The Intuitive Lifter

It's the standard gym pick-up line, and I never have an easy answer.

This is a line exclusive to the weight room, to men greeting other men or women. I have never heard a woman say these words (although if a client of mine appeared in the gym outside of our sessions I might be guilty).

It's simply this: What are you working on today?

More a connection point between lifters than a come on, the question expects an answer along the lines of "chest and tri's" or "pulling heavy today," with the more woke among us possibly mentioning "mobility" or even "my tree pose."

For me, though, the explanation runs long. I've become an intuitive exerciser, something Dan John named the "park bench workout"; it's the art of adjusting your goals to your day or state of mind, of respecting your joints, injuries and the aging process. There's never just one thing I'm working on, for reasons the average lifter on his lunch break shouldn't be bothered with.

I work twelve-hour shifts at a hospital, with most of them spent on my feet. I walk in a square between patient rooms, and I bend and carry and lift all day long. But there are also shifts during which I sit all day at monitors and analyze heart rhythms. The desk can be adjusted to standing, and I take advantage of this feature, but sitting begets sitting; it's exhausting. I sit more than I stand.

I'm looking at two sitting shifts coming up this week, which I keep in mind when working out in the days prior. Plus other concerns:

--I'm babying the traces of plantar fasciitis still present in my left heel
--My menstrual period started
--I don't want delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to hit when I sit, or it will be exacerbated
--My goals continue to be maintaining basic strength and mobility despite age and health concerns.

Here's how I approached the week, and why:


I decide that lifting heavy--even 3 sets of 10--will increase my risk of DOMS on days 3-4 when I have my shifts, but I do want some strength work. I build a circuit of light strength exercises that increase in reps, interspersed with light cardio to keep loose.

I begin with my daily quick mobility routine on the foam roller and floor and throw in some foundational core work (banana rolls, pelvic bracing) to address the problems I've had since some not-yet-identified gallbladder/appendix/colon issues. Contracting my abs had been triggering bloating and cramps, and avoiding my abs made them weak. I've found that if I work my core as a unit rather than trying anything remotely resembling a crunch, the symptoms abide. It's the smart way to work the core, anyway.

I then complete three rounds of 10-12-15 dumbbell push presses, dumbbell rows, and narrow stance wide grip barbell deadlifts.

Between rounds and after the last one, I hit my (soft) heavy bag or the speed bag, or I hop onto the Airdyne. The whole workout is less than an hour, as I get bored easily. I also panic, sometimes, if I plan too many sets. I had originally planned to ladder back down in reps and complete 5 sets, but I became anxious; to respect my mental health, and knowing I would still have a balanced, effective workout, I ended at 3. With my period beginning, anyway, I don't want to push the intensity.


Once again I begin with a more elaborate plan that I will not follow. I originally thought I'd start with my mobility/core routine, move into a bodyweight circuit that would take me into different planes in anticipation of sitting in just one tomorrow (picture a mix of planks, clock lunges, etc) before jumping on the trampoline. But after I completed my usual warm up, once again anxiety hit; I didn't want to take too much time away from the rest of my day.

So I cranked up the techno and jumped on the rebounder for twenty minutes of loosening up and nudging the lymphatic system into action. I made sure to do jumping jacks and side twists to hit different planes, but mostly I just enjoyed the freedom of movement and the regular albeit momentary mid-air escapes from earth. There's nothing like it. And all this is good for my plantar fasciitis, by the way; I refuse to subscribe to the belief that one should wear shoes for the rest of one's life after having had PF just once. If you're breaking up the tightness in your arches and calves with a lacrosse ball and addressing the inflammation with a frozen water bottle, and if you're in a good place, please, PLEASE, use your feet. Let them grab the earth or carpet or bounce off a trampoline in your basement. Feet are an amazing invention and you can't always sling them up in shoes or, like an arm in a cast, healing will be limited.

DAY 3 - DAY 4



I will most likely take walks on this day or hit the trampoline again, as adding a load would be irresponsible after such a break. I'll ramp up to lifting again, and this will probably coincide with an upcoming on-my-feet-all-day shift. Great time to lift heavy, as the next day's walking is the best defense against DOMS. If I'm using an upper/lower body split, I like to plan the lower body work for the day before my busy shift.

Did my in-the-moment planning surprise any readers? For you, the realization that three simple exercises make a complete workout might be profound. But it is equally important to hear that a trainer who knows all the right things to do will abruptly call off a workout due to a touch of PTSD. It is what it is. But despite anxiety, cramps, and sitting, it's possible and necessary to move every day. Work for it.

Find more on this in my new zine, How To Think About Exercise, or contact me through my website


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