Learning to Listen: My Diary
Recently, a lot of members have asked me about the best way utilize our system at Hanuman Health Club —what workouts to do, how many of them and when to do it. The answer to these questions are always going to be: it depends. Unsatisfactory I know, but like everything in health and wellness, the answer will always depend on where you are right now, what your goals are and most importantly: HOW DO YOU FEEL?
Our system is set up for general health and fitness goals. For us, that means striving for strength and mobility that will allow you to do what makes you happy in your daily life with ease and minimum stress. So, our first question depends on your goals. Maybe you’re training for a marathon and need to stay healthy enough to cover a certain amount of milage each week. Maybe you have a big event coming up and although you already feel great, you would love to turn up to the event 5 pounds lighter. Your goals will always play a huge factor, so if you have a specific goal, stop reading right now and reach out to me for some personal advice or training.
The next dependent question is all about how you feel. This is where most people start to become unstuck. This question goes a little deeper than a simple I'm fine, but really examines how you’re feeling and what is driving those feelings. When I train clients personally, I can typically make the decision for them. I can tell by how they walk into the gym and through a few little questions how much they are really up for in that moment. Often times, I have to trick them by pretending they are going to do a hard workout, but in reality I slow them down to allow their system to settle as much as possible. So if you’re not training personally with me, then what are the signs you’re looking for to understand what your body really needs. To do this, I thought I would try a different approach. I wrote a little diary of my own workouts with the thought process behind them to see if you gain some knowledge from it. I recorded for a two week period, because as I always say to clients, a week is too short, lets look at the work covered in 2, 3 or 4 weeks instead.
A little back story to these two weeks: I always train for lean muscle mass and mobility under the umbrella of movement quality. Sometimes one of these may take more of a priority than the other, but mainly thats the overriding agenda. I am also going to be climbing lots of mountains in May and June, so I’m trying build up my work capacity and technical skill for that. The current program is going to be 6 weeks for building strength and the following 6 weeks is all about bringing up my conditioning and endurance, bringing down my weight and trying to hold onto strength.
Ok so lets take a look at my last two weeks…
Did a hard strength session today. I had been doing decompression, recovery and tons of mobility work for the previous week. I had planned to do one extra day of that, but I was feeling good and wanted to push. I had tons of energy and had been sitting at the computer doing work all day, so wanted to blow off some steam. Workout lasted about 90 minutes with a nice, big cool down and stretch at the end. I love doing my hardest workouts on the days I don't see clients. I’m not as rushed and have more energy to get through.
I have taken Monday mornings off over the last few months. I found it vitally important for physical and mental health. I try to be very strict about taking my Mondays off and today was no different. A good sleep in and breakfast was perfect recovery from the previous day's work.
The rest of the day I saw 5 clients and taught 2 classes. One of those class was Clubflow, which I partake in myself and always use as one of my own recovery sessions. The club work is some delicious movement for my shoulders and upper back, while the bodyweight flow opens up my hips nicely.
Home by 9 and in bed by 10.
Alarm goes off at 4:45 this morning and man, it is hard to get out of bed. I have a 5:30am client and am really feeling the soreness from Sunday. I always find 48 hours after the first day of a new program is the worst. I am feeling the soreness in the right places though.
6:30 and 8:30 class, then an 11am client. After that, I have scheduled my own workout. Good thing Ilya was working with me, or I would have made an excuse. Realistically, it was a toss up as it was. Did an upper body resistance day, keeping the weight down, but the reps high. I could have argued for another recovery day, but am trying to build work capacity, too so there is an element of push needed.
I ended up having to rush the end of the workout and had clients at 4,5,6 and 7. Turned into a long day and I was exhausted by the end of the day. That lead to some poor food choices.
This week, my Wednesday is surprisingly light. Usually I have around 10 or 12 clients, but today only 5. That included a sleep in. My first wasn't until 7:30am and then I had a big gap until 3pm.
I knew my Wednesday was going to be like that, so I scheduled my long climb for that day. Warmed up with a half hour of joint preparation, then about 2 hours of easier, but longer climbs and finished with a half hour of stretching and decompression.
Finished the day uptown, so was home by 8pm. Great plans to be in bed by 9, but got lost watching some nonsense and didn't get to bed till 11. I stretched the alarm to 5am.
Alarm goes off and again I find it very hard to get up. I really regretted staying up that late.
Similar day to Tuesday from a work point of view. Soreness is finally leaving the body, but I am tired. Again I think about bailing, but again I have the accountability of Ilya. Did lots of hip mobility, then gymnastics and lower body resistance training. Again, felt like I had to force myself a little, but once I did I felt good.
Not home till 9, bed by 10. Meant to do my hard climbing session tomorrow, but think I’ll just take it easy. Feeling very tired.
My 6am cancelled. Got the text late last night. Thank the sweet lord, baby Jesus because I was able to push my alarm back that extra hour. And the difference it made was unbelievable. I felt great. Hopped out of bed and packed my climbing gear. Another lighter day than my usual. I just have 7am-12pm, then off to the climbing gym.
I do an hour of harder climbs than I am technically able, so they were ugly. Finished with a nice little stretch. My afternoon is basically free now. Just a meeting at 6:30pm and that’s it.
Woke up at 5am super excited. Today we are hiking Slide Mountain. I have been wanting to hike it for a long time now and today the weather is absolutely perfect and my body is feeling great.
A few delays on the way up, so we don't hit the trail until after 10am, but we summit for 1pm. It's a decent elevation gain, but the party does well at over an hour a mile.
The way down everyone seems comfortable and happy at their own pace, so I go for a little trail run to get back down to the cars. I love running the decents and the ice makes this one a little bit more challenging and fun. I get down about 20 minutes before the boys. The snow soaks up the sound of the woods, so I am on my own in utter silence. I take that little slice of heaven to do some breathing exercises. When the boys get back down, we go for a quick dip in the icy river. I didn't last too long — it was enough to refresh and invigorate, but I didn't want to be in pain for the drive home, so I bailed after maybe 20 seconds.
Stopped in Woodstock on the way home for the best part about hiking....the beer, the burger and on this occasion, a truffle mac and cheese comparable to crack cocaine.
During the week, I found out my grandmother was to have an emergency operation so I booked a ticket home to be there for her recovery. The flight isn't until later tonight so the rest of the day is for pure vegetation. The airport is quiet and there is plenty of space, so I find a quiet corner and stretch for an hour. Felt great. Feeling like I did the perfect amount of work this week.
6 hour flight and 3 hour drive home, so by the time I get there I go to bed. I get up at 3 and do a little post flight recovery and mobility. A few jobs to be done on the computer and around the house later…and the day is over.
It's hard to get out of bed at 7am this morning. It is pitch black, the wind is howling and my bed is warm. I force myself out of bed, though and stand around looking for an excuse to not workout. I try to justify it by saying my nervous system needs more rest but it's nonsense I know what I am feeling and my body is good. My mind is just being lazy. I learned some tricks to check in with the nervous system from Dan John, but I didn't even need to use them. I know my body is good to go. You can check out those hacks here.
Once I got myself into the gym, I felt great and had a strong, but quick workout. I finished up by killing two birds with one stone. There was plenty of wood to chop at home, so for every piece I split, I did 20 push ups and squats. Set the clock for 20 minutes and got through as many rounds as possible.
The hospital is 2 hours drive each way so that’s pretty much the rest of the day.
Alarm set for 7:30am, but the next thing I know it's 9.30. I don't mind though, if my body wanted more sleep it wanted more sleep. Spent the day driving and at the hospital. Craving a yoga class, but couldn't find one.
Slept in again. This time I am a little pissed off. It feels like I am being more lazy than I would like to be rather than recovering. I want some sort of focused, or mindful movement. Even a walk on the beach, or cliffs but I get bogged down in computer work and lose the day.
Not feeling great about it at all. I did at least do 20 minutes of stretching before bed — that helped a little.
Started the day off with a dawn 3-mile run around the woods. It is bitterly cold, but the sunrise is beautiful and the peace is blissful. The cold air is delicious and by the time I get back to the car I feel amazing. Get back home for some more wood splitting.
Later that evening I go to a gym near the hospital. Do some upper body volume. Another good workout, but no time for a cool down.
Good nights sleep, but it is a miserable day so I have no real interest in doing anything outside. A relatively chill day, but lots of driving. Two hours to the hospital. Then I go to that same gym for some lower body volume, then drive 3 hours to spend the night at my Aunt’s.
And there we go, my 2 week diary. I enjoyed doing it! It kept me focused and mindful of what I was trying to accomplish.
I’m pretty happy with how the weeks turned out. Looking at the workouts, I got a nice even spread of everything. Two heavy strength days, two lower body volume and two upper body volume days. Two technical climbing days, two cardio days (hike and run), however those were more like active recovery. Two focused recovery days and two lazy days.
It really helps to look over a larger period of time, rather than a single week.
I felt like my communication with my body was very good. Most days I heard what my body was asking for and I feel like I gave it what it needed. Arguably, on days 3 and 5, I pushed to something I didn't want, but I think that was justified by my need to increase my work capacity. I have to stress the body every now and then. I would have liked more focused recovery, particularly on 1/31. My body really wanted something gentle, even so much as a walk and I didn't do that, so I think I can get better with my recovery routine, especially when I’m not in New York. If I was in NYC, I would have been in the bathhouse. When I don’t have that outlet, I become lazy with my recovery.
I know I talk about this all the time, but my god, is it so important. I really appreciated it on day 6 when I got that extra hour and woke feeling so much better than expected. Sleep is key. Also, in both weeks I had a lighter schedule than usual, so I may have been able to do more. It will be interesting to see what my experience is this coming week.
So to get back to your question…
What should you be doing? Well, you should be doing what your body is craving. To understand this, you have to learn the language in which it is speaking to you. How is your energy? How is your sleep? Are you getting sick? Are you noticing an injury that won't go away, or you are getting a lot of injuries? This is the language your body will use when asking for gentler workouts. Are you full of energy? Have you had a great week at work? Is your relationship doing well? You have been given the green light to proceed, full steam ahead. Stop trying to beat your body into submission. Instead, have a mature and respectful conversation where you actually LISTEN.