Just a Squat That I Used to Know

Provincials are 25 days away according to my countdown app…just under 4 weeks, which means I really only have 3 weeks of real training. The final week will be for deloading.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves, slower eccentric

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 185 x 2, 200 x 1, 210 x 1

The set at 135 pounds actually felt really good. Michael even said that he might pass most of the reps. The slower eccentric helped a bit, but I’m still mostly hitting parallel for depth. We took video of the 185 and 200 sets to assess. It’s difficult to judge the depth with certainty. Maybe I’ll have to start wearing my singlet. One thing that was quite obvious in the videos was my ankle mobility and extreme angle of my shins! My body is doing all sorts of things in the effort to squat safely, to protect my back, and to try to hit depth. Unfortunately, that also means that my squat looks different almost every time I go to the gym! But my final single did move better than my heavy single last week. Hopefully my body is getting used to the feel of heavy weight on my back again.

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on the bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 5

with feet on floor and arch: 113 lbs x 5, 118 x 3, 118 x 3

My back is still not 100%. I’m hesitant to even attempt to rate the state of my back at this time. It is definitely improving and has improved significantly compared to a few weeks ago, but I can still feel a degree of pain or discomfort through most of the day. There may be a reasonable chunk of time with almost no pain, but then the simplest thing, like taking a step up a stair, can jostle the back uncomfortably. Although my back generally feels okay at the gym, I want to keep it feeling that way through my training session and beyond, and this is why I elect to do as much of my benching with my feet up on the bench. Having my feet on the bench enables me to have less of an arch…or no arch, if necessary. It’s not my favourite way to bench, but sometimes you do what you gotta do. Benching was all solid and smooth today.

2a. pause squats-low bar, with belt, 2 second pauses

155 lbs x 3, 175 x 3

I love pause squats! There is something about doing a pause squat that allows me to nail my technique. Michael was hoping that having a slower eccentric on my regular squats would have the same result, but it didn’t. I’m not sure why, except for maybe the difference in knowing that I will be staying in the bottom for a bit when doing pauses. Pause squats have always been a good tool for me, but we mostly avoided using them over the past few months because of my back and not wanting to put more strain there. That was likely a good decision, but I’m glad that I am able to use the pause again.

2b. hanging leg/knee raises

x 12

I started off raising my legs and switched to knees at some point. There was some minor back discomfort doing these, particularly with the legs straight…the feeling of muscles being pulled or stretched more than they want to. That same sensation has been present at the bottom of my squats since the back problems started. It’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve been able to squat without feeling it, so I’d say that’s progress. Several weeks ago, I couldn’t even do hanging knee raises without significant discomfort. More improvement!

Hips, Knees, Benches & Bretzels

My husband had his hip replaced yesterday. It seems to have gone well, and he’s already been up and taking short walks down the hall of his hospital ward. Assuming that everything continues to progress as expected, he will likely be sent home tomorrow morning and that’s when the real fun will begin. Found out that we will need to switch sides of the bed, which means I now need to make some adjustments to the furniture layout in our bedroom so he can get the walker between the wall and the bed on that side. I will also need to move my alarm clock to the other side. Although it will be quite a few weeks before he is able to do a lot of things, at least his recovery should be fairly smooth. I hope.

As for me, I definitely feel as if my back is finally seeing more progress and fewer set-backs. It’s still not normal or without varying measures of pain and discomfort, but it’s exciting to realize how much more I can do. This morning at the gym, I sat on the floor to put on my socks, knee sleeves and shoes, which is something that I haven’t been able to do for a long time! Although I still avoid sitting as much as possible, I have had to do more sitting over the past two days than I am used to, and the back has held up fairly well. Okay, so for a while yesterday I was mildly concerned that I was about to take backwards steps again. The SI joint was a bit achier than it had been for the previous few days, not too bad but not quite as good; however, it seemed to settle back down by mid-afternoon. One of my biggest questions these days is always how far can I push myself without negatively impacting my back/SI joint. Unfortunately, I cannot always answer that question until I try to see what I can do. My coach often has exercises that he would like me to do in the gym, and he will ask me if they are okay for me to do. There are a couple that I am reasonably certain would not feel good on my back at all, but most of the time I simply can’t say until I try it. There is also no guarantee that what felt fine before will always feel fine and vice versa. Ab wheel roll-outs were fine early on in this ordeal, but the last time I did them a couple of weeks ago they were more uncomfortable. I couldn’t do hanging leg raises at all a while ago, but I managed to do some leg raises last week using the dips bar. One thing I am fairly certain would not be a good idea is sit-ups on the glute-ham device, so I’ve rejected that option every time Michael has presented it. The biggest tests will be once I get heavy enough weight on the squat bar and when I get to try deadlifting again.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 7

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 1, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 215 x 1

215 lbs for roughly a 10 second hold, twice

Squats didn’t feel too bad today. A few reps felt a bit deeper but probably still not quite deep enough, although I honestly felt like at least one rep might have been legal depth. The single at 215 felt a little heavy, tough, and ugly, so Michael had me do a couple of holds with the weight to get used to having it on my back again. The first hold felt super awkward, because he didn’t even want me to walk the bar out, which meant I couldn’t have any forward lean to make the low bar position remotely comfortable. For the second hold, we raised the safeties and I was allowed to walk the bar out. It felt a bit better but still not nearly as good as it should. This is one of those areas where Michael has ideas that he wants to incorporate but isn’t always certain it will be good for my back. Obviously I need to re-familiarize myself with having heavy weight on my back, and I don’t have a lot of time to get to that point. He thinks doing some holds or walking with the yoke rack would be good. I don’t disagree with him, and I’d be willing to try. He just wants to be careful with my back.

1b. bench press-competition grip, with feet on the bench and small arch

47 lbs x 10, 67 x 6, 87 x 5, 107 x 5, 112 x 5, 112 x 4

Benching with my feet on the bench allows me to better keep the arch in my back small, which should help me to avoid aggravating the SI joints. It’s akin to deadlifting from a deficit. It will make me stronger, but I do miss being able to use my leg drive. My butt came off the bench on the fifth rep of the first set at 112 pounds. That is not typical of me, but I suspect the need to use leg drive was too strong to resist on that last rep. Oh well! In powerlifting, only the first rep matters. 😉 As for the final set, there was supposed to be 5 reps. Shake it off! I know I am stronger than how my bench felt today.

2a. Spoto presses-with feet on the bench still

97 lbs x 6, 97 x 6, 97 x 6

I think the first set felt a bit tougher than the next two. Sometimes that’s just how it is…as if my body needs a set to remember what it is supposed to be doing.

2b. back extensions-holding a 20 pound dumbbell

x 20, x 9, x 10

This is another one of those exercises that is hit or miss for how it makes the back feel. Actually, today these were completely hit and miss. The first set was horrible. I felt so much strain around the back of my knees that I had to drop the dumbbell midway through and repositioned myself before picking up the weight to finish the set. Honestly, I have no idea how I managed 20 reps that set.

Michael told me to keep my knees slightly bent to avoid the strain, so I did that on the following sets. It alleviated a great deal of the knee strain but not quite all of it. I was wearing my squat shoes for the first two sets and took them off for the last set, thinking that might be part of the problem. The last set wasn’t a whole different than the second. Maybe the pad was set a bit too far? I don’t know. Also, although the extensions didn’t make my back feel worse, I could feel some discomfort while doing them, which between that and the knees made me cut the reps short. However, it did feel sort of nice to carefully drape my body forward over the pad so my head was hanging down, stretching out the lower back in a way that it hasn’t liked to move for a while.

Yesterday my chiropractor gave me a new stretch to do…the Bretzel. If that makes you think of a pretzel, then you’re thinking in the right direction! If I’m not careful, this stretch will threaten me with a cramp and it doesn’t feel too pleasant on the quads, but I kind of like it. Not the unpleasantness, of course. I can see why my chiropractor says this is one of his favourite stretches, and I think it is one that I will continue with for a long time.

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!

One Step at a Time

Provincials is 10 weeks away and registration opens on Sunday! The SI joint is still a problem, but I privately celebrate every little bit of progress no matter how small. As I closed the store last night, I was able to lift stacks of patio chairs without the discomfort that was present the night before doing the exact same task. I can lift my right leg higher to put my pants on without discomfort and without needing to hold onto something as I bend forward. I could get out of the car with slightly less pain. There is a bit less pain from sitting on the toilet. But a sneeze can make the lower back feel as if it is being ripped apart. Lowering myself to the floor is still a slow, tentative process. I’ll take those small forward steps, even if they seem to come slowly, sporadically. Progress is better than regression. Although it feels as if this issue is going to last forever, I have to trust that there will come a day when this is but a memory. Until that day, I am just going to do my best to stay positive and upbeat, to focus on what I can do and continue to improve on those things, and trust that I will be successful at Provincials.

warm-up:

bottoms up kettlebell presses:

8kg x 5 each, 10kg x 8 each

box jumps:

…can’t remember how many I did…we were focused on making sure that my back wasn’t being bothered by the jumps that I don’t recall the reps…guess I should get in the habit of writing down more of my warm up stuff in my training log…ironically, the back was completely fine with jumping up onto the box, although I was bending my knees to absorb the impact; however, I did have to step down softly as that was more jarring on the back!

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 6, 73 x 6

with belt: 113 x 6, 135 x 6, 135 x 1

I wouldn’t normally require a belt for these weights, but Michael wants me to use it as much as possible leading up to competition and also just to be mindful of my back. The first belted set was with my own belt, while the other two were with a softer, velcro closure belt of Michael’s. Before I even did the first rep with my belt, something didn’t feel quite right on the left side of my lower back. It wasn’t the same discomfort and it settled down by the next set, whether because of the softer belt or just no reason at all. Speed and bar path were good. Breathing sucked but that’s front squats! The final set didn’t get very far though. I did the first rep and felt enough discomfort in the lower back as I came out of the hole that I paused at the top, considered a moment and then racked the bar. Michael said that was enough.

1b. floor presses-competition grip

45 lbs x 8, 75 x 8

with slingshot:

95 x 6, 115 x 6, 120 x 4 or 5?, 115 x 6

Using the slingshot for floor presses is interesting, because you don’t get all of the benefit of the slingshot due to the limited range of motion. Again, I am not sure if I completed 4 or 5 reps at 120 pounds before failing. Michael said that he wouldn’t count that as a missed rep…that it didn’t happen! But I know it did. I think the bar got out of position on me, but Michael chose to drop the weight anyway.

1c. prone trap raises

5 lb dumbbells x 11, x 12

band face pulls with wrist rotation, orange band

2 sets of 15

2a. barbell reverse lunges-low bar

75 lbs x 16, 95 x 16

I expected these to feel tougher. The first set was super easy. Although the second set did get a little harder towards the end, it was still surprisingly easy.

2b. back extensions, with 25 lb dumbbell

2 sets of 15

I have been given homework…doing 100 band pull aparts today, tomorrow and Sunday. Always need to work on that upper back! Maybe one day I will look like I actually lift weights! 😉

 

 

Not Epic But Good

SI joint problem. No deadlifts. No problem! There are plenty of things that I can do, and my coach frequently reminds me that I am not going to lose strength. In fact, he’s pretty determined that I don’t get stuck in a negative mindset. Right now, I don’t think he has to worry about that, because I had my meltdown last week and my attitude has refocused once again.

1a. bottoms up kettlebell presses

8kg x 8 each, 10kg x 8 each

I think this might have been a PR today!

1b. skipping

two 1 minute rounds

I know it is only skipping, but I am impressed with my skipping this morning. Some days sees more tripping and welts. The lower back didn’t like skipping the last time I tried, but today was easy-peasy and smooth.

2a. military press

45 lbs x 8, 55 x 8, 65 x 4 + 4 with push, 65 x 3 + 55 x 5

I thought I’d try a thumbless grip on the second set, and that was probably a mistake. The right shoulder burned for the rest of the training session, likely because the thumbless grip resulted in less lat engagement and more shoulder effort. Lesson learned!

2b. Bulgarian split squats

bodyweight x 8 each, 54 lb vest x 8 each, vest + 20kg kettlebell x 8 each, vest + 10kg kettlebell x 8 each

3a. chest supported rows

35 lbs x 20, 50 x 15, 60 x 14

3b. flat pin presses-elbows at 90 degrees

75 lbs x 5, 95 x 6, 115 x 8

4a. laying double kettlebell triceps extensions

6kg x 10, 6kg x 9

4b. dumbbell curls

alternating supinated 20 lbs x 20

without supination x 7

The Foam Roller

I’ve had a foam roller for a few years now, and I actually do use it with a degree of regularity. Mostly I use it when doing my chiropractic homework or have a body part needing attention, even though I’ve often heard the benefits of foam rolling daily. I’ve got plenty of excuses for not making this a daily habit. I can be lazy. I don’t think I need it. I feel like I don’t have the time. I’ll do it later (and then forget). It will be too uncomfortable on my sore muscles, usually the quads or hamstrings. Just excuses.

Last Wednesday when I saw my chiropractor in the midst of my melt down over my painful and uncooperative SI joints, he told me to begin rolling my entire body from head to toe. As much as I can be stubborn, rebellious, and lazy, I also want my body to be healthy and well functioning, which means that I have faithfully followed my chiropractor’s orders since that day. From the bottom of my feet to the top of my head and it feels amazing! I use a lacrosse ball on my feet and head, because it is simply easier. I think my favourite part is the head actually.

Foam rolling isn’t always a comfortable process, but here are a few tips based on my own experiences:

  • If you have long hair, wear a hoodie and put the hood up when rolling your upper back and head. You don’t want to pull your own hair!
  • If your ears are pierced, either remove your earrings first or be careful when rolling your head that you don’t stab the earring back into your skull!
  • It doesn’t need to take a long time. While I haven’t timed myself, I’d estimate that it takes me between 10-20 minutes to roll my entire body.
  • If you feel some body parts need more attention, spend a little more time there but don’t overdo it.
  • It’s generally easy enough to make adjustments to the amount of pressure based on how much bodyweight you rest on the roller. If you have sore quads, for example, you might find it rather uncomfortable and downright painful to use all of your weight when rolling your quads.
  • Make sure you have a bit of floor space to sprawl out. The foam roller seems to wonder as you roll.
  • There are different styles of foam rollers. Some are pure foam, while others are much harder, like a wee bit of foam surrounding hard plastic. If you’re really hard-core, you could even use something like a barbell or rolling pin to manually roll your quads. Trust me…the barbell isn’t fun when the quads are sore!
  • When rolling your glutes make sure you don’t have pockets with buttons or zippers on the back of your clothing. Actually, buttons, snaps and zippers aren’t fun to roll over anywhere!
  • If you like to watch television in the evening, then why not do some foam rolling while you watch…
  • Seriously, rolling a lacrosse ball around your head feels amazing, like a massage, and it is incredibly relaxing.
  • Wear comfortable, stretchy clothing. Sometimes I wear my jeans, but my jeans are stretchy enough that I could squat in them if necessary.
  • Ignore the strange looks and comments your family might make as you groan or whimper. I do!

 

Bulgarians Bite

This ongoing SI joint issue is super frustrating. In some ways it feels like I’m back at the beginning of the issue but not completely. Some things are better than at the beginning of this ordeal, so I have to trust that this won’t last forever, but I’ve determined that I am going to do everything within my power to get through this with grace and strength. I can do that. Right?

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 6, 123 x 6

with belt: 133 x 6, 133 x 6

At least I can squat without pain in my lower back!

1b. glute-ham raises

x 10, x 10, x 5 + 5 with 8kg kettlebell

with 8kg kettlebell: x 10, x 10

1c. floor presses, with a pause at the bottom

43 lbs x 6 + 63 lbs x 5, 83 x 5, 103 x 6, 103 x 6, 105 x 6

1d. ab wheel

x 10, x 10, x 10, x 10

Michael said the first two sets were too easy and wanted me to roll out a bit further and slower, so I did. This is an example of how there is still improvement in my lower back, because I couldn’t roll out too far when the SI joint issue started. But the back bothered me too much to do sit-ups on the GHD…

2a. Bulgarian split squats with 54 lb vest

x 10 each leg

My balance was terrible. Although the extra weight isn’t always fun, I tend to find it slightly easier to balance if I’m holding some dumbbells in my hands. No counter-balances today though. I think part of my problem is that my back foot never quite feels secure, and that was definitely the case today. I’m glad I only had to do one set, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have been able to walk.

2b. single arm kettlebell rows

20kg x 15 each