Sunday, February 18, 2018. 07:30
As I crawl forward on my forearms and toes inching ahead to the end of my mat, Bertina reminds me to keep my back straight, no rocking from side to side. The motion is meant to be small and deliberate. I picture a line of barbed wire running just above my back and I am a soldier (or an escapee!) squirming under a retaining fence in the dead of night. I hear Bertina coaching: focus on control, speed is secondary.
When we finish a minute and half of sneaking forward then backward, I am not sure if my uniform might have been shredded on my mission, but I do know that I was gratefully diverted from planking at the far edge of my mental and physical ability.
Forty-five second planks once felt like an eternity; then the minute became standard. Now Bertina is steadily moving us past the minute mark to keep me challenged. She opts for exercises where I am in a plank, but distracted by small core movements that require my concentration and additional muscle groups (like sliding a weight from one side of my body to another while in a push-up hold, awesome!).
A lot of what we do today here in the garage is based on small movements and from the outside appear restrained and economical. I have a natural temptation in exercise to swing wide into motion. This is partly the entertaining dancer in me (certainly not the earlier ballerina, ballet being one of the most retrained and disciplined dances on Earth). However in strength training, momentum and sliding out of resistance ranges detract from the goal of seeking physical struggle.
(If it feels good, if it feels easy, guess what? I’m doing it wrong.)
Bertina has me try bear crawls today where I can zero in on holding back to achieve more. I am hovering in a table top on my hands and toes with my knees lifted off the ground. I must lift my leg in a 90 degree angle until my shoe soles kiss the sky and then come back down to my knee. This is just the kind of controlled exercise that I would have treated as upbeat cardio in earlier days.
But my trainer is eyeing my leg’s peaks and valleys stopping me on each end when I excessively move into an area where she can visually see my muscles relax. Stop there, she guides, when my foot moves slightly up. Good. Now down. My knee lowers down toward my other knee and wants to continue towards the ground. Wait! Stop there, she says, and puts her hand out so I know when I’ve reached the target. Do you feel that?
I do! It is a small, tight range of motion where there is consistent struggle and resistance. My triceps and glutes are shaking under the weight of maintaining every limb in its designated place. It doesn’t look like much, but everything inside me is working hard to hold it together.
We move next into jump lunges, which Bertina has modified to accommodate my nerve injury which is still healing but moving in the right direction. Instead of alternating legs on each jump which is a more aggressive exercise, we lunge down until our knees hover above the ground and then leap up from there and then back down to a low lunge position with the same leg.
Running several sets of 15 reps on each leg is a powerful reminder to me that even a modified exercise can keep a person challenged during rehabilitation. Again, it doesn’t look like much from outside, but there is a world of muscles collaborating and protesting inside of me by the time it is over.
As we finish off the day with squats accompanied with hand weights, I am astonished as always at how much can be accomplished in an hour with very little equipment in a small amount of space. Bertina points out that even a woman using a full liter water bottle can make her own hand weights.
It’s true. It’s not the materials so much that hold us back from doing something for ourselves. It’s the mindset. The habits that we create to prioritize one activity in our lives over another.
(Small steady movements in my life lead to big improvements)
I think back to remember what I might have been doing 6 months ago at 7:30 am on a Sunday before Bertina invented the garage workout for us. I am pretty sure that whatever it was, I wasn’t positioning my body and mind for the strength that I need right now and in future decades ahead.
Earning something that no matter what happened in the world around me, nobody could ever say it was theirs.
This Sunday was special. Because at the end of this hour and at the end of this day…