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September 2017

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Word of mouth

Jun. 19th, 2017 04:26 pm
wshaffer: (deadlift)
Last week, I offhandedly mentioned to Tim, my personal trainer, that if the reaction on Twitter/Facebook was anything to go by, the Wonder Woman movie was going to bring in a lot of women interested in strength training. Tim hasn't seen a movie in the theater in about 5 years, but went to see Wonder Woman and loved it.

Now I really have to go see it, because he keep dropping Wonder Woman references while training me.

New PR!

Oct. 21st, 2016 06:03 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
I finally hit 210lbs on the deadlift today. I've tried to lift 210 a couple of times before, and was only able to get the bar a couple of inches off the floor, so to be able to actually lift it was quite satisfying.

Making a bit of progress on the push ups, but it's still very slow.
A scoop of Optimum Nutrition vanilla flavor whey powder plus a teaspoon of matcha powder actually makes a tasty enough protein shake that I might be tempted to drink it even if I didn't think that it would help my lifting performance and recovery.

My push ups progress has kind of plateaued for a while, so I'm changing things up a bit - trying things like more reps with my hands elevated higher, more negatives, etc. It's too early to tell if it will actually increase the number of push ups I can do, but my triceps are growing, which is kind of nice during tank top season.

Deadlift continues to come along nicely. I got really close to lifting 210lbs last week - I got the bar about 2 inches off the ground and then couldn't pull it any higher. Soon!

(no subject)

Jun. 23rd, 2016 05:10 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
I went to the gym and did pushups, power cleans, bent-over rows, and weighted carries. I now want to eat everything in sight and I think I can actually feel my upper back muscles growing in real time. (I know this isn't really possible - if I'm feeling anything, it's just post-workout inflammation.)

Deadlift PR!

Jun. 9th, 2016 05:13 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
I hit a new deadlift PR today: 205lbs.


New Trainer

May. 23rd, 2016 03:39 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
So, I had my first session with a new personal trainer today. I was pretty sure that this guy would be good for me to work with, since my previous trainer had referred me to him. I think we're going to get along great. I mean, he's clearly not used to middle-aged obese women whose goal is to lift things that weigh more than they do, but he's more than happy to train for that. And he did a nice thorough assessment during our first session, asked smart questions about my injury history, clearly keeps up with new developments in the strength and conditioning field by reading and going to conferences, and has a nice laid-back style.

One of the nice thing about going through an assessment with a new trainer is that you get a nice set of benchmarks of how far you've come. I can now hold a plank for 30 seconds easily. I may need to stop making jokes about how I have a set of old rubber bands where my abs should be.
Well, I've been sneaking up on it for weeks now, but today I finally did it. I deadlifted 200lbs. Twice. W00t! It feels good to set a goal and achieve it.

In some ways, though, I was even more exciting about the fact that we worked on back squats today. Back squats have generally been a complete train wreck for me for a variety of reasons involving poor shoulder mobility, poor core stability, excessive spinal arching, knee pain, and poor ankle mobility, among other things. Today we tried out a couple of sets of 5, maxing out at 55 lbs, and I learned the following:
* I just barely have enough shoulder mobility to hold the bar on my back in the correct position. I can get into the correct position without a problem, but my shoulders hurt by the end of the set.
* With some cueing from my trainer, I can stabilize my trunk well enough to avoid flopping forward or excessively arching my back.
* My squat depth is not great. But, a rather fascinating thing happened - I warmed up with a set of bodyweight squats, did my two sets of back squats, and then did another set of bodyweight squats. And instantly gained a couple of extra inches of depth on my bodyweight squat. It's weird - I've gotten some improvements from goblet squats, but never anything that dramatic. Must experiment more!
* I have homework, which is to stretch my calves and work on my ankle mobility.

Anyway, it's not going to be easy, and I doubt that I'm ever going to squat as well as I deadlift, but I have some hope that I might be able to learn to back squat competently. Which would be awesome.
I've been working my way through a modified version of the "Couch to 5K program", the major modification being that I only run once a week, so I'm progressing 3 times more slowly than you're supposed to. I've actually been quite pleased that I've still been able to make quite a bit of progress despite only running once a week. It seems like this is a lesson I keep having to learn: just because it might be "optimal" to train 3 times a week or whatever doesn't mean that you fail to make progress if you do less than that, especially if you're consistent.

However, the one drawback to running once a week is that if I have a crappy run for whatever reason, I kind of feel like I've blown it for the week. Two weeks ago, I had one of those beautiful runs that are probably the reason why I keep running even though it so frequently sucks - I felt good, I held a good pace, finished strong, felt great afterwards.

Then last week, I hit the pavement ready to do it all again, and like two minutes into my run, my left calf cramped up. Walked it out, stretched a bit, tried again. Nope, instant calf cramp. Briefly considered just running anyway, and then did the grown up thing, went for a walk, and came home and spent some quality time with the foam roller and the lacrosse ball working the knots out of my muscles.

This morning, I went out to run, and while I didn't have any cramping, it wasn't what I would call a great run. My legs were pretty tired, and while I "ran" the full length of time I was supposed to, by the last few minutes I felt like my pace was really lagging. It made me wonder if I was cheating myself out of cardiovascular benefits by running when my legs were tired and couldn't keep me going fast enough to keep my heart rate as high as possible.

The Fitbit Charge HR actually makes it possible to semi-intelligently answer this question. I compared my heart rate data from the awesome run of two weeks ago and today's crappy run.

The awesome run:
18 minutes in peak heart rate zone
14 minutes in the cardio zone
14 minutes in the "fat burn" zone
138 average bpm

The crappy run:
17 minutes in peak heart rate zone
13 minutes in the cardio zone
18 minutes in the "fat burn" zone
133 average bpm

So, there's a difference there, and it might even matter if I were training for competitive endurance running. But from a general fitness point of view, I can now confidently say, "Yay, crappy runs are awesome!"


Feb. 22nd, 2016 01:35 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
I can do 14 push ups with my hands elevated on a weight bench.

I also tried some TRX pushups just for giggles. Giggles as in "Ha ha" I managed a few, but my left elbow kinda hated me. I try not to do things that make my elbow hate me.
My trainer is going out of town for a week, so I think he wanted to make sure I got a really hard workout in.
After we did warmup and foam rolling, we did the dreaded deadlift/rowing machine combo:
Deadlift 135lbs x 8 reps
Row 200m
Deadlift 185lbs x 3 reps
Row 100m
Deadlift 185lbs x 3 reps
Row 100m
Deadlift 185lbs x 3 reps
Run 100m on the treadmill because someone else was on the rowing machine
Deadlift 195lbs x 2 reps
Row 100m

Then we did a couple of sets of a walking lunge/single arm overhead press combo followed by a particularly evil dynamic plank variation where you walk your feet around in an arc while keeping your hands in pretty much the same spot until your feet are pointed 180 degrees from where you started.

We finished up with some TRX and Rip trainer stuff. And some stretching.

If I can deadlift 195lbs for 2 reps, I suspect I can manage 200lbs for a single rep. Gonna give myself a little recovery time before trying to prove that, though.


Feb. 10th, 2016 02:18 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
Thirteen pushups in a row with my hands elevated on the weight bench. I creep ever closer to the elusive push up from the floor.

I also did some messing around with power cleans for the first time in a while. I think I probably need to ask my trainer for some pointers on technique. I can clean 65lbs. fairly easily, but I'm not comfortable putting more weight on the bar until I'm more confident of my form.

As I was leaving the gym, I overheard this conversation between my trainer and another client.

Client: Trainer, I have to confess! I had half a bagel this morning.
Trainer: That's good. That means you had some carbs.

This is part of the reason why I train with this trainer, and not the dude who goes around telling people not to eat carrots because they have "too much sugar".

(no subject)

Feb. 4th, 2016 11:16 am
wshaffer: (Default)
I stumbled across this rather fascinating review article entitled, "The Underappreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease". A lot of it is stuff that I was vaguely aware of, but one thing that I really didn't appreciate is the extent to which the body's protein needs can rise substantially with acute illness or injury. Given that your body will take the protein from your muscles if it can't get it from your diet, that might explain part of why an acute injury or illness can cause so much long term debility.

The article also makes a good case that the current dietary recommendations for protein were developed without taking into account requirements for preserving or increasing muscle mass, and should probably be revised upwards. I agree, although it's worth noting that the average American eats nearly twice the currently recommended amount of protein per day, so changing the guidelines wouldn't necessarily have a dramatic effect on overall health.

Anyway, I had a fairly strenuous workout yesterday, and quite a bit of my muscle mass is complaining today, so it's nice to be reminded that it's doing me some good.


Jan. 28th, 2016 12:42 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
12 push ups in a row with my hands on the weight bench today.

I've also been doing this shoulder warmup routine lately, and it seems to help a lot with the shoulder stuff.

It's funny how rehabilitating an injury like frozen shoulder is kind of like peeling an onion. Each time I regain some bit of range of motion or functionality, I go looking for some new exercise that exposes the next bit of restriction or muscle imbalance. And then I work on fixing that. Case in point - if you just ask me to lift my arms overhead, my left arm looks just as functional as my right. Hand me a kettlebell, have me press it overhead with one hand, and then walk around with it, and the left arm doesn't look so great any more. I can do it, but what is a pretty easy and natural motion with my right arm is a mess of wobbly stabilizing muscles and trying to avoid ugly compensations when I do it with my left. So, I'm working on that.

Also did some goblet squats, lunges, and sumo deadlifts today just so that my lower body doesn't feel neglected.

Double digits!

Jan. 8th, 2016 12:36 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
I can now do 10 pushups in a row with my hands elevated on a weight bench.

I'm now interspersing sets of 4 hands-elevated pushups between my other sets during my workout. I completed a total of 74 hands-elevated pushups today.

I also accidentally did an asymmetrical farmer's walk today, when I picked up a 40lb dumbbell and a 45lb dumbbell instead of two 40s, and then didn't notice until I'd walked across the gym and back. Duh.
I can now do 8 push ups in a row with my hands elevated on a weight bench. Double digits, here we come.

Also had a good deadlift workout today:
135lbs for 5 reps
155lbs for 5 reps
175lbs for 3 reps
185lbs for 1 rep
195lbs for 1 rep <-- New PR

Also, apparently the grip strength work that I've been doing for the past couple of months has really paid off, because I did all of those with an overhand grip. (In addition to the deadlift itself, which is a pretty fantastic grip exercise, I've been doing farmers' walks and dead hangs from the pull up bar.)

I was kind of tempted to sling an extra 5 lbs on the bar and see if I could pull 200lbs, but I really want my trainer to be there to see that, and he's off this week visiting family for the holidays.

Also, I don't normally do heavy deadlifts and lots of push ups in the same workout, and now I know why. After finishing the deadlifts and push ups, I was *done*. I managed a wonky set of goblet squats and a fairly lackluster set of dumbbell rows, and then decided to just finish out my workout with an extra long foam rolling and stretching session.
I can now do 7 push-ups in a row with my hands elevated on a weight bench. Did a total of 49 hands-elevated push ups in today's workout. Did not go over and correct the form of the dude doing push ups (from the floor) next to me, though I was sorely tempted. "Excuse me, sir, do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and Saviour, Range of Motion?"

I'm slowly improving my goblet squat as well. Even if my range of motion in the squat is not what I would like it to be.
Lots of food for thought in this article. I don't entirely agree with it - I think the author doesn't recognize the extent to which competing against oneself and setting and exceeding goals can be an empowering experience for someone who's always struggled with fitness or exercise. Certainly, for me personally, being able to track my progress has really helped me see myself as someone who can actually succeed at exercise.

But it is true that when you grow up as the fat kid who was always picked last in gym class, your early experiences of quantitative fitness tracking are all about people telling you how much you suck. You weigh too much. You ran that mile too slowly. You can't do the right number of push-ups or sit-ups. I think there was a time in my life when tracking my fitness to the extent that I do now would probably have been counterproductive. And with fitness apps and trackers going mainstream, I worry that a lot of people getting started in fitness are going to be deluged with numbers that they just interpret as metrics of how terrible they are. I think there's a ton of room in the market for apps that encourage movement in other ways.

And as much as I've loved some of the health and fitness apps I've used, nearly all of them have assumptions built into them that drive me batty. Back when I used Health Month, for example, it used to annoy me that if I met my goal of running three times a week, it would suggest that next month I set a goal of running four times a week. I didn't want to run four times a week - I needed the time between runs to recover and to do other fitness things I wanted to do. But the app just had the assumption that more was better written into it. (And as the author of this article points out, that assumption is nearly universal in fitness apps.)

And as much as I love my Fitbit, the extent to which it prioritizes steps over other measures of activity can lead to some counter productive incentives. If you look at my Fitbit activity history, you'll notice that the day on which I'm most likely to fail to make 10,000 steps is Monday. Why? Because on Monday I go to the gym and do a fairly intense strength training workout with my personal trainer. During that strength training workout, I might only take 1,000 to 3,000 steps, as opposed to the 5,000 to 6,000 steps that I get on a typical walk or run. So, by Fitbit's most prominently tracked metric, Mondays look like off days for me. But if you look at other metrics, like total calories burned or amount of time that I got my heart rate elevated, Mondays are clear wins.

Now, my personal solution to this is simply to not get too hung up on the numbers. And Fitbit's prioritization of steps has a decidedly virtuous aspect as well: on most days, if I look at my tracker and realize I've been a bit sluggish, I'm much more likely to get up and go for a short walk than I am to pop over to the gym for an unplanned workout. Its net effect on my fitness is definitely positive. But I'm still waiting for the day when someone develops a fitness app/tracker that makes it easy for me to track the things that I consider important, and ignore the things that I don't consider important.

(Obligatory chemist's quibble: I don't know why the author of this piece describes the calorie as an "invented unit". A dietary calorie is what chemists would call a kilocalorie, and is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. It's as "invented" as the meter is. We now know that what food calories actually do in your body is more complicated than what simple laboratory measurements would suggest, but that's not the unit's fault.)
I can now do 6 push-ups with my hands-elevated on a weight bench. During today's workout, I did a total of 48 hands-elevated push-ups, most of them in sets of 3 interspersed between all the other exercises I did. That's more push-ups than I've ever done in a single workout before.
I tried something a bit different today for my pushup training. I got the idea from an old episode of The FitCast that had a Q&A with Jim Wendler, author of the very popular "5/3/1" training program. He had a question from a listener who could do about 7 chinups in a row, but was having trouble increasing his reps beyond that. Wendler's advice was to pick a number of reps well below his max, like, say 2, and do a set of chinups after each set of all the other exercises he did in his workout. The idea is that you a) end up doing more total reps than you would if you did a more conventional 3-5 sets to failure and b) you never hit the point where your form breaks down.

So, I tried this today. Went to the gym, warmed up, did a set of 2 pushups with my hands elevated on a weight bench, then did a set of some other exercise. Repeated until done. I ended up doing 17 sets of 2, which does add up to quite a few more reps than I'd do with my previous routine.

Also, I finished my workout with the most amazing upper arm pump. I nearly took triceps selfies for y'all.