Return of the RDL

There will be lots of squatting and pressing in my training over the course of the next 6 weeks leading up to Provincials. By the sounds of it, I’ll be squatting and pressing three times a week. I don’t mind at all, but I really need my back to agree with my mind. Since this back saga began at the end of January, I have hardly done any deadlifting. My back just couldn’t do it. So when Michael said he’d like me to do some Romanian deadlifts this morning, I was both excited and nervous. I so desperately want this back/disc issue to heal up and go away. I desperately want to be able to go about living and training without the pain and physical limitations I’ve had for three months now. Although the back is finally improving, I recognize that there are still restrictions in my movement and there is still pain.

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 6, 113 x 6

with belt: 133 x 6, 143 x 6, 160 x 1, 143 x 6

I think the first several sets were okay. The set at 143 was a bit tougher, but my RPE was probably 7-8. I no longer remember if that was the set where my back started feeling cranky or if it was already achy the set before. The pain wasn’t sharp or intense, just an all-over achy, sore feeling, which really isn’t a very helpful description but the best I can do. Michael thought about having me do a wave, so he bumped up to 160 and wanted 3 reps but called it after one. The bar was heavy from the moment I unracked it, and I know I felt tentative and doubtful. I think a second rep might have been a bit better, but I wasn’t too disappointed in having that set cut short. I am also second-guessing the final set now that I’m blogging about it. I had written in my book that I did 133 lbs x 6, but I think we actually added 10 pounds more to the bar.

1b. bench press-close grip, with feet on 45 lb plates

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 6, 115 x 5, 115 x 5

The first set at 115 pounds was tough. I had some bar positioning problems. I’m not sure that I was gripping as hard as I could, and I was likely thinking too much about the ache in my back. With the crankiness going on in the back, the act of getting into position and arching was not the most comfortable thing to do.

Early on as I was doing my squats and pressing, I experienced a tightness or sensation of something pressing/squeezing between my shoulder blades. I did a bit of foam rolling and then used a lacrosse ball before a couple of my squat sets. The sensation wasn’t painful, but it did make me feel a bit winded more than normal for what I was doing and simply felt off. The rolling seemed to help.

2a. Romanian deadlifts

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 3

These first ones were done with squat shoes on. Then I took the shoes off and did them in my socks.

95 x 8, 95 x 9

I would like to know how these would have felt if my back wasn’t already feeling achy and cranky. Despite how the back was feeling, I think these felt okay. We had the bar set up in the rack, so I didn’t have to bend over to pick it up. Probably a good idea! The initial act of pushing the hips back to lower the bar was not super comfortable, and I could feel some pressure in the back; however, the discomfort wasn’t too much. The pain wasn’t sharp, shooting, radiating, throbbing, or worse. It was certainly no worse than the feeling during squats and bench. Now, an hour later, my back is definitely achy and cranky, but I think I’ll be okay. Time will tell, I guess, but I’m going to operate on the assumption that soreness is to be expected when you begin using muscles for movements that you haven’t really done in 3 months!

2b. single arm kettlebell rows

16kg x 12 each, 20kg x 12 each

 

Feeling Progress

Last night I went to a theatre production of Anne of Green Gables with my daughter. The show was amazing, and we were thrilled to be there. A couple of weeks ago I suddenly realized that I might have a painful problem with taking in the performance, namely the pain in my back and my inability to sit. Since the back pain issues began late in January, I have severely restricted the time that I sit to what has been absolutely necessary, like in the car, if we were out to eat somewhere without tall tables, or for the few minutes required to do some computer stuff at work. The longest I could sit with minimal pain was 10-15 minutes. How was I going to survive nearly 3 hours of sitting? But then last week was drastically improved from the previous several weeks, giving me hope that I might make it, at least without tears of pain. I think I managed to sit comfortably until about midway through the first act and then the squirming began. Intermission was an opportunity to stand up and walk before squirming uncomfortably through the final act. While I did manage to stay seated for the performance, I was definitely in a hurry to stand up and walk outside as soon as the show was over. I take last night as a small victory in this battle with my back! Sitting is still something that I should and will keep to the bare minimum as much as I am able, but it feels good to discover all of the things that reveal healing and progress. It makes me feel even more hopeful that this disc issue with resolve itself, that I will be able to compete at Provincials in June, and maybe even that I will be able to do more at Provincials than I have allowed myself to hope for considering the past few months.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 115 x 5, 135 x 5

with belt: 155 x 5, 170 x 5, 170 x 5, 175 x 5, 175 x 5

Last Friday’s squats were a hot mess. The bar felt heavy, and my bar path was all over the place. Today’s squats were sweet and steady. The bar felt light. My bar path was consistently over my mid-foot. No forward pitching. Good speed from the first rep to the last. The only thing not ideal with my squats is the depth, but since the back is resistant to hitting proper depth I’m not trying to fight it. Yet. When it is time to compete, I will need to be deeper. Right now, we just need to peak my strength without hurting my back.

1b. bench press-competition grip, last rep paused

feet on bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5

Because of the back, I’ve been doing most of my benching these past couple of months with my feet on the bench. This has allowed me to bench without too much arch in my back in an attempt to prevent too much aggravation to the original SI joint problem and the current disc problem. I am capable of benching without a full arch and leg drive, but it is certainly more difficult. Difficult isn’t necessarily bad; it’s kind of like deadlifting from a deficit. It’s harder but will benefit you down the road. With all this benching without leg drive, Michael has noticed that my lockout has suddenly become a bit slower, as if my triceps are weaker. I’m sure my triceps are somewhat weak, but it also stands to reason that part of the problem is the lack of leg drive and the lack of arch which helps keep my shoulders in position. So, Michael suggested trying to bench with my feet on plates on the floor. The plates would reduce the distance slightly and hopefully allow me to arch without causing more pain in the back.

with feet on 45 lb plates: 105 lbs x 5, 110 x 5, 115 x 5, 115 x 5

The back felt okay. There was some mild discomfort in getting into position, but everything felt fine once the bar was unracked and I went about pressing. There’s really no reason why I shouldn’t be able to arch. Flexion is where my back really feels restricted. The sets done without leg drive weren’t bad, but these sets with leg drive were so much better! The final set was probably the fastest and smoothest of them all.

2a. pause squats-slow, controlled eccentric, with belt, roughly 2-3 second pauses

115 lbs x 5, 135 x 5

Michael wanted these slow and controlled so that I could find where my comfortable depth was. The bar was super light, but we decided to stay at the same weight for the second set. Right before I was ready for the final set, I decided to add more weight to the bar. The first set was like nothing on my back, and I know I am capable of pause squatting more weight. Even 135 pounds was still super easy. Depth was close to parallel, but not where I need it to be.

2b. TRX supine rows-with legs straight + with knees bent

x 5 + 5, x 5 + 5

Supine rows suck, but I do the sucky things when I am told, knowing they are for a purpose and will make me better. Honestly, these still sucked but didn’t feel as bad as I expected. I’m pretty sure that doing these bothered my back the last time I had to do them! Just another little step forward!

Climb Every Mountain

Last Friday’s training session looked drastically different than today’s. Last week I was in a lot of pain, my front squats were stopped almost as soon as they had begun, and I was still wondering when I would ever begin to feel better. I was trudging uphill, emotionally and physically drained from the effort, completely unaware of just how close I was to the summit. Now that I seem to be on the road to wellness, I find my energy returning, even though my emotions still appear to be all over the place. I can be one motivational post away from bursting into tears, yet I feel hopeful, joyful, determined, focused, excited. Provincials are 7 weeks away. My back still isn’t 100%. It still isn’t wholly cooperative in the gym, but it is time to ramp up the training to peak my strength for competition. Although there has often been some sort of minor problem during my previous competition prep, this is the first time preparing for a meet after such a prolonged, painful and limiting injury, which means I really have no idea what will happen over the next 7 weeks. But I am looking forward to seeing what I can do. In spite of. Despite. Because I believe I can. I will.

1a. squats-low bar, without sleeves

45 lbs x 10, 95 x 6, 115 x 7

with belt: 135 x 7, 145 x 7, 145 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7

Since we are 7 weeks from competition and I’m dealing with the back problem, we need to work patterns more than spending a lot of time on accessory movements. My squat pattern has been all over the place since the start of the back problems, mostly due to the fact that there is restriction in how my back moves which has affected my ability to hit proper depth. That inability to squat deep also prevents me from taking advantage of the spring reflex coming out of the hole. My eccentric is also slower in an effort to control my descent to avoid going deeper than my back will comfortably allow. Although my knees usually push forward a fair bit when I squat, the back problem has also resulted in my knees pushing forward even more. I’m afraid I’d be a “quarter” squatter if I tried to prevent the forward knee movement. I have never had as much struggle with hitting depth as I have these past couple of months. Today’s squats still had depth issues, but there were also several reps where I had to fight against my body pitching forward.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 12, 63 x 8, 83 x 5, 105 x 4, 105 x 4, 105 x 4, 105 x 4, 110 x 4

These were all done with my feet on the bench and a minimal arch. Without my normal arch and the ability to use my legs, it is more difficult to get (and keep) the shoulders in the proper position. But I’m okay with making things more difficult when it makes me stronger in the end.

2a. glute-ham raises

x 15

with arms straight up overhead x 12

2b. push ups

x 7, x 5

I haven’t done push ups for a while, but I didn’t expect them to be too much of a problem. Weird! Did I just say that? Since when do I think push ups won’t be a problem?! Unfortunately, despite my optimism, the push ups were more challenging than I anticipated due to the fact that holding the proper position caused an unpleasant feeling in my very low back.

2c. ab wheel

x 10, x 10

There was more of that unpleasant very low back feeling while doing the ab wheel, although to a slightly lesser degree.

I practically dragged my carcass home after training last Friday, because I was in so much pain. There is still pain. In fact, I must have moved oddly or too quickly when getting up off the bench after one set of pressing, because I had to take a second or two to breathe and recover from the jolt of pain. However, the difference between today and a week ago is like night and day. Now we do our best to push the training while still respecting the injury and allowing it to continue to heal.

A Theme to Build a Dream On

I haven’t exactly been living out my theme for 2017 these past few months. Instead of feeling and being ‘Powerfully Beautiful’, I fear I have been more weak, pathetic, and ugly. It shouldn’t be this way, but pain tends to have that effect and such has been my life since the end of January. I haven’t always handled the pain, the frustration, or my limitations well. Although I tend to try to put on a good face in public, sometimes the mask slips. My emotions have risen and fallen like a roller-coaster, but the dips felt steeper and longer than the upwards climbs.

In the downward spirals, I struggle with mild depression. Taking care of myself becomes a chore, and I’m more likely to do the bare minimum of self-care. Although I will always make the time and effort to spend time with my good friends, I definitely ‘turtle’ more when my mood is low. I will do my job serving the public with a smile on my face. I will go to the gym. I will go to my chiropractic appointments. But I have to drag myself out the door for just about anything else. I haven’t been to church for several weeks, because I cannot sit without pain and kneeling for the duration of a sermon is not my idea of fun or comfort. My attempts to plan a week’s worth of meals have sputtered, because it requires too much effort. That and my interest in food and eating well has fallen with my mood. When I am down, I procrastinate more. I take less interest in what’s going on around me, except for grumbling at idiot drivers. All these signs and symptoms are probably quite typical of mild depression or someone suffering with pain. It is understandable, but it not a pretty thing to behold. And it certainly doesn’t make me feel very strong.

This week is different. I was cautiously optimistic on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Yesterday, I carried that optimism carefully into the gym with me, and I left the gym excited with hope flying high as a kite. Today, I am feeling the DOMS in my quads from yesterday’s squats, and I couldn’t be happier about that kind of pain. The back still isn’t pain-free, but the back has stayed consistently better all week. Yesterday I finally felt as if I had reached the turning point. Of course, I’m not 100% yet. I still don’t know when I will be, but I actually feel and believe that the worst is behind me now. Feeling and believing this is making the engines of motivation and drive rev.

And I feel the change in my attitude towards myself. Self-care becomes more important. I’m singing out loud in the car again, and not just grumbling at idiot drivers. I actually skimmed through the local newspaper yesterday before tossing it in the recycling bin. I wrote a card to a friend. I made a decent dinner tonight. I prepped my lunch for tomorrow. But I still grumbled internally when my husband got up and spoke to me super early this morning before I went to work. I will always prefer silence until I get to work when I start work early in the morning. He thought he was being funny by saying, “Don’t worry! I’m not going to say good morning to you.” So, I didn’t think it was funny, but that’s my non-morning person mode rather than my depressed mode.

The first third of the year might have been a fail in terms of living my theme, but there is still plenty of time left to get it right.

Unsinkable Hope

Remember my post on Sunday when I was cautiously optimistic, because I felt a noticeable difference in my level of pain and mobility in my back? Turns out it wasn’t a fluke! The lessening of pain and the slow increase to my mobility has continued, although I have kept a tight grip on my emotions. This morning I had an appointment with my chiropractor, and I was greatly surprised to find that I was able to arch my back in a cat pose. Last week when he asked me to do that same movement, it was difficult and uncomfortable. And I am now able to go full cobra when doing my back extensions homework! Then this evening I had a training session after having 4 days off. It was the best training session I’ve had in about 2 months. I am so excited! The back isn’t pain-free. I can still feel restrictions in some movements, but nothing I did in the gym tonight hurt. The only restriction I felt was at the bottom of the squat if I tried to push my depth, but I generally only went as deep as was comfortable.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6 or 7, 115 x 6, 135 x 5

with belt: 155 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5

Speed was good for all the sets. The weight wasn’t maximal and felt comfortable. With competition being roughly 7 weeks away, I’ve got some work to do, but we didn’t want to push too much on this first good feeling training day.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5

I chose to keep my feet on the bench rather than have them on the floor with my full back arch…didn’t want to push my luck with the back. There was a small arch though, and the back still felt decent. The final rep of each set was paused.

2a. close grip bench press, touch and go keeping constant tension

75 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 85 x 8

2b. back extensions-without shoes

body weight x 20, 20 lbs x 20, 20 lbs x 17

2c. seal rows

75 lbs x 15, 95 x 12, 95 x 10

It was so nice to have a mostly normal feeling training session! Even the act of putting my knee sleeves on and taking them off was incredibly easier than it has been for weeks. Wonder what Friday’s training session will bring?

Strong, Independent, White Woman

“Admitting a weakness is a sign of strength.” ~Andy Stanley

I am woman, and I do not like any insinuation that being a woman makes me somehow less in any way, shape or form. I do not ever want to be thought of as weak or incapable or fragile. I am one who likes to be prepared and capable. I don’t like to ask for help, especially when I think I am more than able to do the task. I think I’ve always been this way.

My current state with this disc issue has left me feeling incredibly frustrated with feelings of weakness and the inability to do the most basic of tasks without significant pain. I’ve had a disc issue before, but this time is different. Before I had no pain in my back; this time I do. Last time, the disc didn’t impact my normal daily activities; this time it does. The previous disc issue is why I stopped running. Right now, I am in some degree of pain all day, every day. I cannot put on socks or shoes without pain. A cough has the ability to bring me to my knees. Lifting something out of the oven. Putting on my pants. Sitting. Picking up boxes, garbage bags, or pretty much anything. Anything involving bending forward. Squatting or kneeling down. Lying on the floor or in bed and shifting ever so slightly. Getting out of the car. The list of things that causes pain seems unending…and discouraging. And yet, I am still reluctant to admit that I am in need of help.

During my closing shift on Thursday, I asked my barista to bring in the patio furniture for me. He was quite agreeable, but I really expected no less. The night before my closing barista offered to bring in the furniture without me even asking. Knowing that I would have a big order to put away at work this morning, I was prepared to ask for help putting it all away, but my manager beat me to the punch by saying she would do it for me. I work with some rather amazing people!

It’s not easy to admit that I cannot easily do the simplest of tasks, especially when I know that I am capable of more. I can pick 308 pounds up off the floor, but picking up a box weighing less than 5 pounds sends waves of pain through my back. My mind struggles to accept this reality, and I hate it. My current limitations chafe against my will until all that is left is a raw, bloody mess inside.

I know that this disc issue will get better…I just don’t know when exactly. I don’t know when I will stop feeling intense pain. I don’t know, and I don’t like not knowing. I’m also a practical kind of girl who likes to know such things. But, right now, I need to be the kind of girl who can admit the need for help when necessary. There is no doubt that I am strong and self-sufficient, but there is also no doubt that I am currently in a season where I am not myself. This season of pain is not an indication of personal weakness, no matter what it feels like inside. It is a season, to be sure, but still only a season and not a life sentence. In the words of my coach, “Ang will prevail.”

Eventually, I will.

Discs & Disappointment

Normally I prefer to blog about my training session as soon after training as possible, because I don’t want my impressions and thoughts to fade from memory before I am able to put them into writing. Even though I trained at 8 this morning, I was rather intentional about not blogging as soon as I got home. It is now 1:30 in the afternoon, and I think I have delayed long enough. My training session was not what I had hoped it would be. In fact, it was mostly an exercise in frustration and pain. The back wasn’t too bad yesterday, but today is an entirely different story.

Yesterday I left my chiropractor’s clinic feeling more optimistic than I have felt for several weeks. There was a measure of relief in knowing that the SI is fine and that this is all disc-related. I’ve been through the disc thing before, although there was no pain in my back then and it didn’t really affect my training. This round of disc issue is different from the pain in my back to the way it affects my training and daily life. I like to think I am fairly independent and self-sufficient. I don’t always like to ask for help, especially not for something I feel should be easy enough for me to do on my own, but even the most simple of tasks presents significant challenge and pain lately. I’m weary of it all.

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 5, with belt 113 x 5

The front squats didn’t feel very good from the start, although the later reps in each set were somewhat easier than the first couple. Just not good enough to continue.

1b. dips

with small green band x 8

unassisted: x 6, x 5, x 5

It’s been a while since I’ve done dips, so I wasn’t very confident in my ability to do any unassisted. I’m always glad to be wrong when it comes to self-doubts. These didn’t hurt the back really, but there was some mild unpleasant sensations in having my lower half hanging.

1c. seated cable rows

70 lbs x 12, 80 lbs x 12, 80 x 4, 80 x 12, 100 x 10

I’m not sure what happened during the second set at 80 pounds, except to say that the back hurt enough that I just stopped.

2a. front foot elevated split squats

x 12 each

with 10kg kettlebell x 12 each

These actually felt kind of good. No stress on my back which was already in a ton of pain.

2b. double kettlebell curls

8kg x 7, 8kg x 12

That’s quite a discrepancy between the first and second set, and I cannot explain why the second was so much better. Sometimes my second sets just are better, because I needed to prime the movement or simply remember how much effort I need to exert.

2c. standing triceps extensions

10kg kettlebell x 15, 12kg x 12

My chiropractor says it is important for me to continue training, and I would be miserable if I had to give it up. But I’m desperately looking forward to the day I can train without pain once again.