Ups & Downs

The ongoing disc issue affects so many aspects of my life and often with little in the way of consistency. I had one day of pain-free sneezes, but I’m back to feeling my back blow out with every sneeze. Of course, allergies are probably hitting me now, because I was sneezing all day. My low back/pelvic area has felt out-of-sorts all day, bothering me enough to make me feel doubts about how well my training session would go later in the day; however, my training session felt quite good! I don’t understand my back, but as long as it continues to improve…

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 155 x 3, 175 x 3, 185 x 3, 195 x 3, 195 x 3, 195 x 3

The final set was a wee bit slower but still quite decent. The rest of the sets were good. Bar path and speed were good. The bar felt light, even though this is the first time I’ve had 195 pounds on my back since the end of January! I’m happy with that.

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

43 lbs x 8, 75 x 5, 95 x 5, 110 x 3, 110 x 3, 115 x 3, 120 x 3, 120 x 3

100 x 12 touch and go

The bench sets felt decent and smooth. It was nice to bench with my feet on the floor without plates and to have almost my full arch. Getting into position wasn’t too bothersome, but I did need to get out of position carefully. The back doesn’t feel any worse for arching though!

2a. pause squats-with belt, low bar, 2 second pauses, slow/controlled eccentric

135 lbs x 5, 145 x 5

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

x 5 + 10, x 5 + 10

Provincials are 6 weeks away!

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.

Continuing On

successladder

I think my brain is still in the process of gathering up the pieces, but I have to believe that I will get there eventually. Even if my heart and my brain aren’t there yet, I am too stubborn to stop trying.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill

1a. bottoms up kettlebell presses

10kg x 10 each, 10kg x 8 each

It’s highly satisfying to hit little PRs in the gym considering, or despite, the limitations I’ve been experiencing for the past couple of months.

2a. split squats-with safety bar and flat shoes

75 lbs x 12 each, 95 x 8 each, 115 x 7 each, 125 x 8 each, 125 x 8 each

2b. floor presses-moderate grip, no legs

45 lbs x 10

I didn’t have to do that many reps for the first set, but I had to fiddle with my leg positioning in order to find what would be the least bothersome to my back. Michael didn’t want any arching, but having my feet in the air and bracing is too painful on the back. Although I’ve been find with my knees bent and feet flat on the floor, today wasn’t super comfortable. What actually felt the best was to have my left leg bent and my right leg out straight on the floor. There was still a small arch in order to have some sort of good shoulder positioning, but I think it was small enough to not be a bother.

65 x 8, 90 x 8, 105 x 8, 105 x 6

I think these were all reasonably solid reps with decent speed.

3a. glute ham raises

x 10 just bodyweight

10kg kettlebell x 10

3b. single arm kb press while kneeling on a bench

10kg x 10 each x 2 sets

These felt a little tough, especially as each set wore on. I’m also not convinced the back liked these a whole lot, but it wasn’t too bad.

3c. single arm kettlebell row

16kg x 12 each x 2 sets

While the weight wasn’t overly challenging and I could have gone up on the second set, I think the better decision was to stay at the same weight rather than risk aggravating the back. There wasn’t significant pain during these, yet I could feel a bit of pressure in the back.

3d. ab wheel x 0

Despite having no troubles using the ab wheel earlier in this injured season, I just couldn’t do it this morning. I started to roll out but didn’t get too far.

hanging knee raises x 12, x 0

These were generally okay, except for the last rep. I’m not sure what I did…maybe lifted my knees too high or too fast or flexed my back a bit…I don’t know, but that last rep hurt. A fair bit. Tried for a second set and the very first attempted rep hurt, so I just hung out until my grip began to fail.

And just like that I had a decent training session, maybe one of the better ones I’ve had in the last week or two. Still so far from where I want to be, but focusing on what I can do is more productive than moping over what I can’t do.

Everything Changes

“When a woman feels her own strength, it’s empowering. She believes in herself and knows she can do more. It changes everything.” ~Kathrine Switzer

I just about burst into tears when I came across this quote yesterday. I absolutely adore this quote. Although I had never heard or seen it until yesterday, the truth within these words has resonated within my heart and soul for more than 3 years now. The journey from recreational runner to working with a personal trainer to powerlifter has provided me with the opportunity to feel my own strength, and that has most certainly been empowering. I have learned to believe in myself, to know that I can do more. My life has changed. In fact, everything has changed.

With this empowering comes incredible joy…and sometimes frustration. Once you know who you are and what you are capable of, then the appearance of setbacks and obstacles can at times weigh heavily on the emotions, the psyche, the self-confidence. The bigger the setback the greater the toll it takes.

I am no stranger to setbacks and obstacles over the course of this journey. I’ve had a stitch put in my finger a couple of weeks prior to my first powerlifting competition. I dropped a box on my neck three weeks before my first competition of 2016. I’ve had a disc issue which put an end to my goal of running a marathon and running at all. There have been little tweaks and aches from my shoulders all the way down to my toes. As much as those situations provided frustration, I think I handled them all with a decent measure of grace and positive attitude that I would get past them. I even felt the same way with this current back problem…back in February when it was still fresh and new.

But now it is almost mid-April and my back, in many ways, feels just as bad as it did back then. I am trying to maintain a positive attitude. I am doing everything that I am told to do by my chiropractor. There are bad days, not so bad days, and okay days. Just when I have a run of mostly okay days, the bad rears its ugly head and leaves me feeling like one floundering at sea. On the dark days my thoughts wander down dim rabbit holes of self-doubt and despair. Even though I know my strength and character, I must fight an internal battle against myself to believe it these days.

It’s easy enough to put a smile on my face and to say that I’m doing alright. The truth is that most people truly don’t want to know all that goes on within a person, and in many circumstances that is okay. There are instances when I don’t actually want to be honest about how I’m feeling, too. I don’t always want to be honest with my coach, when he asks about my back and how it is feeling and impacting my performance, but I also can’t actually hide the truth from him. Doing so would not help me in the long run, and he would see through me awfully quick. Still, he believes that I will overcome this, because I always do! If tears weren’t already tracking down my cheeks, my coach’s belief in me would unravel my fragile emotions.

Of Joints and Discs

The back is cranky today. How else can I describe it when it isn’t anywhere near the worst I’ve experienced but also not close to normal? I haven’t done a whole lot today. I trained between 9 and 10 this morning and had a chiropractic appointment at noon, for which I was dropped off by a son and I walked home. The back was cranky at the gym, but I don’t think the squats negatively impacted anything. My chiropractor put me through the wringer, and I could barely get up off the exam table by the time he was finished with me. The walk home was short, only slightly more than 3 kilometres, but almost every step seemed to jostle the lower back uncomfortably. <sigh> SI joint trouble and a resurgence of a disc issue…I’d rather the disc issue over the SI one.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

43 lbs x 10, 93 x 8, 123 x 7

with belt:

153 x 6, 168 x 6, 178 x 6, 178 x 6

With the exception of two reps, the squats were generally good. They had good speed, consistent bar path. Depth was still questionable. There was some forward pitch on the final rep of the first set at 178 pounds, and the fifth rep, I think, in the final set had a wee bobble midway up. Not too sure what happened with that rep.

Michael made a comment at one point about every rep looking different and not like Angela. I completely understand what he was saying, because I feel the changes, the tentativeness, and the resistance in the low back. Even though I’m trying not to push for depth too hard, I am perturbed by the ongoing struggle to break parallel. I’m not used to having so much trouble making depth, and I don’t want to head into competition with questionable depth.

1b. bench press-competition grip

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 8 all of these sets were done with my knees bent, feet on the bench. Having my feet in the air hurts the back.

100 x 6, 115 x 6, 115 x 6 these were all done with my feet on the floor and with a moderate arch. It was quite uncomfortable to get into position (and out of it), but I’d rather put up with a bit of that discomfort than end up with shoulder pain because I can’t get my upper back and shoulder blades into the best position. It’s like choosing the lesser of two evils. Arching isn’t comfortable, but I don’t think it is truly detrimental to my back issues. Mostly.

2a. bench press-close grip, keeping constant tension with touch and go, not fully locking out

95 lbs x 6, 85 x 10

The first set felt so heavy, and I couldn’t press the bar off my chest for a seventh rep.

2b. rows

TRX x 15

inverted with rings, knees bent x 8

2c. Bulgarian split squats-with 54 pound vest x 12 each leg