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.

Give it Away

Take a second, and look at the header image for today (you might have to go back to Social media for it if you’re not reading this from a feed) Is this a picture of two elephants touching, or is it a wooden fence panel? I see both, but imagine one: the female on the left (smaller eye) nuzzling up against her older, battle-scarred partner, his right eye damaged years ago in a fight.

Amazing how we see stuff differently, isn’t it?

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Lots of stuff looks different from here today. It’s not epoch-making or anything, just a realisation of things that have been happening for a while. When your job is self-improvement, there are days when that can seem fairly daunting, especially when you are not that great of communicating with the people closest to you. I find it a continuing irony that, as a writer, things always fall down first in personal relationships.

To unlearn habits that have been in place for decades is a tough ask, but it is possible. That’s why when I hear stories of famous people’s spectacular bad habits and the belief by some they are incapable of change, there’ll be a very special kind of understanding taking place. If it matters enough, if it is something you want to do, then nothing should stop that from taking place.

The only roadblock to progress is yourself.

Between the 9th and the 27th, the problem was all physical. Between the 27th and yesterday, it was mental. Understanding where you lack is all well and good, but until those pieces are placed in a coherent picture, until you understand what it is you are looking at… nothing changes. Absolutely not one part of the equation matters. Having an answer is irrelevant until you comprehend why that is.

Logic leaps are a tough ask.

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Knowing you’re the problem is great and everything, but fixing that can be hard and painful. During this difficult time therefore, please try and be a bit more understanding. I realise not everything is an excuse for self-congratulation either. That’s why having well-mandated, carefully set-out goals is important. Making things work is as much about establishing a routine as it is putting in the effort.

Time to redress the balances.

Walk the Line

Progress is never an easy ask. A lot of the journey is adaptive reasoning: I can work harder, how do I work harder, this works, push here. Undoubtedly strength and body condition are crucial factors. However, when all is said and done, if head says nope, nothing will happen. This isn’t about being shouted at in a class for 45 minutes in the vain hope something will stick.

Last night my husband turned around post session and told me how proud of me he was: the biking exercise being used currently has a sliding scale of difficulty. That means it can be performed at between 90 and 110% of you calculated power. He’d seen me adjust that halfway through last night’s session, assuming I’d gone down. The last 20 minutes were pushed up, not down.

For the first time since starting this there is yellow zone without prompting.

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My sleep’s shot as a result, and it will take some time to get that bit of the equation back to normal, but this daily burst of exercise has effectively replaced walking, which needs to change. I have to go out today, and record it, plus every day going forward. Air pollution should really not be a problem either, the world around here is mandated silence. The only flights left leaving our airport are freight.

Today I need to organise a proper workout too: the weather is a bit pants here at present, so that means inside, with a couple of videos as accompaniment. I have a 12kg kettlebell with which to do some weights too, so there will be some time spent pulling together a single weight workout. Last week I burned as many calories without the Gym as I managed the last full week there was access to one, so effort’s not an issue.

My problem, undoubtedly, is planning.

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It’s not like I don’t have the raw materials at my disposal to make all of this happen either. As with everything else, planning is the key. It is also important I don’t let things like *cough* video games *cough* distract me from the path, which would be pretty easy right now. The hard work needs to be done first, and after that we’ll work on the other, more enjoyable things.

I’m planning to come out of this fitter than I did coming in.

Musclebound

Week One of February is already done. I’m already behind in writing terms, but this weekend grants a useful opportunity to make up the shortfall. Next weekend I’m in a forest, and realistically what needs to happen then is lots of photography and very few words. Between now and then, THERE ARE GOALS to think about.

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Realistic achievement is pretty much vital to my mental health progress: planning ahead allows a measure of flexibility, but also allows my brain to sensibly grasp what is possible in a timeframe. Having winged it through January, a lot of good came from those moments when I said ‘fuck it’ and just did something, but to build on those moments, realistically, Stuff needs to be focused on.

So, I made a list of where I fall short, and it reads roughly like this:

  • My left hip/leg is not as strong as my right, and there needs to be a way to build them both that’s not overly complicated;
  • Stamina is still a problem. This will only come with more time breathing and exercising without a break:
  • I need to go back to strength training, but at the same time not forget the importance of cardio,
  • Flexibility is becoming a REAL issue as time goes on.

Therefore, my Goals for the month were created with these four issues in mind.

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Cycling will fix the hip. I have dropped from an FTP of 148 (when I was peak training for Ride London) to a rather sad 114 but it is what it is. I’ll Ramp Test again in March after I’ve had a few weeks of hour long sessions and my hip decides it is ready for harder work. The Sunday 5k’s will help with stamina and again, making both legs work equally, and two Blaze sessions a week give the cardio equal billing with strength.

Tomorrow’s run will also include some weights for the first time in a while, and as I’m giving blood on Monday that’s a) no PT and b) no exercise AT ALL that day. It’ll be a lot of walking next week, and resistance work, and we’ll use Thursday’s double header of Synergy and Blaze to test whether my dietary changes really have made a difference to how body recovers from donation.

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Having a plan makes life an awful lot easier overall, allowing me to then fit everything else around the exercise. Making realistic goals for achievement also gives a sense of satisfaction, and the groundwork on which to build consistency across each month. It is becoming the backbone of a routine that makes me happier, more awake and far more capable of coping when trauma and/or anxiety take over.

This, effectively, has transformed my life for the better.

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.

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.

A Whole New World

I put a lot of stock on my fitness devices and the result they provide, but today’s post is a reminder that sometimes, numbers are not the whole story:

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59% effort looks, on reflection, like I didn’t try. In this case, nothing is further from the truth. What those numbers don’t show is how long I was able to hang without arms dying, after two days of Blaze that took a lot out of them. It doesn’t consider the 25 40kg bench presses done with little to no recovery time, or the 16kg weights held when doing step ups.

What yesterday showed me is significant enough that I need to write it down:

  • My initial first burst of exercise is tough, and will leave me breathless. Once I’m over that hump, it becomes increasingly easy to manage breathing and push harder. I know this now from an absolute boatload of historical evidence. Management is the key.
  • Overthinking is inhibiting my ability to push further. There needs to be considerably less worrying about how hard shit is, and just focus on ignoring that voice that constantly suggests I should temper effort. Learning how to listen to my body is one of those skills that requires most work.
  • I am way too hard on myself. This is massive. I’m strong, and able. Technique is solid. What is required is speed, and that will only come via practice, so that is what needs to happen going forward. Less fear in being capable will then allow for increasing confidence elsewhere. Honestly is winning the day.
  • I possess so much potential to improve. There was a minor epiphany this week: the people who work hard, and practice their moves, get so much more overall out of their experience. They are the ones for whom progress really means that. All the hard work that’s being put in isn’t just about conditioning and weight loss, it involves learning how to exercise more effectively. My brain is missing out on a load of developmental activity, and that needs to change.

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These are extremely interesting times for my body. Once upon a time, half of what I’m doing seemed virtually impossible, but is now conducted with a measure of ease. Moving forward, it is time to make giving blood every sixteen weeks a bit less of a trauma, to keep building stamina and good technique, and to deal with the continuing psychological fallout when I fail to keep going at a level that feels acceptable.

However, today I’m having a rest from lifting and only doing a bit of cycling…

A Whiter Shade of Pale

It’s good to know that intellectual exercise has borne fruit. I was in the Gym for a secondary, unscheduled Saturday PT. I pay for this using a voucher system, so when my trainer goes away, the vouchers pile up. The hour was, it has to be said, some of the hardest stuff I have done for some time. Kettle bell work, clean and press, hanging: it’s been many months since my arms and core ached as much as they did after the session.

Then, last night, it was time to crack the hour mark on the bike.

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Cycling is a different beast to anything else exercise-related I have ever undertaken. It asks a phenomenal amount of you in terms of stamina and consistency. Neither of these things are particularly my strengths. I could not honestly say there was any real stress last night either, just a phenomenal amount of pain. This was not OW OW OW SOMETHING IS WRONG pain but nope, there’s just no energy here, I need to stop now and have a cuppa and cycling is ridiculous and nope there are better things to do pain.

My legs were effectively useless: the low level discomfort after 15 minutes was tolerable, after 30 minutes annoying and after an hour… BOY. Think of the most irritating thing anybody could do to you and that happens every time you push down the pedals, and so I zoned out. However, without these sessions, you do absolutely never move past anything than just casual attainment. It’s the perfect storm of brain and body telling you there’s no point to anything.

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62% when placed alongside the 80% Blaze output is an interesting comparative benchmark. The former, for starters, is absolutely not a full body workout. More significantly, there are no rest periods. Here’s where my exercise shortcomings come into stark focus as a result: stamina is still very much lacking. To build that, you really do have to put in the miles, which means every session is not necessarily about massive numbers, but just doing the work. I’d forgotten that along the way. 

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The depressing number is the 94W (effectively how hard your legs are working), because this time last year I was running considerably higher that that. However this is not a disaster, just a starting point. My husband also reassures me that the bike I’ve chosen in Zwift is far too heavy and not doing me any favours at all (and I’m sure he knows that this is important) so after I’ve finished typing this, it’ll be time to log into the app and alter my setup. However, there will be no riding, or weights today.

This is most definitely a rest day.

The Sun Rising

DAY 2: I’ll just leave this here.

Sugar cravings are non-existent. Sleep patterns are a lot less fraught after a couple of weeks off the routine, but as I miss order so very much, and without it everything suffers, it is time to be up at approaching ‘normal’ before cracking on with the plan. Yesterday went fabulously well: poetry’s already scheduled to archive, I have a month’s worth of Motivation stacked and ready to post, Short Story is already ahead of the curve.

Today, we’ll see if we can’t get the YouTube stuff organised too, remake some website headers, before creating a ‘form’ for scheduling so that I can cut down on the massive number of PostIt notes and random pieces of paper required to make each new month happen. Call it being overly picky, or perhaps just wanting to be more environmentally sound… but it should be doable now. The routine is set, but can still be flexible.

HOPEFULLY this will assist in making weight loss and meal times less stressful. I have my first recipe ready to go. It was either a) safe with burgers or b) risky veg and YES I’M GOING FOR B because nothing changes when you’re safe. This is a line in the sand, and it will go on being pushed and redrawn, but it won’t be walked away from. I’ve wanted to do this properly for decades. It will happen.


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The other promise is to my husband, who’s been pushing me for years to expand my mind via podcasts. I’ll be honest, there’s normally just not been enough brain-space to process stuff like this between everything else that’s upended mentally over the last few years. Now, however, I feel comfortable enough to give it a go. I’m listening to 2017 podcasts, starting today, then we’ll do last year so I’m caught up to current.

After that? We’ll take a trawl through the archives and see what looks interesting. I’ll be back to you on how it all goes.

Oh, and I’m gonna exercise later, because I haven’t lifted a heavy weight since Friday.