My new favourite muscles

Well, more like a love/hate relationship.

It’s taken a long time and a lot of work, but over the last couples months I have finally discovered and figure out (mostly) how to isolate my upper back muscles around my shoulders.  I have been working on them for a long time, but it’s only recently I have been able to actually feel them move.

On the other hand, now that I know where they are and how to use them, I can’t ignore them anymore, and I can tell when they are not moving right.

This somehow makes things simpler and harder at the same time.

Depending on whether I am doing latin or standard, its necessary to figure out how to move them differently.  I have also been working on strengthening them during my strength training, which is also difficult as they are hard muscles to target.  As I have noticed more awareness, I have noticed though that it is becoming easier to do these exercises right.  Doing this has highlighted the strength difference between my right and left side as I work each side separately, but slowly it is starting to even out.

The progress is encouraging, but I still get frustrated sometimes when I can’t quite figure out what I am trying to do with them.  Sometimes though I move them without realizing it, and that is always a surprise.  It’s interesting how many movements in dance involve them.

On a slightly related note, I keep encountering something frustrating with the muscles/tendons on the right side of my neck.  I am not sure if it is related to my treatment, specifically the radiation (because of scar tissue), but I have noticed that after every lesson, and practice where I am stretching my neck for standard I wake up the following morning with a stiff neck that is just a little too far on side of pain for comfort. I spend the entire next day aching through my neck and unable to fully turn my head to the left.

The odd, frustrating and difficult thing is that when I am working on standard and stretching, I don’t feel anything that tells me I am overextending to the point of minor injury. It doesn’t seem to be getting worse, but it isn’t getting better either.  The thankful thing is that it rarely lasts more than the day after.  I am really not sure how to manage this, but hope that it doesn’t get worse and progress to a worse injury.  I have previously had an issue where the entire muscle seized up for a week and it is something I have no wish to repeat.

Muscles are strange things sometimes.

On a different note, I have figure out why I wasn’t feeling very well over the last couple days, and why I suddenly had a burst of energy last night.  I accidentally missed one and perhaps two of my hormone therapy medication.  I usually sort out all my medications for the week in advance, but last week I didn’t have enough of my hormone therapy because I had to pick up a refill at the pharmacy.  Once I picked up the refill, I forgot to add the missing doses to my medications for the end of the week, and didn’t notice it was missing until this morning.  What I was feeling was likely withdrawal from missing the doses, followed by the side effects lifting.

It was a brief ray of light, but also it’s a little disheartening that today I am back to feeling achy and lacking energy again as my body readjusts to the medication.  It certainly tells me that what I am feeling are indeed side effects.

But at least in the meantime I have new muscles and sensations to explore.

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Topsy-Turvy Day

My day got a little upsidedown today.

I am on vacation from work until Wednesday and because it is a provincial holiday the hall where Boss usually teaches was closed.  This meant that I had dance in the morning and did my strength workout in the evening.

In general it’s been a good day.  I am making myself take a break from school as well as work as all my pre-residency papers are done and I only have a couple of readings to do before Monday.  That is helping me relax some.

Thank you to those who read my post yesterday. A few people reached out in various ways and it was great to hear from you! A wiseman added a further perspective to the situation here–the social dancers tend to find me intimidating because I do technique (remember, this is a social dance community where everyone learns step sequences, but not much technique), and the competitor dancers see me as someone who has only been dancing for 2 years–most of it while sick–because that is when they started seeing me in the community.  Very few of them understand that I was dancing 4 years before they met me and I got sick. It’s bit of an ‘island mentality’ here to treat people as though they sprung into the society with no background and started life only when they arrived–especially if they are under 50.  I have encountered this in pockets all over the community–not just with dancers.

That aside, today was a good day–both for dancing and strength training.

For dance, we did a quick review of some of my exercises based on the feedback I gave Boss last week, then focused into standard.  We received a couple amazing reviews of the videos of our smooth routines from the pro who choreographed them and the interesting thing about smooth is that pointers from it also tend to apply to standard and latin.  One of the points she made was about my position and pointed out that I have a habit of ‘breaking’ my neck line.  This has me thinking about that and working to differentiate between when my head is ‘back’ and when it is ‘back and up’.

We also did some work on standard position and started taking some of the static things we have been doing and trying them in basic steps.  It’s going to take a lot of work, but doing so already has my mind thinking and processing and that is a good sign.

For strength training, I started the new program and I am a little relieved that it takes exactly 1 hour (there was concern from my trainer it would be too long).  I started with the cardio sequence Boss designed and that worked out really well.  It certainly got my heartrate up (my fitbit recorded a high of 170) and I like moving through the different exercises–some of which I haven’t done in a while.  It even incorporates 3-step turns (which when done over 2 minutes is a lot of turning!).

The strength training also brings back some exercises I haven’t done in a while (like pushups), but also adds some new ones.  It’s an interesting combination.

One thing that is making me a little nervous is that Friday morning bright and far too early, I have to go do a practice run of the PT test so that physio and the rehab specialist can see what it is I need to prepare for it.  I haven’t done it since before I was sick and I weigh 20lbs more than I did then and I have lost a lot of strength.  Physio told me to go in with no expectations and just see how it goes, so that is what I am going to try to do.  I just hope I don’t flare up my back or knees too much.

Well, that is a good summary of my day.  I am still giving a lot of thought to dance, but I think that for now while I am still recovering and doing school I am just going to keep doing my own thing.

Really, that’s all that I can do.

Reset

And so it begins.

My lesson tonight was good.  We started looking at some steps Boss wants to add to the open routines as well as sequences for me to start doing as exercises.  We also took some time to review the videos from the competition and look at good and bad points.  We seem to agree on the same points and Boss had a few things to add, such as use of my foot in standard, to set the stage for the next few weeks.

Bending my knees when I need to is another issue I need to work on.  My knees are feeling better after the break I have had and I hope they stay that way.  I am not allowed to run for now, so cardio is going to be elliptical for the next little while at least.

One of the things I was able to figure out this week was some new motivation for fitness and my weight.  I developed some new goal ‘rewards’ for myself and they are more enticing than those I had for myself before.  I think this will be a better plan for me and it is similar to what worked for me before but updated.

I also bought a new fitbit today, the updated version of what I had before.  I am already enjoying the updates and hope it will also be effective as the last.

One of the other things I discussed with Boss was some small changes to my dresses, although mainly about adding stoning.  He agrees with what I have suggested, and I hope the dressmaker does too.  We have to start working on the smooth dress too.

Speaking of smooth, hopefully in the next couple weeks we will start working on it again.  I am going to do some extra lessons since I have some ‘banked’ from being away.  In a way, it is like learning 4 solos and that is how I plan to approach them.

I can feel myself starting to build momentum and I am glad for it.  I have some other thoughts but I will save them for a post after my lesson tomorrow.

Until then, happy dancing!

Post Comp

This will probably be the first post of a few as I work through all the usual post comp processes.

First, I was successful in achieving my goal of getting through all my dances.  It was close though.  I was coughing so hard after my solo I considered scratching the 5-dance.  Thankfully, with a lot of water, cough drops, decongestants and ibuprofen my lungs settled down and I was able to do the full scholarship without coughing, completing my goal.

My solo was hands down the high point of the day.  I felt good and relaxed going into it and it just clicked together.  It was one of those moments where the audience disappears and I was able to just enjoy the moment and performance.  Really strong comments from almost all the judges, and many people from the audience came up to me after to say how much they enjoyed it. My shining moment from the competition.  I posted the video on the Breast Cancer Ballroom Dancer facebook page if you would like to see it.

Next to the solo, it was probably the 5-dance scholarship that went the best.  Whether it was because I felt no pressure, or I was just determined to get it done, things seemed to click together a little bit for it.  That’s not to say it wasn’t hard.  I messed up the quickstep pretty good and almost tripped Boss, but I pulled it back together and was able to finish strong.

I got all of the routines on the floor .  They weren’t without mishaps, and watching the videos they are obviously new routines that still need some of the bugs worked out.  But what was good was that we were able to sort through and figure out what spots we should look at adjusting going forward, because they just don’t quite seem to work the way they were expected to.There is lots to work on before my next competition.

My placings were not great.  I was last in all of my contested heats except one.  It’s a little strange because while I didn’t expect to do well, I didn’t expect to be last either.  It’s been more than a year since I last competed and so much has changed, so I guess I really didn’t know what to expect, especially with new routines in a fairly new level for me (open silver). I am trying not to focus on it too much, but I do have to acknowledge to myself that I am disappointed with how I placed, but mostly because I am also disappointed with how I looked while dancing.

I know that I was giving my all and trying to pull everything together but I was finding myself a little distracted and unfocused.  I am sure the illness contributed to everything but in the end I felt heavy and slow.  When I see the videos, I see that reflected.  There is just some ‘oomph’ missing that I usually see in my dancing, and my dancing lacked the polish I usually like to bring to the floor.

I am also having a hard time reconciling how my body looks now.  If I had to choose a word, I would say ‘square’.  For whatever reason, I have lost a lot of the curviness I used to have before my surgery. My waist just seems to be lacking definition, so from my ribs to my hips I am almost the same size.  I am trying not to let it bother me, but clearly it does.  I only hope that as I lose more weight, things will distribute better and my curves will come back.

One thing I can definitely say is that this competition has given me the bit of the kick in the behind I have been needing.  I have been struggling to find some really strong motivation lately to keep me focused and zoned in.  Placing as I did at this competition and seeing the videos of my dancing seems to have done that.  I have a better idea of what I would like to see and do with my dancing for now, and that is probably the best thing about any competition.

I want to focus in on silver and open silver for a while, and I want to plan to do a large competition later next year to sort of finish it out.  Not sure if that completely ‘jives’ with what Boss is thinking, but I guess I will see.  He and I are going to sit down and go over things next week before I head overseas for work.

That is really my next project.  I leave on Thursday for 10 days overseas for work.  I am going somewhere I have never been before and I am nervous and excited at the same time.  I have 2 days to get everything together, but it also means a bit of an imposed break from dance.  I am thinking at this point a bit of a break and time for reflection might be a good thing.

Stamina and conditioning are two words I know will be centre of focus over the next little while.  Not just for dance, but in general.  I feel heavy and slow in all that I do and I am getting tired of it.  My stamina is affecting my ability to really do all I want to do and I want to work past it.  I keep reaching a ledge right now where I go from ‘ok’ to ‘limp noodle’ like a flip of a switch.  Part of it is still recovering from all my treatments (2 years is what the doctors say I should expect to struggle with fatigue, etc.), but part of it is so much time spent being unable to work at the level I was.  I see lots of hard work on cardio and endurance in the future.

Well, I will have to put this cold to be now.  I have an interview with The Dancing Housewife tomorrow, so I want to be on the ball for that.

I am sure I will have more to say in the next few days 🙂

Thank you all for your support as I prepared to get back on the floor for this competition!  I don’t usually post photos to the blog, but I will make an exception this time and roll back the curtain.  This is a photo of Boss and I being ‘very serious’ after the standard scholarship.  Love my new dresses from Spirals Designs!

ever-so-serious

Final Preps

We are heading into my last 3 lessons before the competition.

This Sunday will be my last competitive practice before the competition as well.

Looking over everything, aside from endurance issues, I think I am where I want to be.

Yesterday, we focused on the solo, in running it from top to bottom, then breaking down a few parts to bring them up better.  For a break (ha ha!) we finally were able to review the newer Paso routine.  I am really glad we got to review the Paso routine because I do prefer it to the previous one.  After a couple full run-throughs in Paso, it was back to the solo and doing run-throughs.

I also had received the skirt I will wear for the solo, so it was good to try that out and make sure there are no issues and that my shoes, etc. won’t get caught in it.  All was well and despite a bit of a disastrous run at one point, it ended on a high note with a run-through that was not too bad, minus some feet missteps for me almost at the end.

We recorded the final run (cause there is nothing like adding a camera to feeling exhausted!), and I was looking at the video and there are some moments that are quite cool.  There are a couple of moments where I can see I need to do something a little ‘more’ (I appear to be just standing for no reason), but overall it was in a good place for the amount of time we have left.

I am tapering off my strength training this week, so I spent the time I would usually be training doing some light practice just to run through my routines.  I am able to go from top to bottom on my own now in almost all my routines (still some hiccups in the always elusive foxtrot!), and that too is a good place to be.

My dresses will be ready next week and I can’t wait to see them all stoned and blinged up, not to mention to try them before the competition.

I am looking forward to the practice this weekend and hope it goes smoothly without too much failing of endurance.  My endurance does seem to be improving, so that is a good sign.

I have a lesson tonight and I am not really sure what we will be doing, whether work on specific routines, or running through them, so focusing on the solo more.  I guess I will find out when I get there :).

It is hard to believe it is almost October already.  My October looks to be pretty busy with the competition, followed by some travel overseas for work.  If all gets sorted, I actually won’t have any lessons after the competition until October 26th, which will give a good break to reset and reevaluate, but also is time off.  I am expecting some changes to my strength training routine when I get back as well, so it will be a bit of a fresh start.

Still no luck on the roommate search although I do have some meetings next week.  I hope to sort it out before the competition and really before travelling overseas, as my ability to compete in January (and the future) really hinges on finding a new one.  Fingers crossed.

Weight and size

As promised, a post on weight and size.

I am processing things from my lessons and practices this week, so I will take a little break from writing about dance.

As previously mentioned, prior to getting sick, I lost 75lbs and was working to lose more.  What I didn’t say was that prior to losing the weight, I shrank from a size 26 to 18 without losing a single lb.

I am sure you can imagine that was a very frustrating time in my life.  As far as I could tell, I was doing everything right, but I just never seemed to lose weight.  It even took quite a bit of time before I even realized I was getting smaller.

My message is that weight is not always an indication of fitness.  Even now, I have been told I look about 30lbs lighter than I actually am.  At my heaviest weight, I could run for more than 45 minutes, carry half my body weight over long distances, and bench press more than 100lbs.  After my illness, I know I can’t do any of that.  At least not right now.

Since recovering from my surgeries, I have been working hard on my diet and increasing my exercise.  I still had slips (everyone does), and I found it very frustrating that even after seeing before and after photos showing my change in size, I still weighed the same after surgery than before.  I even gained weight (mostly in inflammation) after my last surgery.

But then I remembered the ‘trick’ about me.  Before I start losing weight, especially when I am doing regular strength training, I will first shrink in size.  Once I realized this, I understood that if I wanted to have the best idea if everything I am doing is having a positive effect overall, I would need to start tracking my measurements as well as my weight.

So I started 3 weeks ago by taking baseline measurements of my bust, waist (narrowest part of my torso), belly button, hips, thighs, and arms once a week, including my weight.

What I have discovered is interesting.  In 3 weeks, I have lost a total of 1 lb.  But I am more than 8 inches smaller overall.  The first week, I even gained more than 1 lb while losing 2 inches.

I know that I am being diligent in diet and fitness, but it is interesting to see the results and progress laid out like that.  This week, some of my measurements were more than 2 inches smaller and I remeasured 3 times to make sure.  I try to make sure I keep the tape level and measure the largest area (except my waist which is the narrowest).  No matter how I adjusted the tape, I couldn’t come close to reaching my previous measurements.

I am glad previous history prepared me for this, but I can understand how otherwise I would be very frustrated right now.  During all my treatments, I tried very hard not to regain weight, even though I was told it would be inevitable.  Once I started gaining, I tried to minimize it.  The biggest change though was that I had to stop weight training–which meant that a lot of the strength and muscles I had built disappeared.  I am currently very similar to the same size I was before my diagnosis (at least according to my clothes), but I weigh almost 30lbs more.

Something to consider–many people say things like ‘muscles weigh more than fat’.  This doesn’t make sense.  1 lb of muscle weighs the same as 1 lb of fat.  The difference is that muscle is more dense than fat.  1 lb of muscle is much smaller than 1 lb of fat.  So while 1 lb of muscle might fill a teaspoon, 1lb of fat would fill a bowl.  This is a generalization of the difference, but hopefully the difference is clear.

While doing strength training and watching one’s diet, depending on general build, it is very possible that you are gaining weight while reducing size.  Denser muscle is being replaced by less fat.  That is what my body tends to do until it reaches a point where things even out and I start losing weight.  Eventually as the overall volume gets smaller, weight will have to be lost–simply because the volume is not there anymore.

This is why many bodybuilders show a BMI calculated through the weight/height measurements of someone obese, despite them clearly being fit and having almost no body fat.  Personally I don’t like using traditional BMI calculations for measuring fitness and healthiness just for this reason.  I feel similarly about the height/weight charts.

In the end, I chose to let my measurements and how I feel determine whether I am making progress towards my fitness goals.  I do still set weight goals, and I do intend to reach them, but I know that I will need to adjust them as I go based on my measurements and how I look and feel.  I never expect to be a ‘size 0’, as my frame itself is not that small.  There are some part of me that will always be a ‘medium’ or ‘large’, because that is how I am built.

But as I work on my recovery, I will continue to be disciplined and active and not let my size ever hold me back.  I was 4 sizes bigger during my first competition than I am now, but I still did well and was able to dance better than ladies half my size.  Do I think it affects my placings and score? Yes, of course it does.  But in the end, what matters is how I feel on the floor.  I know when I have done my best, and I know if I keep working I will keep getting healthier.

And as I get healthier, everything I do in dance will get easier.There will be less weight to control and move around.  My joints will be happier.  I will be able to dance longer.  I will be able to stretch better.

I know this, because it has happened before, and it will happen again.  I just had to remember that it’s not always about the weight on the scale.

Size matters more.