For the last couple of months I’ve been having sessions with a guy who’s sort of part physical trainer of the type you would find at a gym, part physical therapist. My sister’s been working with him for ages; I decided to hop onto the bandwagon because (as some of you know) my ankles have been absolute crap for most of my life, but what I’d seen of how C goes about things made me believe he might be able to do something to improve that.
Which he has in fact done. The process isn’t complete, of course — in some ways it will probably never be complete — but for the first time in years, I’ve started to feel like I can maybe trust my ankles. Getting to that point has involved not the familiar routines I’ve been given by every physical therapist I’ve ever seen, but stuff ranging from getting my arches to move again (which they had more or less stopped doing) to balance exercises aimed at reprogramming the way my eyes and my brain interact.
And also weight training. Which is where things get weird for me.
I’ve done very little of this kind of thing in my life. For a brief time I saw a regular trainer at a gym, and she gave me some upper-body stuff to do, but C’s got me doing deadlifts and bizarre variations on back lunges where I do a one-handed shoulder press with a kettlebell before lunging and then lean over to put the palm of my other hand on the floor and so forth. And what I’ve discovered as I do this is . . . my brain just does not have any baseline for processing what the hell is going on.
Sometimes C will tell me to do something and I am absolute crap at it — until suddenly I’m not. This happened with a small exercise where I was balancing a kettlebell upright in one hand: the first day I tried, I couldn’t keep it in position for even five seconds, and then the next day I was doing fifteen, twenty, twenty-five seconds, no problem. It wasn’t that I’d gotten stronger literally overnight; I think that somewhere between Day One and Day Two, my brain went ohhhh, I see what you’re getting at. But what really gets me is that when I’m doing the strength exercises and my heart rate and breathing go up — y’all, it turns out I have no sense of scale there. Not in the context of that kind of work. Ask me to do karate kata or swim 500 meters and sure, I know how to pace myself. I know how hard I’m working and whether I can maintain that for an extended period of time or not. But put a kettlebell in my hands and suddenly I have no freaking clue whether I need to slow down, whether my heart rate and breathing will continue to spike or whether they’ll stay where they are, how many more reps I’ll be able to do before my muscles give out. I’m probably working slower/easier than I’m actually capable of, because something in my hindbrain is freaking out over these unfamiliar sensations and telling me I need to back off before I ‘splode.
I’ll be interested to see how this changes over time. Presumably, as I get more familiar with the physicality of strength training, I’ll get better at judging where I actually am on the effort scale. I’ll also get stronger — but I think that’s a separate thing. At one point C asked me how hard a particular movement was on a scale of 1 to 10 and I didn’t even know what to tell him. Another time he asked me that question, and I realized that while I didn’t feel like I was exerting myself super hard, I also had this feeling like I was about two reps away from Nope Not Happening Anymore. A weird split between my strength, and the endurance that particular strength had.
It’s a brave new world, yo. One in which I am closer to being able to do a squat than I’ve been in my entire life — so that’s something!