Musclebound

Exercise is bloody hard work. Believing that simply taking protein supplements is going to give you a body like The Rock’s is, like it or not, living a massive delusion. I have to admit, the implication that under 30’s would believe this feels pretty insulting, and without any kind of hard facts that prove the point, the bigger issue is teaching better nutritional awareness. Protein shakes have their benefits: my husband’s using them to very good effect currently as a way to maintain weight, in tandem with what is a stupidly healthy diet prior to another bike race on Sunday. They can be incredibly useful to kick-start weight loss too. The article that started all this talks about what an average body requires to stay healthy in terms of protein: no two bodies are alike, and if you don’t sit behind a desk every day the number of calories needed will vary.

Mostly, the press can only ever talk about health issues in general terms. Studies and reports increasingly are taken out of context to highlight particular issues, headlines created as clickbait. It is quite rare to be presented a whole truth in reporting: like it or not, that doesn’t make for very engaging content. History reminds us however that promising people better bodies using advertising is hardly anything new. This kind of ‘persuasion’ has been going on as long as newspapers have needed advertising: this isn’t about buying anyone into the idea of supplements or aids either, it is convincing the gullible that their physique is flawed. In the modern world, obsessed now with body image in all its various forms, that is probably more concerning that handing over money to companies for anything that could be considered largely pointless if you just amend your diet and exercise more.

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I was asked at the weekend why I’d started weight training by a total stranger. The answer is twofold: it has always been something I wanted to do, because I equate strength with physical fitness. Body image is largely irrelevant, but keeping asthma in check is far more important: I can have a direct and positive effect on managing an illness which, as a child, meant exercise was off the cards… except, now I find myself wondering what might have been different if my parents had encouraged that urge and not suppressed it. I’ll never know, of course, but now I’m in a position where breathing difficulties are the exception due to my own hard work. The sense of satisfaction and achievement that gives is beyond significant.

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The irony for me is that my stomach refuses to process either protein shakes or gels: I can swallow them but they’ll be straight back up in short order. If I want to lose weight and build muscle, it’s good old fashioned food groups: chicken, lean meat and white fish, flapjacks and nuts, or protein bars at a stretch. On days like this when the sugar craving is strong, that can be a hard ask, but my brain’s spent over a year grasping the undeniable truth that you really are what you eat. If protein shakes help people be healthy, honestly, what’s wrong with them? In 40 years, if Global Warming has its way, we could all be eating proteins in powder form anyway. There’s an assumption only one real way exists to be healthy, and that’s simply not true. Sure, you can eat cake and drink coffee but if that’s your life without exercise, it’s as bad in its own way as never eating a ‘healthy’ meal. The key here is not one thing or the other in excess, but balance.

The truth about health is never hard and fast. Reality, as always, depends on the individual deciding to make a change, and then sticking with it. There are many success stories, but for every miracle weight loss or transformation there are the many who can never make it past the scales or the next meal. Like so much else in life, change must be yours to instigate. If you want something enough, it will happen. For myself, I can attest that a healthier lifestyle has transformed my life at 50, but that is only part of a far larger and more complex set of circumstances. Knowing that, I’ll never discourage anyone wanting to start the journey, but it has to be on your own terms.

Decide what you want, and then make a plan to get there in the healthiest manner for you.

Half a Minute

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Nobody said getting back to full fitness was going to be easy, but thus far my return to the life I had before the operation is going remarkably well. Yesterday, for instance, there was actual running at the Gym. It wasn’t for long, but it happened, and gave an idea of how much power I have in my legs right now (which is not enough, it must be said.) However, as I’m determined to give my umbilical hernia a full month to heal, there cannot be leg presses or anything that might put undue pressure on the lower abdomen. I am forced to improvise, and that’s perfectly fine.

Even when I’m not able to get to somewhere to exercise, there is the opportunity to move myself regardless. For instance I am stuck at home right now waiting for a delivery, but have made sure that, between chores and working on back end stuff for the websites, I’ve got out of the chair and made 250 steps happen. My watch helpfully buzzes if the total’s not done 50 minutes into the hour, pushing the mind to get body moving. In effect, this is the most useful my Fitbit has ever been. It is, in effect, acting as conscience. It works too, and I’m now thinking about how to make sure my 12k is completed regardless of whether I can fit in a Gym visit or not.

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Tomorrow will be Full Bastard Push day, after a decent night’s kip, but I am hoping to get some time in this afternoon once I’m released from being stuck at home. Whatever happens, 36 push ups happen every day, because that’s something that doesn’t need anything except a floor to complete, and it works really well on strengthening core muscles that will help me make sure the hernia doesn’t reoccur. Plus, I’m getting pretty good at them.

The ‘Jungle Gym’ in the centre of my workout space has these special bands, which come in two strengths. Attaching one end to an upright, they effectively take a portion of your body weight, allowing a focus more on technique. It allows me to feel a lot more confident than is sometimes the case when I’m doing press ups at home, but if I stick to engaging core muscles, even these are infinitely better than how I began. In fact, I can now complete 36 and feel stronger coming out than I do going in. It also helps that a lot of issues that I was having with shoulder and back muscles appear to have had nothing at all to do with weight training, and may well have been connected to my inflamed gallbladder instead.

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Right now, there’s also some concerns as my weight is drifting up. Apparently this is completely normal as my digestive system is readjusting to not having the Gallbladder as a digestion aid. I’d like to just get to my target weight and if that means not celebrating with cake, then so be it. It is time to knuckle down and get back on the healthy trail.


Fact of the Day

I’ve run a number of fan sites in my time, right back from when the Internet was young. These include tributes to The West Wing, 24 and Six Feet Under. For a while, I also made a living running a fan site that evolved into the official site for a BBC1 Sci-Fi fantasy show… :D

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I dropped my daughter off at school early this morning, and was back home at 8.30 am. This allowed me to get a 50 minute Yoga session completed before 10am. It’s only the second I’ve done since I started my weight/stamina training, but the improvement in strength and ability is now very obvious.

Previously Chaturanga Dandasana has been something I simply did not possess the upper body strength to pull off. I vaguely remember being able to manage the position when I began practising Yoga alone, but certainly not in the sixteen years since my son was born. I use an ancient DvD of Ashtanga variants (from of all people MTV because its performed with a dance music accompaniment) which isn’t actually complete and misses out a key repetition which I have now added in myself out of habit. It’s a sequence of key stretches, classic poses and not nearly enough relaxation at the end, but I have now come to really enjoy the synergy of the experience. This morning I also managed Warrior Three in its most difficult form, and the joy from that’s going to keep me going for the rest of the day.

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Yoga isn’t just exercise, in fact it is more about the way you breathe your way through the poses, how you listen to your body in the process that really matters more. The spiritual side of the journey isn’t lost on me, but I’d be lying if I said this mattered more than the exercise. I grasp the significance for those who seek solace inside the practice, and being able to focus solely on inner self should never be ignored. I’ll feely admit that I do a ten minute de-stress and brain clear before my PT session, just so I’m more focussed on what I have to do. I’m going to complete my first part of the Mindfulness course today, and hopefully that too will then find a spot to exist with everything else. All of this then forms a complete daily routine, it is just the means by which I co-ordinate everything that will matter more long term.

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Then, quite possibly, we can start trying to push that envelope too. However, right now is a period for refining and consolidating technique. I have a habit of not keeping back and shoulders solid when I lift certain weights, and yesterday’s PT was the basis of relearning a couple of basic principles. Because I have hypermobility in my wrists and elbows I’m having trouble maintaining good positions in certain lifts and pulls. It is also why Chaturanga Dandasana has been proving so problematic but now I can place and position correctly, that issue appears to be largely academic. It is a reminder that every day is a School day and even the most experienced will always want to be refining and reconsidering their positions and technique over time.

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I’ve left the mat up in the front room, and I’ll be going back through the day to think about and focus on getting my body in the right places: also, it is a nice change of position from sitting down and working. I’m expecting a delivery of new blackout blinds for the bedroom: once they arrive there’ll be a walk to buy some lunch.

The plan right now is to just keep getting stronger.

The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret

Social media has made everyone stupid. Even the most articulate and sensible of people has a moment, from time to time (I do NOT count myself in this number, I’m perpetually dumb on Twitter) and we forgive them, mostly, because we are generous and kind-hearted rhinoceroses. I’m watching with increasing humour, for instance, as the White House Press Secretary who shouted at the media on Saturday appears to keep his phone in his pants pocket and is tweeting gibberish (or possibly his Twitter password, hard to say…) For some, technology will always be the enemy. It is one of those things you either use or don’t, get or loathe. I grew up with a father who was obsessed with computers, and still is well into his 70’s. It was inevitable that would rub off on me, on reflection, and now I can’t think of a time when I won’t be pottering with something.

Except yesterday, I did my very best to stay offline.

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Some days, distance is the only thing that stops me from putting a foot through a screen. My anger at wanton and often specifically targeted selfishness and thoughtlessness is beyond the limit of my ability to either rationalise or cope. In fact, if I’m fair, since Monday I’ve been dealing with issue after issue where, like it or not, I can do nothing but stay quiet and wait to see what happens next. Last night I didn’t go and play games, I made a conscious decision to go to bed and this morning I went to the Gym with one thought in my head, to just not look at my phone until I’d rationalised the week. Amazingly, it worked. I have a handle on this now. Putting distance between contention and me does make things better. The catalyst, I now grasp, is that what is big up close is actually minuscule at a distance. I’m reminded, unsurprisingly, of the Father Ted sketch.

When you’re used to filling content with stuff that isn’t really significant, the moment a real huge-assed Drama comes along, everything shifts perspective. What was major and life changing a week ago is now small potatoes, when you look at the potential chaos in the bigger World. However much I’d like to make my issues important to a wider audience, I think I’d rather we all got to the end of this whole shit-show alive and in one piece more. That means, it is time for some adjustments. The first one, amazingly, is just to carry on and not collapse in a heap of emotional trauma.

Taking personal time for yourself when the relentless stream of horror shows no sign of stopping is REALLY important. The rules of Personal Care remain largely the same as they did when I was taught them as a child; in fact, this poster remains where I come back to when reality gets too much:

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If you substitute ‘work’ for homework, frankly, this is my start point. All these things suffer when I’m stressed, and having the basic foundation of routine is what is needed to stay sane. It’s the reason why I write every day too, because habits formed then become harder to break and help sustain your momentum. That’s where I’m starting from again today, and once we have all that sorted, then there will be an opportunity to arrange the other parts of existence in a sensible order. I haven’t cried today, despite a number of moments where it would have been entirely acceptable to do just that. Here is the line, and there is the progress.

This is where I realise I need to reassess all of my priorities.

The Long Run

I’ve not said too much about this week in Fitness, but I’ve been running every day since this time last Friday. In fact, I would have done so today but common sense is telling me that I need a rest, and rather than push myself through something that would end up sending me backwards? #50Kin50Days ends up as an exercise in being sensible and not doing summat purely for the sake of writing about it. I think, moving forward, that will be one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt going forward into 2017. There’s only one person to be doing all this for and it is yourself, and that’s why I’m here.

That means in the long run that I need to be a lot more sensitive to what my body is capable of managing.

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In the short term, this will mean that as long as I keep my 7 day total above 12k, I will be happy, as that is my daily total. I will run as often as body allows, but on due consideration I will need at least one day a week where nothing significant takes place. Once upon a time I’d try and schedule that but as I’m doing the run thing I’ll simply let my body stress dictate the timescale. I had a sports massage this afternoon that was previously scheduled before I started the plan, and I’m conscious of aggravating anything as a result. That means an afternoon of laundry, attempting to avoid food cravings and the realisation that if I can, I could be further down in weight before Christmas. It’s even harder when the entire house is full of Xmas nibbles, and I will admit to having three small chocolates and a handful of snacks, but nothing too fattening.

Self control has come on leaps and bounds.

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Once upon a time I would cheat myself, and try not to be surprised when that would be mirrored by the scales. I know a lot of my issues with weight stem from the backwards and forwards I used to do with what went into my body, but now I’ve passed what I suspect is a significant threshold. I completely understand what is bad for me, and that is anything taken to excess. If I overdo the healthy, it comes back to bite me just as much as being bad and having things that will simply make me want to further transgress. Getting balance has always been the hardest thing in the world to achieve, but now I know about what matters most, that if I allow myself simply to get on and not worry, the sides are a lot easier to balance. Most importantly of all, I cannot now see a day when I won’t want some kind of physical exercise in the equation. Even now I know I have to move once an hour, I can’t sit here and vegetate any more.

Once you practice stuff enough, it does become habit. That’s why I’ll be at the Gym tomorrow morning and I’ll run 3k again to make sure that Wednesday wasn’t a fluke, that the energy levels that were there can be duplicated. It means I will run Christmas Day, outside, and not be scared of the prospect. In fact, I’m quite looking forward to it.

Back in the Saddle

Yesterday, I coughed my way through 5k plus a bit of gentle weightlifting, and the difference to my general demeanour was immeasurable. It isn’t just the endorphins, I now realise, but the creativity that results from time on the treadmill with music as a backdrop, and I’ve really missed that in the last week. Ironically yesterday it wasn’t the current WiP that filled my mind but the project I turned down to write this, but I’m back on that train this morning. More importantly the Playlist that’s been the accompaniment to this story for quite some time now is getting an overhaul, as story changes and evolves over time. I’ve removed a couple of songs and added another, and [gasp] I’m importing music onto my Mac for the first time in a while, refusing to use it from the Cloud.

I just don’t trust remote backups. I never have and never will. If it’s not on my portable hard drive? I’m not interested.

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As my story adapts, so does the soundtrack, and I have the first song for XY in my head as a result of how music works now works with words in my head. It is an odd process and I’m really happy with the means by which the two marry themselves together. It gives me internal visuals which I can then describe and transcribe to the page. This has become a vital part of my journey. However most importantly of all, it allows me to keep getting fitter whilst not compromising on the written word. I have the means to both work and exercise simultaneously, and the results thus far have been beyond expectations.

In fact, to keep working, I’ll be off down the Gym right now :D

Still Alive

I can still run a kilometre in 7 minutes and 30 seconds. However, the bottom half of my body is not the problem. I require a better top half, and to do that my new exercise from the PT is to hang. Yeah, just hold onto the bars where I’d do chin ups. I’m aiming for thirty seconds; today I managed ten and there’s a new thing to work at and improve upon. I am really beginning to appreciate the process of self-improvement, and the ethic that once you get to one goal, that’s not enough. It is never enough and what has to happen is a perpetual push to better and stronger. It also makes the days when you’re all out of fucks shift back to mean something. Life shouldn’t be about stuff just being enough.

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I ate chocolate today, and it tasted different. I now prefer protein snack to sugar rush. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it is fairly significant. I can also feel my body changing again, and that’s never a bad thing. Having had a nurse reassure me that losing the same six bounds for a couple of months is no bad thing, I am pushing hard not to stress about numbers. The moments come and go, however. Then I look at my arms and see how little fat remains and how much muscle now lives there and the worry subsides. I just have to keep doing the miles and making sure what I eat is not bad. White bread converts to sugar. Pastry is dangerous. My daughter can bake me mini Victoria Sponges, but to eat one means I gotta do a LOT of work. On the flip side, rest is vital, recovery much needed especially when I push hard. Mostly, BALANCE is what’s required.

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However, the biggest change today was sitting in the Gym and feeling as if I simply didn’t belong there. I listened to people talking and felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. There’s a lot of nasty shit going on in UK politics right now after my session felt very much like the worst of that on my doorstep. I just sat quietly and ate my breakfast, but really couldn’t wait to finish and leave. Don’t get me wrong, this certainly isn’t the norm on most days but… I’d like to think that if I met my online friends they’d certainly not regard me as an object, and I’d get a lot more respect than was present this morning.

There’s a lot to think about right now, and not all of it is good.