February 19, 2008

Hey, Look How Strong I... Oh Crap

[By Crabby]

Sure, Crabby is Strong Like This Too!

Is Anyone Else Ever This Dumb?

So I was feeling pretty pleased with myself recently when I noticed that I was actually making some progress with a couple of my ab exercises, despite having had a period of bad behavior when I'd laid off entirely for a week or two.

Apparently the rest did me good, because after after years of settling into the same routine, all of a sudden I felt strong enough to push myself further and further each time! It wasn't just a good day, but workout after workout, I was finding the motivation and strength to power though more reps than I'd ever done before!

Until I realized... somewhere along the line I'd started counting differently. These were exercises that had a left and a right side, and I used to count "one" after completing both sides. Now I was going left: "one," right "two."


So I was actually doing way less than I had before, but feeling incredibly smug about it.

And this is not the first time I've had such disappointments:

My walking and running times at a newly discovered running track were so much better than I thought they'd be--my half-assed but consistent training efforts had apparently paid off big time, now that I could measure them! I was so psyched I started going to the track all the time--how could I have ever thought running tracks were boring?-- and I found myself abandoning my previous hilly, unmeasurable routes.


Until one day I discovered the track was some sort of freakish old-fashioned non-standard thing that was Way Under a quarter mile. My times were NOT suddenly faster than I'd ever gone before. I sort of wish I hadn't asked, or that the smarty pants soccer team guy hadn't been so pleased and amused to set me straight about it. (Haven't been back to the track since then, oddly enough).

Oh and that stupid "gravitron" machine at the Gold's Gym in D.C.? The one that made me feel SO proud and pumped about how little help I needed to do pull-ups and tricep dips? Too bad I finally noticed that weights labeled in 10 lb increments were actually 20 lb weights, and I was needing twice the help I'd thought I was getting.

Got Skepticism?
Why am I not more suspicious when my usual half-assed efforts all of a sudden yield amazing results? When something is suddenly harder, I'm quite quick to assume there's something wrong with the machine, or that the trail that looks flat must actually be uphill--err, in both directions? Or that it's the wind or hormones or what I ate for breakfast or the cycle of the moon or something.

I just want to believe, so bad, that I'm really awesome and strong and dedicated, without actually putting out the kind of effort to be any of those things.

Heart Rate Goes Up, Brain Shuts Down
Part of my problem too is that I can't think and exercise at the same time. Trying to do six intervals during my treadmill routine proved impossible until I made myself do them at specific time increments--because I discovered I could not count to six.

I even tried putting six pennies in my pocket and taking one out after each interval--but I'd keep forgetting to do it... or thinking maybe I'd forgotten to do it. Surely there couldn't be three f*cking pennies still left--I must have done at least four intervals by now! Maybe I just forgot to take out one of the pennies?

Screw It, It Is What It Is
One answer to the painful disappointment that accompanies faux performance gains: stop measuring and caring that much about how much I do. It's pretty clear after several decades of working out that I'm not willing to push myself hard enough to do amazing things. And I'm pretty content, over all, with my consistent if not spectacular performance. So why get so excited if some number gets big all of a sudden?

Damn ego, wish I could send it packing. But that would probably take some sort of self-improvement effort--and I don't seem to be willing to put in a bunch of time doing that, either.

What about you folks, do you measure your performance and have expectations about it? Ever go through any ups and downs over the results?


  1. Sometimes it's a bonus not being able to think and exercise at the same time. I try to zone out when I'm tired of running but I haven't quite reached my goal... admire the scenery, listen to the music, and try not to think about other things I could be doing instead...

  2. The mere fact that I exercise almost every day is enough for me That said, I am keeping track at present just because I'm working to get my strength and endurance back following heart failure.
    If I started caring too much and pushing myself I'd get all contrary and stop.
    My goal is to hike in the mountains and go for 10 mile bike rides again.

  3. When I exercise - I definitely prefer NOT thinking - music or tv are a must to drown out my wandering thoughts of how horrible the experience of exercise really is.

    It took me two years but I went from 3 minutes on the treadmill to a whole 7 1/2 minutes (as measured by the stress test at my cardiologist) and I was feeling like Rocky. So for now taking it slow and easy, focusing on heart health and improving my congestive heart failure - rather then pushing to reach any other goals. Eventually though I plan to go a full 20 minutes or more on the treadmill during a stress test one day!

  4. When swimming in the pool, when asked how far you swim, saying "lengths" rather than "laps" makes it much more impressive!
    Dr. J

  5. So you guys sound WAY more evolved than I am. You either keep track for health reasons or zone out in a healthy way. I have this little adolescent part of my brain that wants to be GOOD at stuff without actually bothering to try very hard.

    Dr J--great tip, it does sound more impressive! And from what I hear, guys are very good at keeping track of lengths.

  6. So Dr. J, what lengths will you go to?

  7. My gym has this nifty little system that keeps track of everything you do on the weight machines. I can't remember if I've done ten reps or four, so it helps that it counts for me. It also tells me how many I'm supposed to do and at which weight. It takes the guesswork out of working out, and I don't have to keep track of anything to measure my progress. The computer pulls up all sorts of charts and graphs.

    The system isn't foolproof, though. Yesterday, I was doing tricep curls and was very impressed at how easy it was. Then I realized I hadn't moved the pin, and I was only using ten pounds instead of fifty. Oops.

  8. Katherine, too funny!

    Is that the fitlinx thingy that beeps irately at you if you go too fast? I used to be on that at a gym a long time ago. It was great at keeping track of stuff. But I do remember it being a big 'ol nag about slowing the heck down. I'd rather cheat and go fast.

  9. I can't think and exercise either. I planned out a 9 mile run recently and headed out with my Garmin. When I got to a landmark that I knew was 2.5 miles from my house I checked my Garmin. My Garmin told me I'd already run 6.5 miles as I should have but somehow when I added the 2.5 remaining to the 6.5 completed, I got 8 miles and threw in an extra loop to make sure I actually ran 9 miles. I was naturally shocked to discover that I'd run 10 miles when I got home.

    I've never been good with numbers, but it's apparently even worse when I'm running.

  10. It's funny...I'm going thru the counting problem with the addition of lunges to my workout. I was counting a lunge forward on one side as 1, so 10 on each side was 20...I just realised that it's not. It's just 10.
    So here I was all pumped about the whole 20 lunges thing and really...eh, not so much :)
    This is why I do muscle training to a DVD. I need someone telling me what to do or I lose count or start to daydream...

  11. The Bag Lady can't think and exercise at the same time either - she starts day-dreaming and forgets to count her reps. Sigh.

  12. When I joined my gym a year and a half ago, I got on the scale and was psyched to see I'd lost 11 pounds!
    Until I looked more closely and noticed I was looking at the metric measurements, not pounds. I had actually gained a few.


  13. HaHa!! I dropped my guard and got hit with a left/right cream pie in the face!

    Vanilla, your bad math with running will make you a champion!

    Dr. J

  14. Sometimes I like to be blissfully ignorant of how much work I'm doing (or not doing). I have a chronic condition called "rounding up-itis."

  15. Ah now, see, if I forget how many reps I've done in the weight room, it's no biggie. But, when I forget it while teaching class, that's another thing entirely. Apparently, I can't count to 4. I teach one class where we do 4 reps of each exercise REAAAAAALY slowly (about 20 seconds each), and so if I'm giving form cues and helping people out, I'll get to 3 or 4 and not remember whether it is 3 or 4, so I ask the class and they look at me like I'm a martian.

  16. Hahahaha...The stories are great...I love it...

    I lose track with lunges too, so I don't count. I pick a distance, go that far, take a break and then go back to start making sure I start with the opposite leg (X2)...It works, trust me and you don't have to count...Score...

    For intervals, I use the little onboard computer thingy...On the elliptical, I watch the time bars and after a set number go by, I ramp up and puch myself until the next one flashes and then got moderatly for a set number and so on and so forth...

    I've found that there are ways around having to think while you're there...Because after all, you should be paying attention to your body so that you don't hurt yourself...

  17. As lazy as I've been lately, I'd take a faux performance gain over no performance gain. Hell, getting my gym shoes on is a major accomplishment!

  18. You guys are totally cracking me up!

    And Sambo, love the lunge/distance idea--if only I did lunges.

    (I pretend it's my bad knees keeping me from them but actually it's the fact that I hate them. But it really is a smart idea.)

  19. strange I tend to think a lot when I exercise..but keeping track of what I've done interval usually has to be done by doing exact amounts of time so I can count backwards when I lose track. Either way..you're working out righ!

  20. I'm like most here. I too can't think straight too when exercising. Thank goodness there are the monitors on the machines to keep you abreast of miles, incline, calories, time etc. I track all my workout stats and then write them down, but many times I even forget by the time I get to the locker room. Dang it!

    One thing to note. When you are deep breathing like you do in cardio you cannot think and focus on breathe at the same time. Try it right now. Take 3-4 deep breathes like deep into your belly and see if you can think any thoughts like your blog stats, TV shows, what will Britney do with her life,etc etc. Odds are your focus will be entirely on your lungs and your breathe. Which btw is a good thing. It's a break from the chatter of your brain.

  21. Homer: Nnngh...TWO!
    Lenny: Actually, Homer, that's just one. Ya see, each push-up has an up part--and a down part!
    Homer: D'OH!

    I did this kind of thing constantly before I got a personal trainer. I tried everything I could: tapping after each set, counting breaths, using a specific playlist of songs, and no matter what my count would always get screwed up. Endless sessions of monotonous cardio are about all I can do without professional help.

  22. I have to follow my DVD or I get lost when doing Yoga. I have noticed on one that the instructor can't count & talk either, I know that I've spent more time on one side than the other when following her.

  23. ok I LOVE the comments :)

    I am just happy when I make it to the gym now.

    but Im old that way.


  24. So glad I'm not unusual in the not-thinking while exercising part. I don't seem to have these oopsies where I think I'm doing better than I am, and of course when I'm suddenly doing worse I can always blame the thyroid or the allergies--everything is their fault.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  25. I personally think it's great that your first assumption is that you're kicking ass. I always think the latter and it messes with me. I've done 3 marathons, but a lot of mornings, my brain thinks I can't possibly even run a mile. I guess it comes from being overweight nearly my entire life. I like your way much better!

  26. What awesome comments!

    I'm so glad to hear that even fitness and yoga instructors can't count, and that I have some company in the Homer Simpson school of Doh!

    However, most of you folks seem to be far less ego driven than I am--good for you, 'cause mine just gets me in trouble.

  27. Ha! THese comments are great. I think this pretty much sums it up for me:
    I have this little adolescent part of my brain that wants to be GOOD at stuff without actually bothering to try very hard.

  28. I am so glad - I thought I was the only one who couldn't count reps!

    What really gets to me are people - sometimes trainers with clients! - that count out loud enough to be heard through half the gym. How am I to keep track with them doing that next to me? Arrg

  29. This post hit so close to home, Crabby! I think a lot of women do this, and I'm not going to blame society or supermodels or anything, but I feel like it is can be really damaging. While we should be proud of any accomplishment or effort when it comes to exercising, eating right, etc (ie things that more than half of the population don't even bother with) Instead we focus on what we did wrong, or where we slipped. I started (tortuous) Weight Watcherrs a month ago and I am down 12 pounds. I never even felt happy about it, I just kept harrumphing about the 28 I have to go. Screw that!!! I kick ass; I lost 12 pounds :) And Screw your so-called slides on your training...you are out there doing stuff that most people don't care enough about themselves to even attempt...That kicks ass, too!


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