#61: An Actual Fitness Post
It’s been a WHILE since the last fitness post, probably because fitness has become a habit rather than a priority while I focus on improving other aspects of my life such as overall personal development and my career. Or, it at least feels that way while strength is on the backburner. I spend 1.5-2 hours in the gym 5-6 days a week. I cherish that time, but I’m not focusing on increasing weight each week the way that I used to be. I do the same weight and call it “good enough.”
I’m focusing my “active energy” on improving mobility and flexibility. By active energy, I mean the additional energy invested to make progress. I did the splits for the first time last week, despite having a more-than-mild case of covid. The splits was a long-standing goal, that I couldn’t seem to reach no matter how hard I tried. I gave up, concluding that it wasn’t anatomically possible for my body. However, once I realized that my mobility wasn’t as great as I thought it was, everything clicked.
A few months back, I randomly decided to max squat (I rarely plan maxes since it puts too much mental pressure on me.) Although I was expecting 200+lbs, I failed 160 lbs. Needless to say, I was angry. Dissecting the problem, I realized my ankles wouldn’t allow me squat lower as the weight increased. I can complete most hip mobility trends, so I didn’t see a glaring mobility issue. Sure, my mobility was decent for the average person, but it wasn’t optimized for the shape that I want to be in. I was what I now call “pseudo-mobile” meaning that I could complete movements, but didn’t realize where my form wasn’t up to par.
I spent hours Googling ankle and thoracic spine mobility exercises. Most of the results told me to stretch calves and listed exercises to reduce back pain, but I knew that wasn’t enough. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t keep me awake at night. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but if I read about a mobility exercise, I have the sudden urge to get up and try it.
After one week of consistent stretching, I surpassed the mobility/flexibility plateau I’d been at for years. I became able to everything I could “pretty much” do before. My Asian squat form was wrong all along. I lacked the thoracic mobility to hold myself upright. This improvement revived my drive to do the splits. My new-found ankle mobility brought me much closer.
The last hurdle was hip flexor and groin mobility. Again, I spent hours Googling. I grew frustrated as each new website recommended pigeon pose. My hips aren’t the problem, it’s just my hip flexors. If that’s not the most Michelle thing I’ve ever said, I don’t know what is. It took a few weeks of trial and error to find the proper stretches (aka trying out random movements in public to figure out if it felt right).
Separately, I figured out I was quad-dominant a long time ago by how much stronger my front squat is than my back squat. I prefer training hamstrings, but that’s because quad exercises are the most exhausting since they’re the largest muscles in the body. I often panic on leg day that I haven’t done enough quad exercises, which leads me to overcompensate with extra quad exercises. Moreover, I felt like accessory glute exercises were a cop out, and that I should focus 80% of my energy on compound lifts such as squats, hip thrust, deadlift, heavy lunges, etc. Glute exercises were like a reward for me as a bonus if I felt like I performed well enough in compounds. I neglected that compound lifts can only be as strong as the weakest link. If you push past that, you create muscle imbalances and increase risk of injury. Turns out, there’s a good chance my hip flexor issue and groin issues are a result of weak glutes. Makes sense, since I purposefully neglected them for so long. It feels like there’s a string tangled up in my body. As I begin to untangle it, everything falls into place.
Thankfully, the challenging part was figuring out the problem areas over the last 2 months, not implementing the solution. Each of my leg days now includes one glute isolation exercise such as glute cable kickbacks or glute-ham raises and a hip flexor strengthening exercise. (Hip flexor immobility is also due to weakness because I’m forced to depend on other muscles.) I’m only a few weeks away from a pistol squat if I keep this up, now that I realize my hip flexors were the rate limiting muscle. It’s still uncomfortable for me to choose a less intense, “easier” exercise, because it makes me feel lazy, but I know it’s a ridiculous thought. Even though my overall strength remains the same, I achieved my life-long goal of doing the splits, and greatly reduced my risk of injury in the process (or vice versa?). For me, this is maturing in the gym. So, actually, I’m growing and focusing more in fitness than I give myself credit for.
Here’s my unsolicited fitness(fun) advice: If you’re stuck on a certain fitness goal or interested in understanding how your body is moving, I suggest experimenting with different stretching and mobility movements. Watch a mobility flow on YouTube, and see what you can do – correctly. The goal here isn’t to push yourself. The goal is to figure out where there’s resistance, and continue moving that part of the body to find the root cause. Then find what other movements are challenging, and look for the commonality. It takes time, Google searching, persistence and understanding of the body. Completely worth it. If you need a specific stretch, I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.
Then there’s cardio, which I’m not hating these days. Jury’s out on if that means I’m okay or not. I told myself I never needed to run again after I crossed the finish line of the half-marathon in June. As usual, I got to thinking: if I can run 13.1 miles and 1400 ft of elevation with minimal additional training and soreness, I can do it anytime. I’m running another, flatter half-marathon in September. I don’t have an official training plan. However, I spontaneously ran recently several times recently and enjoyed it. I couldn’t taste or smell when I had covid, so I ran as a way to feel something and it turned out to be some good type B fun. I forgot how good it feels to sweat, too. On the one hand, I’m nervous for this half because hikes recently kicked my ass. On the other hand, these were significantly more challenging hikes than usual, and I already proved to myself that I can do this.
I love traveling, and I’m pretty good at keeping up with my lifting schedule, but the lack of continuity creates anxiety. Even if I’m still working out in some capacity, I self-sabotage my goals as soon as there’s any uncertainty. Now that I’m in Seattle without disruption to my routine for the foreseeable future, I have peace of mind to set goals. Although, my goal right now is to fall in love with the gym again and be in good enough shape not to feel like I’m dying on hikes. The former is going well so far. 😊