grid. I’ve worked stupidly hard across the last couple of months, and really need to reorganise my exercise plans. Therefore, this afternoon, there’s a calendar that’s been completed.

Rest is becoming the most important part of my planning. Having put that into my calendar first, twice a week, makes fitting the rest of my work around it easy. I also want to add more bike into the schedule, to start training with my husband who’s now back to full fitness after his operation. Eleven days in December’s a decent figure to aim for in terms of attainment, and makes for a solid foundation to build on in January.

After that, there’s a lot of psychology at play which needs to be addressed.

This article is an absolute corker: so much so I’ve copied the thirteen headers into a list and stuck them on the wall as reminders. Number 6 might be the most important one of all: avoid making judgements about your day first thing in the morning. This is so utterly true for so many things, not just exercise. I can remember a lot of days that went south because of me making a dumb decision before the first caffeine had kicked in.

Using this as a basis, I can make a strong effort to beat my monthly exercise total for October. There’s also the matter of becoming Gold status on the MyZone belt once the minimum number of MEPs is reached, which should be some time in the first ten days of next month. It doesn’t matter how they happen, just as long as they do, and that’s really not ever going to be a problem.

I’ll see you next week for an update.

Happy

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.

Running on Ice

Okay then, time to be honest.

We are reaching a crossroads in the training regime. I used to kid myself I’d go and ‘run’ at the Gym, but actually it was all HIIT work, no more than 500 meters at a time. Then Blaze came along and suddenly I was forced to run for 3 minutes at a time without a break. That forced a rethink. So now, I try and run a KM at a time, with a break. This is proving quite hard.

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The red line there is my heart-rate, which sat steadfastly in the amber zone when flat out and does not appear to be capable of hitting red which is absolutely fine because honestly, I would have hurled. That, today was 1km on, 1km off, and me getting to 800 meters before my lungs pretty much told me to fuck off. I’m not sure how this gets broken, to be honest, other than exhaustion, recovery and then the same again. Building stamina is hateful. Yet, undoubtedly, something has begun to change.

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I’ve booked a second Blaze class. Not gonna lie, it is because the teacher made me feel really comfortable, and there’s a definite positive to having someone else teach me other than my PT. My membership supports this so frankly, it’s time to get my money’s worth. If it all works out next week, I’ll reorganise January’s exercise around the change. What needs to happen is more pushing, and less slacking, though considering the number of hours I now do, maybe a bit of slacking can go on over Christmas without getting too stressed.

We’ll have an overview at the end of December, i think.

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 you  EXACTLY how much work you’ve done. I’ve monitored my exercise via heart rate monitors for seven years in January. SEVEN YEARS. 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 advance  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. 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.

Hot Stuff

I need a weights-themed header. I’ll get on that.

The last time, up until this time last week, that I’d done an organised exercise class was shortly after the birth of the eldest. That was eighteen years ago. My local health emporium has recently trashed the two squash courts adjacent to their Gym facilities and built a room in which, I now discover, a peculiar form of torture takes place. Blaze, as the lovely promotional video indicates, is a particularly viscous combination of running, weights and hitting stuff. All this is done with an element of theatre and some quite loud dance music accompaniment.

To support my current PT (whose job going forward will be to run a weekly class) there was a promise to at least try a session. It was, without a doubt, one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done. After thirty three minutes came the first total sensory overload experienced since the ASD diagnosis in June, and I almost ran out of the room. Only then did I realise that you’re locked in, presumably as a means of protecting the rather expensive range of equipment enclosed within.

So, why am I now booked in for my second class tomorrow, you may ask?

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Part of that decision was to do with the support I was given by the secondary trainer who’ll be taking tomorrow’s class (as my PT’s on annual leave) after my unscheduled exit from the room. Not only was she receptive to my issues when told, she suggested breaking the sequences down into stages. Each ’round’ in a full class of 24 includes a section running, lifting and punching (with a TRX Suspension kit presumably used in tandem.) Learning the sequence of exercises is tough when you have so little time, especially for the woman with deficiency in learning abilities who struggles when presented with an excess of sensory input.

My PT has also reinforced this commitment to making the process work by helping introduce me to basic skills required in future weeks, especially in the field of mixed martial arts. Without both of these ladies’ care and commitment, I’d not be going back. To make sure they get the correct amount of thanks at the right level, after this blog is done (and it’s taken almost a week to pull thoughts together) I’ll be e-mailing the Club to extend my gratitude personally. I’ve bought my own gloves, pulled out my ANT-compatible Heart Rate monitor, and tomorrow we aim to complete one round of the process well.

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It is very easy to place obstacles in your path when trying to change long-term habits. For some time now finding the means to push mind out of comfort zones has been a challenge: Blaze presents me with two unique problems to overcome. Firstly, there is the physical intensity of a class that demands a great deal in terms of effort to ensure long-term benefit. More importantly, there is the mental challenges of taking instructions, acting on them, and doing what needs to be done well. Only by being able to combine both of these successfully will there be any meaningful progress.

It was also quite amusing, the morning after my first class, to be sent an e-mail by the club congratulating me on ‘smashing’ the session. I appreciate the elements of theatre and self-congratulation that marketing clearly thinks will make me feel better about myself, but it’s completely pointless. You don’t know how awful I felt not finishing. You don’t understand how hard this is to rationalise. A generic e-mail is not the way to make me feel good about my progress. That revelation came from real people. Perhaps there could be more focus on the people training and less bells and whistles going forward.

I don’t need exercise as distraction: to embrace it as a lifestyle choice there will always need to be a personal connection.

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I’ve changed beyond recognition in the last three years, thanks in part to the people who have offered advice and training along the way. However, in the end, I know it is my effort and hard work which keeps the goals shifting. When asked yesterday what kind of weight I’d dream of lifting going forward, I was honest with my PT. I just want to keep lifting. I want to keep pushing boundaries and overcoming fears and move forwards. This isn’t about maintenance and complacency. Every day should be a school day. Each session should give a sense of progress.

Fitness has to become a part of individual evolution.

Holiday

The lunchtime pickup is done. The eldest has already been off since Tuesday afternoon. It is that glorious time of the year where there is nothing to worry about on Monday, and in 10 days I’ll be on holiday in another country. To say I’m looking forward to this is the mother of all understatements, but there are two bike rides to get through first.

I did my last bit of exercise earlier, and yes, my legs still work, now there’ll be a test to see if fitness is sufficient to get me to the end without incident. I know the hill I’m not looking forward to already, too. We’ll see how it goes, and assuming all is well, I’ll be doing extra PT on Monday. The good news, of course, is that Ride London’s a shorter distance, and on closed roads.

There’ll be pictures at the weekend, of course, but for now I have a backlog of work to catch up on…