So there I was yesterday morning, up bright and early and having given myself permission not to worry about strength training till I get home so that I could concentrate on meditating and getting done all that I need to do, and I had a huge urge to lie right back down on the bed and do my lower body routine. And so I did it.
I think I can safely say that I have never felt that kind of intrinsic motivation to do lower body before. Never.
When I first went to Green Mountain at Fox Run, practically the first piece of information I internalized was that strength training is one of the secrets of the universe -- it's the only means of improving our metabolic rate as well as perhaps the most effective way to stave off osteoporosis. And for several years, I kept up a religious routine of alternating upper and lower body, six days a week. Often, that was the only thing I could manage to do in a day. Upper body wasn't so bad, because I could control the amount of weight I used. But lower body, which used my own body weight for resistance, was a killer.
It never seemed fair -- with upper body, when you are least fit, you use the lowest weights. But with lower body, when you are least fit you have the most to move. For a long time, doing lower body was aerobic exercise for me -- it would regularly get my heart rate into target range, despite assurances from the fitness staff that that would not happen. Eventually I learned to limit my range of motion to make the exercises more doable. Yet still I dreaded it, every single day.
At some point, a couple of years ago, I broke my routine because of illness, and I was never able to get back to it again. The demons of lower body, especially, loomed large, and my energies were focused elsewhere. Every so often I would start up again, either because I revisited Green Mountain or because I had a rush of external motivation (ie, a feeling that I ought to be doing strength training because it was good for me), but in a few days or weeks I'd be making excuses again. Even after my long bout with H1N1 and pneumonia, when i knew that strength training was the best way to get back the core strength I had lost (and was sorely missing, "sorely" being the operative word), I couldn't make myself stick to the program.
Then, after all my improvements of this past summer and fall -- the thyroid supplements, elimination diet and CPAP -- I was feeling pretty healthy in a lot of ways that I hadn't felt for a long time, and I decided to make strength training my top priority for this winter. As I had been taught at Green Mountain, I carefully considered the possible obstacles to successfully implementing a regular regimen and strategies I might use to overcome them, and i was able to figure out that the first thing I needed to do was lower the threshold for beginning. When I visualized myself doing alternating upper and lower body, as I had done for all those other years, I was getting stuck in dread and discomfort. That did not bode well.
I had a sudden flash of insight that proved to be the key to getting back on track. I remembered that a couple of summers ago, I had dragged myself to two classes a week of whole body resistance training, and that had been enough to make me feel significantly better. Which meant that I could divide the whole routine into three parts, rather than two, and hit each muscle group twice per week. When I thought about doing upper body one day (six exercises), abs plus glutes, calves and shins the next (six exercises) and the rest of lower body the third (five exercises), it suddenly all seemed possible. I was actually able to start up after only a few days of settling in.
There was still one problem facing me, though. When I did that first session of lower body, trying for the two sets of 15 reps we do at Green Mountain, it was so hard that I burst into tears when I finished. Carol, ever my staunch support, wisely reminded me that there was nothing sacred about the number 15, and that in fact, the guidelines say that you should do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps with the goal of keeping good form and feeling the burn for the last few reps of the second and third sets. By those standards, I was actually overtraining, so it was no wonder that I hated doing the exercises. I spent my next sessions figuring out exactly the right number of reps for each muscle group, which varied from 2 sets of 8 for quad lifts to 3 sets of 11 for hamstrings, and all of a sudden, I wasn't dreading strength training any more. And imagine my excitement when after a couple of weeks I was able to increase from 8 to 9 quad lifts -- by trying to do more than my body could handle, all those years, I had totally deprived myself of that type of small, yet invaluable, success.
And so, for two months, I kept up my routine, doing it right on the bed most of the time because my knee issues made getting up and down off the floor difficult and painful. Then we had some company that got in the way followed by a painful medical condition that made strength training impossible for a couple of weeks, and I started to get that sinking feeling of dread again. Only to my surprise, when I became able to get going, I did, without much fuss, till last week when my nieces' visit took precedence. And, as I discussed in my last post, I pretty much decided that I wouldn't worry about getting back to that routine for these last two weeks, knowing that packing is a very physically demanding process and that we had a lot to get done.
And then the miracle happened, and I heard my body crying out to do strength training. And it was lower body specifically that it was requesting.
So yesterday morning, I gave my body what it needed. And today I did it again.
I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I don't know if this state of awareness and ease will continue. But I'm a firm believer that if you can achieve something once, however fleetingly, you can achieve it again. And again.
A hui hou.