Wonder Woman vs Deadlifts

What do I do when it is deadlift day and my program calls for 5 sets of 2-3 reps at 255 pounds, and the heaviest I have EVER deadlifted for reps was 250 pounds for a single set of 2 reps? I put on my Wonder Woman tank top, Wonder Woman socks, and Wonder Woman earrings. I fill my Wonder Woman shaker bottle with my recovery drink and put it in my Wonder Woman gym bag. Then I go to the gym and do what I know how to do.

PRs can come in all shapes and sizes. There are competition PRs and gym PRs. PR for reps. Pr for sets. With or without belt or knee sleeves. Low bar or high bar. Mix grip or double overhand or straps. PRs set in the gym are nice, but I think they should be looked at like the markings parents put on the wall to track the growth of their children. You want to see improvement and growth in the gym; however, for competitors, the platform is where you take all that training, mix in the adrenaline that comes from competition, and strive to taste the fruits of your labour.

I do get a little thrill out of hitting gym PRs, because it shows me that I am getting stronger, better. My eyes are still firmly focused on the ultimate PRs though. These past few months have been challenging, exciting, scary, and educational. This is part of the journey of becoming…taking the skills I’ve learned in one environment and learning to apply them and improve on them in a completely different environment. I am walking along unfamiliar terrain in some ways, and I think that has been a good thing.

I wasn’t afraid of today’s deadlifts, but I was cautious and hopeful and determined. Cautious because the back injury lingers in the shadows of my mind. Hopeful because it is exciting to see my progression into uncharted territory. Determined because I want it and I’m willing to work hard for it.

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 2-3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, with belt 195 x 3, 225 x 2

main event: 255 lbs x 2, 255 x 2, 255 x 2, 255 x 1, 255 x 2

The warm ups moved well and felt good. The first working set was okay. Maybe even more than just okay. The bar moved well, I think, but I could tell that completing five sets would require almost every ounce of energy and willpower. I have never done very well with multiple reps at heavyish weights, hence my previous PR of 2 reps at 250 pounds! The first two sets this morning were good. The third set was still quite decent, but it was more difficult for me to create enough tension in my body to initiate the lift. The fourth set was some kind of mess from the beginning. The chalk box was completely empty, like so empty that I had to resort to scraping my hands along the bottom of the box in an effort to get any residual bits of chalk on my hands. There wasn’t really any! Then, as I was setting up my position and creating tension, I could feel my belt buckle against my arm, so I had to adjust the belt and start again. By this point, my brain was subtly telling me that I wouldn’t be able to get any tension. I managed one rep. Barely. I stood up for a moment to try to refocus before attempting the second rep. I managed to get the bar off the floor by maybe an inch or two, but I had to drop it. I know my body well enough to know when it is best to say no, but I was determined not to have such a mental lapse for the final set.

So I had two PRs of sorts today. The very first working set was a PR, and the entire volume at the working weight was a PR. If all this hard work translates into a PR on the platform on November 4th, then it will be worth it.

2. bench press (2-1×0) 3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 3, 100 x 3

main event: 110 lbs x 3, 110 x 3, 110 x 3, 110 x 3

My warm up sets prior to 100 pounds were done without feet and arch. The reps all felt solid and good. I’m not sure if my perception was reality or merely a sensation, but it felt like my arch was slightly bigger and better for my working sets today. Probably not really.

Since I bench every training day, I am not always wearing the same shoes. On the days that I squat, I wear my Olympic weightlifting shoes which have an elevated heel. These are also the shoes that I have always worn for benching at competitions. However, on my deadlift days, like today, I wear a flat shoe (Nike Free) and I don’t bother to change shoes when I move over to the bench. Over the course of training for the past 4 years, I have practiced my bench press with both pairs of shoes. But I have been noticing a small difference over the past few weeks when I am wearing my flat shoes to bench. It’s barely perceptible, but I have noticed that I feel more connection with the floor and my leg drive with the flat shoes. I suppose it kind of makes sense since the Nike Frees are very light and thin-soled. I’m not sure what I am going to do with that information yet, but it is intriguing and worth more observation.

3. planks

x 35 seconds, x 30 seconds, x 30 seconds

The planks felt tough today, which I think is the result of the deadlifts. My core was quivering throughout each plank.

 

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Smooth Sailing

In training, as in many aspects of life, there are good days and bad days. The exact same weight can look and feel completely different from one day to the next. It might feel super easy today, but then you might feel crushed beneath the same weight next week. I have experienced these ups and downs over the course of my 4 years of training, and I’ve been blessed to have wise and seasoned individuals in my life to remind me that those ups and downs, good days and bad days are completely normal. They happen to everyone, and I’d like to think that the ups and downs are actually beneficial. Smooth sailing is pleasant and safe, but a lack of adversity can actually make you weak. It might even prevent you from venturing into faster, rougher waters for fear of the unknown dangers that could be waiting ahead. Easy is nice for a season, but I think we grow best in the storm and struggles, in the gym and outside of it. Fighting to reach a goal. Pushing through adversity. Swallowing pride, disappointment and frustration. Sweating. Straining. Determination. Resistance. Those are the catalysts for growth, for change.

This is why I try not to let tough days get me down for very long. I might feel frustrated in the moment, but I’ve been learning to embrace the suck. As I approach the bar for a set that feels hard and maybe more than I am capable of, I feel a hurricane of emotions raging inside. Fear. Doubt. Anger. Pride. Insecurity. Anxiety. Hopefulness. Despair. I feel them all and more that I cannot put a name to. I feel them battering away at my confidence, then I batten down the hatches and do what I need to do. Am I always successful? No. Sometimes I need to drop reps. Sometimes my body hurts. Once in a while, I simply fail. But I do the best that I can in the moment, knowing that a tough session doesn’t equal failure. I’ve got competition goals, and those goals can only be achieved on the platform. I can perform those goal weights in the gym, but I would only get personal pride in the achievement. On the flip side, fighting through 5 tough squat sets of 4 reps at 180 pounds does not automatically indicate that I will bomb my squats at competition.

Last week’s squats, those 5 sets of 4 reps at 180 pounds, felt tough and some of the reps felt ugly. The exact same weight, sets and reps the week before also felt rather tough. Until today, 180 pounds was the most weight I’ve had on my back since June 10 and that resulted in re-tweaking my back. Today’s training called for squats at 200 pounds, and I was respectfully apprehensive. That’s what months of injury and rehab will do to your sense of capability. I expected 200 pounds to feel tough. I expected that I might struggle through the reps and sets. The rep range was 2-3, and I was already mentally preparing myself to strive for 2 reps and not stress out over not getting all 3. I was even expecting that my back might erupt into pain again. I expected all of those things, but I walked into the gym with confidence in my step, in the knowledge that I am a fighter, determined and focused. Good, bad, or ugly…I was going to meet it head on.

1. competition squats (2-0x0) 2-3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 3, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 2

main event: 200 lbs x 3, 200 x 3, 200 x 3, 200 x 3, 200 x 3

Remember how I said 180 pounds has felt tough for the past two weeks? The final warm up set at 185 pounds felt a little bit heavy, but 200 pounds felt lighter and easier. Although I had prepared myself to simply strive for 2 reps, I had no trouble getting 3 reps for all 5 sets. While there might have been a rep here or there that wasn’t quite perfect, most of the reps felt and looked (at least the ones that I had video of) pretty darn good! My coach said I crushed it, and that’s exactly how I feel about it. After the first working set, I racked the bar and walked over to stop my video and broke into a big, sassy grin. I had approached the bar for that first set with trepidation and determination, and, as I was squatting, I realized that I was going to be okay. Confidence surged within me.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 2 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 2

All those sets were done with my feet on the bench. The back was feeling decent, but, knowing how much arching can quickly aggravate my back when it is irritated, I am going to take whatever measures I can to minimize the aggravation. At least until my back returns to normal function again!

100 x 2, 110 x 2

main event: 120 lbs x 2, 120 x 2, 120 x 2

In the same way that I haven’t squatted 200 pounds for almost 4 months, I also haven’t benched 120 pounds for just as long. Bench press is by far my weakest of the big 3 lifts, and my bench press in competition has been stuck at the same weight for two years. Now that is frustration if I ever experienced it! The programming given to me by my new coach has pushed me and my bench press further and harder than I’m used to going, but so far I’ve been able to keep pace.

The fact that a heavy squat has the ability to crush you like a bug will always make me feel more apprehension than a heavy bench press; however, once I crushed those heavy squats today, I had to look 120 pounds in the eye and tell myself that I was capable. And I was. The bar felt a bit heavy and the reps felt a little slow, but everything looked good on the videos!

3. pause squats (3-2×0) 3 reps

155 lbs x 3, 155 x 3, 155 x 3

4. chest supported rows (2-0x1) 10-12 reps

55 lbs x 10, 55 x 10, 55 x 8

Having completed my session, I walked to the change room with my head high and shoulders back. Maybe there was some swagger in my step, too. I’ve had a fair number of tough training days lately, but today was a good one. Day 2 will see more apprehension when I attempt to deadlift the most weight I’ve done since June. Day 3 will test me again when I am supposed to bench 120 pounds for 5 sets of 3 reps. Those could be good days or bad ones, but I’m looking forward to the challenges. Tomorrow will be 31 days until the competition!

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

decide

Week 11 of my training program begins tomorrow, and this week will see a shift in focus as competition is now less than 5 weeks away. The accessory work will shrink significantly, while I put in a lot of practice for my competition lifts, heavier weights and fewer reps. It’s an exciting time, even if the hard work continues.

I have experienced a wide range of emotions in the weeks leading up to prior competitions. Right now, I feel strangely disconnected. Competition is 4 weeks plus a few days away, and I have barely given much thought to it. Yes, I have thought about it, a little, but there is no emotion attached to the thoughts. It’s a date on my calendar…a date that I’ll get excited about as it draws near. Maybe part of the reason for this is the fact that I now train by myself. Also, with so much of the year spent dealing with injury, I have had to accustom myself to having tempered emotions in regards to training and competing. Last week’s back pain flare up barely caused a ripple of emotion. The timing sucked. The pain sucked. The potential of being thrown back to the beginning sucked. But I didn’t wallow. I didn’t panic or freak out. I breathed. I carried on with life and allowed myself some extra rest. I used every tool in my toolbox to help the problem. I did not stress out over how this set-back could possibly impact my competition. I carried on, knowing that I am okay. I will be okay, and I am not defined by the things I do.

The back has been improving quite rapidly since last Thursday’s whatever it was that happened. I finished off Week 10’s training yesterday, but my coach did make changes to my loads, reps, and sets. The back held up fine, but now I am facing Week 11. Tomorrow’s squats call for working sets at 200 pounds. On the one hand, it will be exciting to feel 200 pounds on my back again. However, it has been a long time since I’ve had 200 pounds on my back! I am almost 100% confident that I haven’t had that much weight on my back since Provincials in early June, and that sparks a bit of fear within me. Especially in light of the recent back pain flare. What if? That question taunts me. What if the back hurts again? What if I can’t do the squats?

Lifting heavy weights is fun, but it is also scary. You need confidence in your ability to lift heavy, and yet, I think having a healthy level of fear is normal and beneficial. Too much fear can paralyze you, make you too tentative and run you into trouble. Too much confidence can put you at risk of injury from over-reaching your ability. There is a happy road down the middle…I just need to find it and stay there.

 

The Sleep Equation

It is Monday morning and I should be at the gym finishing off my first training session of the week. Instead I am lounging in my living room in my pajamas, where the heaviest thing I’ve lifted was my coffee mug. My intention was to go to the gym this morning. Last night, I prepped my training log, filled my water bottle, and made sure my gym bag was ready to go. What I didn’t count on was laying in bed for hours with a mind that would tiptoe right up to the edge of sleep only to dash down a rabbit hole of thought instead of welcoming the darkness. That process repeated itself for hours…almost asleep and then thoughts racing off in a completely different and random direction.

Even my trusty go-to method of quieting my mind for sleep failed me last night. I shall explain this method if you promise not to laugh. Scratch that. I’m certain that you will laugh, and that’s okay. I am not ashamed of being a huge Star Wars geek.

When I have trouble sleeping, I begin to create Star Wars stories in my mind as I lay in bed. Sometimes my ideas come from previous dreams (yes, I do occasionally dream Star Wars), while some ideas come years of reading about and imaging the Star Wars universe post-original movies. I begin by setting the scene and characters and usually fall asleep well before I can get around to enlarging the scene with action. Night after night, I repeat the process, setting the scene from the beginning and fall asleep shortly after. My stories seldom progress very far and almost never reach a conclusion. The goal isn’t the story but sleep, and this activity somehow takes all my mental threads of thought and twists them into a solitary rope that I can follow into dreamland.

But not last night. At the first sign of difficulty in falling asleep, I began setting my scene. In the usual fashion, my mind would shortly begin to drift towards darkness, but then darkness would shatter as my thoughts would veer in a different direction. Instead of my Star Wars lullaby, I’d be thinking about work or training or Nationals or my son’s dead fish or the mild throb in my shoulder or dinner for the next week or the bills I have to pay or the hip pain from 3 years ago or how odd it is to be in a pitch black room with eyes closed yet ‘seeing’ bright light inside my head. No matter how many times I would set the scene all over again, the result was the same. Tiptoe up to the edge of sleep. Retreat at full speed.

When my bladder woke me a couple of minutes before my alarm was set to blare, I debated with myself. Get up and go to the gym as planned or delay the gym until tomorrow and get a bit more sleep today. In the past I didn’t have the ability to even make such a last minute change to my training, because my training time was coordinated with my coach’s availability. Now that I train by myself, I do have more flexibility, but I still need to make sure that I get my training done, especially with a competition on the horizon. In the span of a minute or two, while still half-asleep, I mentally looked at my schedule and shuffled things around. Yes. It would work. So, I opted to stumble to the bathroom quickly and then crawl back into bed for another 40 minutes or so. Although I still would have had time to get to the gym this morning, I think the best decision is to wait until tomorrow. My shoulder is mildly achy. I did not get much sleep at all and what I got was not of great quality. I can tackle Week 10, Day 1 tomorrow.

End of Week 9

I am glad that this training week is finished. It’s felt like a long, tough week, and I suppose I shouldn’t expect much to change over the next few weeks. There’s a competition to prep for, after all!

1. competition bench (2-1×0)

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6 + 5, 85 x 5

main event: 100 lbs for 10 sets of 3 reps with 90 seconds of rest between

Although I felt fine enough when I arrived at the gym, my right shoulder felt a little funky from the very first warm up set. It still feels a bit off almost two hours later. I don’t think it is anything to get excited about yet, but I should make sure I’m doing some band pull-aparts on a daily basis and try to minimize how much I sleep on my right side. As I continued warming up, I made sure to do some stretching and also felt a few more reps at 65 pounds would be beneficial. I was able to perform all 10 working sets without too much difficulty, but I could foresee difficulty coming my way in a short while with close grip bench also on the agenda.

2. competition squat (3-0x0) 5-7 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 7, 95 x 5, 135 x 3

main event: 155 lbs x 6, 155 x 5, 155 x 5

These squats felt decent. They even looked decent when I watched the videos I took, but they did feel a little tough. Not tough in a “that’s too heavy or difficult for me” kind of way, but rather in a “my body feels drained of it’s life force” kind of way.

3. close grip bench press (3-1×0) 6-8 reps

105 lbs x 6, 105 x 4, 105 x 4

Just as I predicted, the close grip bench sets were super tough and not at all fun. I managed to get the minimal number of reps on the first set but barely. The RPE for that set was 9.5 and stayed that way for the next two sets. I don’t like dropping reps, particularly when I’m not even achieving the lowest number in the rep range; however, I’d rather drop reps than put myself into a potentially bad situation, like complete and utterly catastrophic failure. Even though I always have safeties when I bench, I am not a fan of my gym’s benches and safeties. Quite frankly, they suck. There are times when it appears as if the safeties would be too short compared to my bar path. Since I could barely finish the fourth rep each of those final two sets, I figured I should stop there.

4a. back extensions

20 lbs x 12, 20 lbs x 12

4b. side planks

x 30 seconds each side, x 25 seconds each side

Now I am looking forward to a couple of rest days and hoping to feel fresh for Monday’s training session…whatever it may look like. I have a feeling it’s going to be another long, tough, sweat-filled session.

Deadlifts on the Rise

My ability to perform deadlifts was significantly hampered for a great deal of this year because of my lower back injury that occurred at the end of January. I might have attempted a couple deadlift sessions in the first few weeks after the injury and another short session a couple months later, but mostly I couldn’t deadlift until May when I needed to prepare for Provincials in June. I think I worked up to a single rep at 225 pounds, and even that didn’t feel very good. At Provincials, my deadlifts felt really good and easy…because they were easy weights for me. Tweaking my back during one of my squats meant I had to be even more conservative with my deadlift attempts than originally planned. My three deadlift attempts were: 187 pounds, 226 pounds, and 248 pounds. That was the end of deadlifting for a little more than a month or late July.

Deadlifts returned to my training when I got my new coach and program. Even though I had provided him with all of the pertinent information as it related to my injury/recovery and previous training and competitions, the first deadlift session, as programmed, was a little too much. Those first deadlift sessions were from a deficit, but the original working weight was 220 pounds. I never even bothered attempting to use that weight, because my warm up set at 195 pounds felt heavy, tough, and hard on my back. My coach scaled back my deadlift numbers. After a few weeks of deficits with back aches, he took away the deficit. Since then I’ve been feeling the deadlift love once again. Today’s deadlift session saw my working sets at 220 pounds…that same weight I couldn’t do 9 weeks ago!

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 6, 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 195 x 3, 205 x 2

main event, with belt: 220 lbs x 6, 220 x 4, 220 x 3, 220 x 4, 220 x 3

The first set felt like it was flying. So good and honestly surprising. The second set still felt decent, but I knew I’d have difficulty maxing out reps for each set. The third and fifth sets were not as good as I’d like, since I didn’t even get the four reps I was shooting for. It was a case of the loss of tension, loss of rhythm in both sets. On the third set, I tried to regroup. I stood up and reset my position, inhaled and tried to lock my body into tension…nope. When it comes to deadlifts, I listen to my body when it tells me to stop. I also know that as the weight on the bar gets heavier, my ability to perform multiple deadlift reps drops significantly. I’ve never been someone who can use 80% of my max for reps. But aside from those two glitches, I think my deadlifts were decent today. It was good to feel progress, to know that I am indeed coming back from injury and getting stronger all the time.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 6-8 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 6, 65 x 4, 85 x 3, 100 x 3

main event: 110 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6

These felt a little tough today. I’d say each set was an RPE of 9. The fact that my calluses were now tender and sore from the deadlifts probably didn’t help, but mostly I just feel a little fatigued this week.

3. pause deadlifts (3-1×0) 4-6 reps

145 lbs x 4, 145 x 4, 145 x 4

Legs felt done like dinner. Grip felt done like dinner. I’d rather pause squat.

4. pull downs 8-12 reps

70 lbs x 12, 80 lbs x 12

This is the first time pull downs have been in my new training program, which also means that I haven’t done pull downs for a few months now. My coach left the weight up to me. I did a couple of reps at 50 pounds before deciding that 70 would be a better place to begin. That was relatively easy, so I increased the weight on the second set.

5. planks

x 45 seconds, x 40 seconds, x 30 seconds

The first plank felt almost easy. On the last plank, I could hear my abs screaming in misery.

And now, after two training days which saw increases in weight along with lots of sets, I’m almost looking forward to Friday’s 10 working sets of bench. When I first saw this week’s program, I thought all those sets might do me in, but now I think they might be the easiest part of the strength portion of this week’s program!

It Is Well

“It’s okay if you’re scared about endings and new beginnings. But remember, you do it every single day. All will be well.” ~Nanea Hoffman

Four years ago today I walked into a private gym to meet with a personal trainer for the very first time. I was absolutely scared that day. Stepping into a gym was like landing in a foreign country where nobody speaks English and the food is unrecognizable. I felt awkward and out of place. So far outside of my comfort zone. My only real hope was that I might finally lose some of my excess weight, but even then I was doubtful.

The journey of the past four years has been incredible and life-changing. I am not the same person today as I was then. The road has not always been easy or free from potholes and roadblocks. There have been ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments. I have reached goals that far surpass my original goal to lose 20-25 pounds, goals that I could never have even anticipated setting for myself. I went from someone who was finally beginning to consider herself a runner to a competitive powerlifter. Four years ago, I hadn’t even heard of powerlifting. I changed jobs. I found myself.

As I reflect on the past four years and where I am today, I can see the road before me disappearing into a shimmer on the horizon. It is very true that every day is a new beginning and you cannot always see what is coming your way. The path of my journey veered slightly this summer with a change in training venue and coaching. Dealing with injury made the road bumpy for most of the year. My husband had major surgery and an ongoing heart issue. Changes at work. Relationship trials. The day-to-day stuff of life. I’ve continued to do it every single day.