Don’t skip the small stuff

A few weeks ago, weightlifting coach and athlete Aimee Anaya Everett made a post on Instagram. In the caption, she talks about how PRs come in a variety of forms, not just an increase in the weight on the bar. Things like movement consistency, technical proficiency, confidence, and mentality are also PRs.

I really like this take.

I like this take because it acknowledges, even centers, the small stuff.

Well.

The seemingly small stuff. The less flashy stuff.

Fun fact: The less flashy stuff is what makes up the flashy stuff! Amy’s post is a good reminder of this. And in the age of impatience and get-fit-quick InstaFit™, it’s a much-needed reminder. This take knows that the less flashy pieces of the process are fundamental. That they form the foundation for the big, flashy, sexy stuff. Like more-weight-on-the-barbell PRs. I like Amy’s take because it’s a good reminder to not skip the (seemingly) small stuff—to not skip doing it, and to not skip celebrating your progress with it.

I also like Amy’s take because it makes me feel less shitty about my history of a lack of more-weight-on-the-barbell PRs. If there was a record for the length of time between weight-on-the-bar PRs balanced against the amount of time one has been doing the sport and the amount of work one puts into progressing, I’d hold it.

The last time I hit a weight PR on a lift was February 2018. I snatched an ugly 55 kilos (the set-up, the jump forward, the press-out—all yikes). I’ve not snatched 55 kilos since. Prior to that PR, which, again, was four years ago, I hadn’t hit a weight PR on a lift in three years. I’ve hit a whopping two more-weight-on-the-barbell PRs in the last seven years. TWO. I am never not aware of this when I’m in the gym. And I am never not embarrassed by this.

I start training with a new coach at a new gym today, and I’m both excited and nervous. Excited because I love CrossFit and the vibe of CrossFit gyms, and I’m looking very forward to consistently doing CrossFit in a CrossFit gym after two years of not. Nervous because I’ll be training in the same space as some extremely elite athletes and I’m insecure and self-conscious about that. (I’m also very excited about this part. It’ll be good motivation—after it stops feeling so overwhelmingly intimidating.)

I feel very behind in CrossFit and weightlifting. Like I should (“should”) be stronger, faster, and more skilled than I am, because of how long I’ve been doing both sports. I feel like my plateau, which always feels all-encompassing and sometimes feels like regression, is failure and that failure is (1) bad and (2) my fault, and that, by natural and irreversible extension, I’m (1) bad and (2) a failure.

I feel this way even though I know these things aren’t true. Even though I know (now) that I’m autistic, and that being autistic means my brain and body work differently, especially in the context of fitness. And even though it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone at this new gym will negatively judge me for *checks notes* working with a coach to improve my imbalances and weaknesses. I mean, that’s literally the whole point of hiring a coach???

ANYWAY.

On the heels of a year-ish of physical therapy, and ahead of starting with my new coach at my new gym, and in the spirit of not skipping doing or celebrating the small, non-flashy stuff, here are some recent non-weight related PRs that I’m proud of:

Stretching. About a month ago I added stretching into my routine. For the first three-ish weeks, I was stretching morning, sometimes noon, and night. For the last two-ish, I’ve been stretching at least once most days. I’ve been using the Stretch and GOWOD apps. Stretch is a general stretching app, GOWOD is designed specifically for CrossFitters. I like them both, but’ve decided to only keep GOWOD. Stretch doesn’t have personalized or dynamic content. GOWOD does.

When I stretch in the morning, I often start with the first 15 minutes of this pregnancy yoga routine before adding in a Stretch or GOWOD protocol. It’s the first yoga practice I ever followed, when I was 18 and pregnant with my first child. I’ve returned to it many times over the years, even when not pregnant, because I like it. It’s both gentle and energizing, which I find to be a good combination in the morning.

Stretching on purpose is something I’ve neglected for much of my life, because (1) it’s boring, and (2) I’m naturally more mobile and flexible than many people, and I’ve never really been able to feel stretches when I do them. Stretching—and mobility and tissue work in general—didn’t really seem necessary. Until it did. I turn 36 this month (wild) and I’m not as limber as I used to be, or as I need to be for where I want to be.

Even when I pair it with listening to a podcast or FaceTiming my kids or watching TV, stretching is incredibly boring. But I recognize the value and notice a difference (my lower back is less cranky when I stretch consistently), so I’ve kept at it.

Unfucking my anterior pelvic tilt. Something finally clicked for me during a pelvic floor PT appointment about a month ago. Ever since, I’ve been hyperaware of my pelvis positioning, and able to detect and, with the help of mirrors and my iPhone’s front camera, which I use as a mirror when I don’t have one, correct it.

This has been a long time coming, something I began working on with clinicians beginning in middle school. What a difference it makes to work with a patient, kind, and encouraging clinician who doesn’t shame me for having a brain and body that work differently, and who works with me to find cues that click. Yes, this is paragraph is a subtweet at coaches and clinicians I’ve worked with in the past.

Learning to breathe. My first order of business when my current pelvic floor DPT and I started working together was learning how to deeply breathe into my diaphragm instead of shallowly breathing into my chest. My next order of business was to learn how to keep breathing. Turns out, I was almost always holding my breath, and not even noticing it. Who knew!

Learning to breathe optimally took A TON of conscious effort and was an incredibly frustrating, tear-filled process. And honestly, breathing correctly takes a pretty significant amount of active effort to maintain. For whatever reason, correct/optimal breathing is not intuitive to me/my brain.

Learning to brace my core. Figured this one out by accident while doing my pelvic floor PT exercises at home one night. Per usual, the usual cues for this have never made sense to me. When prompted with them, I just push my belly out (and bear down instead of contracting my pelvic floor), or suck it in (and stop breathing). Neither of those things are bracing your core. Your core braces when you laugh. That’s the thing you’re trying to achieve, except without laughing (and without bearing down, and without stopping breathing).

Personally, I think cues like “smile wide with your stomach, from the center, out” or “pancake your stomach” makes more sense than “flex your abs like you’re about to be punched” or “pull your belly button to your spine” (what does that even mean???).

Stronger and longer pelvic floor contractions. When I started pelvic floor PT last June, I could barely perform a pelvic floor contraction (aka: a Kegel). It was extremely weak—like, just barely there—and then immediately gone (“not enduring” is how my then-DPT worded it). And, bonus, for the first few months, I couldn’t even sense that I was contracting my pelvic floor. This was particularly upsetting and discouraging. How was I supposed to know that I was doing something—at all, and correctly—if I couldn’t physically feel it?

Now, after only 10 entire months in weekly pelvic floor PT, I’m able to feel my pelvic floor contractions, I can sense that they’re stronger, each one lasts significantly longer than they used to (I couldn’t hold a single Kegel for even literally two seconds when I first started pelvic floor PT, now I can hold each contraction for at least 10 seconds), and I can string reps and sets of them together. Go little rockstar.

Peeing my pants less—in volume and frequency. I can’t yet sense a pelvic floor contraction when I’m upright and moving and/or under load, but I know something is working because (1) I’m peeing my pants less frequently during workouts, and (2) when I do pee my pants, it happens later and heavier into a workout, and there’s not as much piss as there was before. Progress!

Notably, I recently ran an entire mile without peeing my pants at all????? Unheard of. I used to have pee dripping down my leg three paces into a run, and by the time I was finished I could literally wring it out of my shorts or leggings. Huge progress to run an entire mile without a single drop. And to be finishing most training sessions without pissing my pants.

Noticing. Honestly, noticing all of this shit is a giant PR. My differences in interoception and proprioception—two senses that are responsible for helping us understand our body’s internal sensations and positioning in space—are the primary reasons why I have the injuries, imbalances, and weaknesses that I do.

I’ve spent a literal lifetime with a massive mind/muscle disconnect, and, until very recently, I wasn’t even aware of that disconnect. That I’m now more aware of this disconnect, and of the different ways it influences my health and athleticism, is an achievement for sure. As is being able to register internal sensations that’ve eluded me for literally my entire life till now.

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