Saturday, September 4, 2010

Gym regimen - September 2010

4 September, 2010
Ur-Workout: 60+ mins
90kg, BMI 25

0. Warmup: Stretching

1. Bench press: 12, 10, 8, 6 @ 60–75kg
[I held myself back from putting up too much weight. I'm really serious about giving my chest time to develop and catch up with the rest of my physique. I refuse to be in a rush. Interestingly, since I had to work my tris more the last couple weeks to let my strained left pec recover, I can really feel how much a role my tris and lats play in my bench. From what I have read, this is a very good thing, since most lifters place so much emphasis on a "celebrity chest" (with flyes, chest compressions, exercises with truncated range of motion and high pump, etc.) that they actually fail to develop the elements of a strong bench press. I definitely felt more confident and stronger on the bench. 6 reps at 75kg felt very good.]

2. Pullups: 13, 14, 15 @ bodyweight
[I used wrist straps on my last set.]

2a. Lever bench row: ø

3. Barbell military press: 12, 8, 6 @ 35-45kg
[These felt pretty good. I think I'll shoot for 35kg, 45kg, 50kg next time. I raised the front end of a bench up with some planks of wood, so as to keep my hips more tucked under me and curb that unpleasant bowing of my spine.]

4. Barbell curl: 10, 8, 6 @ 35–45kg
[Felt very good. Getting stronger! Patience, Humility, Confidence…]

5. Supine French press: 10, 8, 6 @ 30–40kg
[Very good form on these. Less intense weight than my previous workout, but I'd rather work my triceps up to real strength slowly with better form than yank my way through a few extra kilograms. I will swap them out for elbows-out tricep extensions next time.]

6. Leg extensions: 18, 15, 12 @ 40kg, 50kg, 55kg
[These just aren't as satisfying as the decline leg press, so I'll go back to that beloved exercise next time. In fact, maybe I should do both by dropping the weight on my leg extensions and moving them to my first exercise as a warmup.]

7. Leg curl: 16, 13, 10 @ 35-45kg
[Felt some strain in my right knee on my second set, so I might drop the weight a bit for these on my next workout.]

8. Standing calf raise: ø

9. Kneeling rope pulldown (20 + 10 obliques): 30, 30, 30 @ 35kg, 40kg, 40kg
[I used wrist straps on my last set, since these were just killing my forearms and thus making me lose good form.]

Cooldown: Ski machine and stretching


I had a long nap this afternoon so, while I was a bit sluggish getting out the door and hadn't had lunch or much of a dinner before working out, I felt good tonight. There were very few people at the gym, which might have been due to the light rain, but is probably more due to the fact it was Saturday night. I make a special effort to workout the same time in the future, since not having to deal with other people makes everything smoother and faster.

Speaking of naps, I had a dream this afternoon. I rarely remember my dreams but lately I've been having dreams more frequently. Despite having seen it three times in the theater, I think part of the reason I can't sink my teeth into Inception, like so many other people seem to be doing, is because I can't get into its depiction of "the dream world." On the one hand, its portrayal of dream consciousness just seems fake to me, too smooth, not erratic or creepy or soothing enough––in a word, all too consciously designed. On the other hand, insofar as the characters are supposed to be professional dreamers––masters of lucid dreaming––, while Inception's depiction of that kind of dreaming may be spot-on, it's a kind of dreaming so far removed from my own experience as to seem boring and phony. I had a friend in high school who got very good at lucid dreaming; once, he told me, he flew to school one night to look for a lost textbook of his and found it in the same spot the next day. Props! As for me, I've only had a couple recurring dreams and my total dream catalogue would probably not amount to more than a few hours of "cutting room floor footage" glued together for people with lots of peyote in their bloodstreams.

DiCaprio was in Shutter Island, which came out six months or so before Inception and Shutter Island had the most stunning and believable depiction of dreams I have ever seen. Scorcese nailed what dreams are like: innocuous objects suddenly loom large, backgrounds shift without warning, disturbing symbolic motifs pop out of nowhere, and such events are nearly always taken in stride. I also recently got sucked into "the Primer universe." Primer is a 2004 independent film, by former software engineer and first-time director Shane Carruth, which not only has received high critical acclaim but is also a cult classic. Carruth made the film for US$7000 in five weeks (!) and only hired one professional actor for it, but it really is one of the best SF films ever made, and certainly a contender for the best "time travel" film in history. It is immensely complex, since by the end of the film, we are trying to navigate multiple non-linear timelines, so I ended up watching Primer three times in a row (whilst intermittently reading online "explanations" of it) one day last week. (Hey, it's only 77 minutes.) Primer deals with dreams only circumstantially––apparently, a certain kind of shared dreaming is an effect of the technology used by the characters––but it added to my recent interest in dreaming as such.

It also dawns on me now that there are some long-standing contributing factors to my perplexed, "bystander's" interest in dreams. For one thing, the opening chapter of my favorite book, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, is a dream sequence. Second, one of my all-time favorite films is The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which, while it focuses on memories, does show how dreams give body to our memories and memories give birth to our dreams. Third, another of my top-favorite films is Blade Runner, which is the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And then there's my recent return to Twin Peaks, a TV show that simultaneously intrigued and baffled me as a kid. I believe dreams are very important to David Lynch, since his work is so heavily driven by dreams (for better or worse!). Indeed, Special Agent Cooper's famous dream in "the Red Room" is the (ahem) linchpin to the progress of the series, as he claims he knows who the killer is based on some revelations in the dream which need only be deciphered to crack the case. I suppose it also says something that I've got a "Dreams" category in my blog, which surprised me when I re-realized that fact while writing this post, even though there are only two (now three) posts in that category. I generally find sleep boring since it's unproductive and, more important, I have such a scrawny dreamscape. Yet, dreams seem interesting enough to me that I've made a category for them. Frankly, I wish I enjoyed sleep more, which I think I would if I dreamt more. So….

So I have once again taken up the gauntlet and have begun a dream journal. I've once more taken up trying to read Harary and Weintraub's Lucid Dreams in 30 Days. (Incidentally, this video is a subtly hilarious saga of one man's journey to achieve lucid dreaming in 30 days with the same book!) Keeping a dream journal is one of the core steps in developing higher dream consciousness, since, allegedly, it says to your brain that you are serious about accessing your dreams. Another step is to develop the waking habit of frequently asking (and checking, by various means), "Am I awake right now?" so that, while dreaming, you may reflexively ask the same question and thereby trigger semi-lucid awareness in the dream. Another technique is to write an "A" (for "Awake") on your hand or arm, etc., so that, in the dream, you may recall seeing the "A" and thus wake yourself in the dream. Another technique is to note "dreamlike incidents" during the day, so that you will be more keen at saying to yourself, "This feels like a dream," which may allow you to say the same thing in a dream.

I won't record my recent dreams here, but I do want to record a few dreamlike experiences I've recently had.

1) A few weeks ago at Mass, I was sitting in a pew towards the back of the church. I glanced ahead and seated about twelve pews ahead of me, to my left, was an older woman holding a very large stuffed bear. I couldn't believe my eyes. I visibly squirmed in my seat and stared at her for several moments just to confirm what I was seeing. It was truly unheimlich. (A funny coincidence is that in Lynch's Twin Peaks, there is "the Log Lady," who is also an older woman––remarkably similar in appearance to the woman I saw at Mass––who carries a log with her wherever she goes. I saw "the Bear Lady" weeks before recalling "the Log Lady" by watching clips of Twin Peaks.) It was one of the few times when I could genuinely say, "I feel like I'm in a David Lynch movie." I said that to myself in the Mass, weeks before coming back to Twin Peaks. I saw her again a couple weeks later––with the bear in the crook of her elbow––, so it was not a figment of my imagination. Just that much more unheimlich.

2) A couple nights ago I was sitting talking with someone and there was a pause in the conversation. Suddenly a soft but insistent moaning sound filled the room. It was the tea kettle, in the kitchen, apparently designed to howl gently rather than whistle like conventional teapots. As soon as the sound began, I felt my ears arch back, like a cat's, and my spine stiffened. Again, extremely unheimlich and dreamlike; and again I said to myself, "Am I in a David Lynch movie?"

3) Just this afternoon I was reaching for something on the counter when I accidentally knocked an object into the sink. It gently struck a metal thermos and at the exact same instant my cell phone beeped to alert me to a text message. Certainly it was a trivial and perfectly explicable coincidence, but what made me pause––spine stiffened––was the exact timing and how the tones were in perfect harmony.

4) A few days ago I was catching up with a friend in Gmail chat. She told me she'd had a very vivid dream about me and some things in my life. What she told me was very apt. Hearing about her dream didn't seem dreamlike but, obviously, it stoked the flames of my interest. This friend is a very devout Christian and she wanted to encourage me that her dream could very well be a message of encouragement and confirmation from God. I admit it had that effect to some degree.

The Bible lays a lot of stress on the importance of dreams and in college a friend asked me, "What do you think is the biblical teaching on dreams?" (Apparently, she had a very active dream life and was wondering how to interpret various dreams: from God or just neurological backwash?) I pondered for a moment, trying to devise one of those dense aphorisms I strive for. I said, "Biblically, dreams are either indications of what's going within you or signs of what God is doing around you." That doesn't settle the question of "immanence"––viz., whether a dream is just my subconscious or an actual spiritual disclosure from God––but my point is that that may be a false dichotomy. Biblically, a Christian's entire 'external' life is but a mode of his 'inner' life with God and, more fundamentally, his existence as interiorized in the life of Christ Himself. Hence, if there is anything to the abiding, spiritual, and sacramental bond created between the believer and Christ, what my subconscious is showing me directly bears on what God is showing me, and vice versa.

Here's to praying my aversion to sleep and my scrawny dream life is not a sign of blocking out God or some truths about myself.

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