Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the verge....

Last week marked my first week back in the gym after a my vacation. My two weeks off were followed by a week where I had a pretty nasty sinus infection, so not much time was spent sweating out the calories or eating anything particularly healthy. You know how it is -- you feel like crap, and oddly enough eating comfort (sometimes crap) food is what makes you feel better... a bit better, that is.

So, just in time for a weekend training session with Seb, my sinuses cleared and I was ready to get back into my routine. I was feeling a bit anxious because I had been away from it for so long. In fact, looking back on it now, I was probably feeling a little depressed -- not only because I was sick, but also because I realized that I didn't miss working out as much as I thought I would while I was off. I mean, it was really easy for me to not go to the gym for three weeks. It was really easy for me to dig into a decadent cheesy pizza instead of my daily dose of raw broccoli. In other words, getting back to my 'old ways' was really easy... and I didn't think I would revert that quickly, or even that willingly. I was feeling a bit disappointed with myself -- not necessarily for having taken a break from the rigor of daily life... that we know, I needed. I was disappointed that I felt like I was beginning to slip. And when you've focused on staying strong for so long, that slipping feeling wasn't a pleasant one.

So, on a Sunday afternoon, I headed back to the gym for my training session. It was so great to see Sebastien again -- when you end up spending such intense time with someone, and when you develop what is an emotionally and intellectually intimate relationship with your trainer, it's tough to be apart for three weeks. My friends often joke that we have a wierd co-dependent relationship, but it is what it is. And I'm lucky to have it. I am blessed to have someone in my life who helps me refocus and get back into gear, so reconnecting with Seb was something I was looking forward to.

At our session, we spent a good chunk of time regrouping and discussing our next steps. Essentially, I am five pounds off my September 18 goal (again, ahead of schedule!), but am also heading into a really busy time. I'm back at work, I have classes two nights per week, and I've been out of sync for a while. So we decided that for the next four weeks or so, we'd ease back into it and take it easy. Yeah, right! That afternoon, Seb got me started on doing some hanging crunches, as well as vertical pull-ups using a block for assistance. While I'm not able to do a full chin-up from a hanging position yet, my arm, chest and back strength is increasing, and I'll get there before I know it. And that was our session. Later that night, he e-mailed me my routine: 3 days of full-body resistance training followed by some cardio, and two days of cardio work. If I can squeeze in one more cardio day, then it's all good. Given my hectic schedule, I was planning on doing the full-body resistance work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, doing some light cardio on Tuesday and Thursday, and maybe squeeze in something else on Saturday. Sounds like a good week, right?

Well, for the past few months we've been doing circuit work. Essentially, you do a set of exercises in a series, with little or no rest in between each set. The goal is to maintain an elevated heart rate, ensuring that your resistance work helps to build not only muscle and strength, but cardiovascular endurance. You proceed through a series of exercises back to back, take a one minute rest, and then do the series over once or twice again. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, on Monday night, I set out to do the routine for the first time, and here's what it looked like:
Warm Up: Run on the treadmill at 5.0 mph for 15 minutes

Light Stretch of legs, arms, chest, back.

Resistance: Do each series in circuit, 2-3 sets of each circuit:
Series A
Leg Press: 15 reps x 540 lbs
Chinups: 15 reps
Bench Press: 15 reps x 135 lbs
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 15 reps x 25 lbs
Standing Bicep Curls (both arms same time): 15 reps x 30 lbs
Bench Dips: up to 30
Rest: 1 minute, repeat twice

Series B
Squats: 15 reps x 185 lbs
Seated Row: 15 reps x 130 lbs
Pushups: 15-20
Lateral Raises: 15 reps x 15 lbs dumbbells
Bicep Bar Curls: 15 reps x 60 lbs bar
Tricep Ropes: 15 reps x 60 lbs
Rest: 1 minute, then repeat twice

Core: Do these exercises in circuit, rest where indicated. 2 sets of each circuit
Hanging Knee Raises: 15
Decline Bench Situps: 30
Ball Crunches: 100
Rest: 30 seconds

Cardio: 20 minutes elliptical at level 13, 20 minutes on bike level 12 (random)

Cool down stretch. Then go home and eat.
So that was the workout. It looked completely reasonable on paper... and totally achievable. I mean, this was nothing I hadn't done already. Well, remember those moments when you realize that your eyes are bigger than your stomach??? This was one of those moments! Diving back into it after three weeks off was TOUGH!!! That night, I burned close to 2200 calories doing this workout -- insane!!! But it felt incredible. And I was looking forward to ploughing through the same routine the next Wednesday with Sebastien.

On Wednesday, we met up for my session, and following my warmup and stretching, we dove right into it. We had an hour to get through the two series of circuit work -- totall do-able. And it was at that moment that I once again realized the tremendous value of working with a trainer.

I have been working with Sebastien for just over a year now, and I can honestly say that I have never had a session where I worked harder than I did last Wednesday night. I was able to do so becuase he was by my side encouraging me, getting me through everything I needed to do, and reminding me that all of this is entirely possible. Not always with words -- sometimes being there is all you need from someone. And that's what you would expect from a trainer, right? I mean, I've watched pretty much every episode of The Biggest Loser and a lot of other weight loss shows, and have seen their trainers work them just as hard. But I've also wondered how contestants get to the point where they either throw up, or simply lose it and start crying.

Well on Wednesday night, I was on the verge of both. Sebastien had me working so hard, that I was working at 88-92% of my maximum heart rate for about 40 minutes. Insane. That was the ultimate test of my endurance, and I am thrilled that I was able to keep pace. But it didn't come easy... not at all. How would you be able to tell? Well, I'm one of those guys at the gym who doesn't like to make much noise. Yes, I recognize that grunting and moaning sometimes helps you squeak out one last rep -- but I have never been very 'vocal' in my workouts. On Wednesday, I went home with my throat feeling hoarse from all of the grunting and shouting. Yes, I turned into the weightlifting meathead who makes a lot of noise... but it's what I needed to do. It's also what I feel like I needed to do to avoid falling to the floor in a puddle of tears.

Working out at my intensity and pace (at that of a full-tilt athlete) takes not only a lot of physical endurance, but also an incredible amount of mental stamina. This journey has been an unbelievable victory for me -- a victory over a battle that I have tried to fight so many times beofre in my life. And the amount of sweat equity it takes to make this much of a change is matched only by the 'tear equity' -- that is, the amount of emotional fortitude and strength it takes to get it done. So when you've got your trainer telling you to crank out five more reps, when all you want to do is turn around and punch him in the face with the barbell (I'd never do that, Seb), your strength has to come from somewhere. And it's not from your muscles.

It comes from your heart. It comes from your soul. It comes from a place deep within where you find and contemplate travelling "the avenue of gain" (to again use the words of choreographer, Li'C). And sometimes it comes out in tears. Those tears start in that same place where self-determination and belief, and often the lack of both, come together to help me to crank out those next few reps, knowing that when I make it through to the end of the routine, I'm going to feel a feeling so incredible that it will be worth every drop of sweat.

Well, the interesting thing is that I didn't feel that increidble feeling right away. Not only was I on the verge of tears a few times, but as we neared the end of our session, I seriously thought I was gonna hurl. I was cranking out my last set of tricep pulldowns, and when I got to the 10th rep, I could feel something brewing inside... and it wasn't good. So, like every determined athlete, I kept going. I realize now that when I get that feeling, I should stop. But I was five reps from the end. So I had to finish it out. I wasn't going to quit. And when I got to that last rep, I was done. I was spent. I had nothing left inside, nothing more to give.

And I didn't throw up after all. Close call, though!

But I did go home that night, sat on the couch for a bit and reflected on what I had accomplished. And at that moment, I moved beyond the verge of tears and had a good power cry... you know, the therapeutic cry that makes you feel better. And these tears weren't because I needed them to help me crank through a few more reps of my routine. They were there because I was so friggin impressed with myself that night. I never imagined that I would ever be able to work this hard. I never envisioned a time that I would train near the pace of a professional athlete, and still be standing afterwards. I never fathomed the possibility that I would consider myself as being an athlete. I mean growing up, that was a word reserved for the people who, from a quiet distance, I wanted to become, but never ever thought I would ever be.

Well, I am now.
And it feels friggin' incredible.

So, getting back into my routine was tough. And powering through my workout on Wednesday night was even tougher. But it was possible because I've got the guidance and support of an incredible friend and trainer. More importantly, it was possible, and will continue to be so, because I've got something now that I never had before -- the unshakeable belief that I can do anything I want to do.

So bring it on.

I'm supplementing my strength routines with 5-kilometre runs. I've done three 5K runs this week alone. And my legs feel great. Seriously. I'm beginning to both educate myself more about running, and wrap my head around my goals that lay ahead: a 5K road race in September, a 10K next spring, and a half-marathon in Fall 2010. I think I'm going to hop on a bike and ride to work someday soon -- it's only 33k each way! And in the fall, maybe I'll take up karate.. who knows? The possibilities are endless -- endless because I've learned to face my demons head on, even when I'm on the verge of tears and throwing up, and know in my heart and my soul -- again deep down in 'that place', that I will always win.


Kia kaha.
Stay strong.