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.

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.

The Yo-Yo

You would think that I would be used to the ups and downs after more than two months of dealing with this back issue, but here I am still capable of being blind-sided by pain, frustration, and despair. After a couple nights of less than wonderful sleep due to discomfort in the back and the hip, today has been an exceptionally odd day. I’ve had a piercing headache on one side of my head most of the day. One eyelid has been twitching off and on throughout the day. Despite chiropractic treatment this morning that actually felt kind of good, the back grew progressively crankier as the day wore on and exploded into all sorts of pain and discomfort while at the gym tonight. The icing on the cake is a cough that settled into my chest over the weekend, which sends ripples of pain through my back with every cough. Or maybe the real topper was the bit of smoke seeping out from the hood of my car when I arrived at the gym!

1a. squats: low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 5

95 x 5, 95 x 5 with pauses

After the first set at 95 pounds, Michael asked if I wanted another warm-up set or if I wanted to go up. It’s rather unlike me to want more warm-ups, but I said I’d like another one. The second set with the slight pauses seemed to feel a bit better.

115 x 5, 135 x 6

with belt: 155 x 6 better

165 x 0

The walk-out felt okay, but the back wasn’t feeling too comfortable even as I just stood there. I began to squat but only made it not even a quarter of the way down before deciding the back didn’t feel good at all and calling it quits on that set.

135 x 5

This set was better than the “failed” set, even if Michael said it wasn’t a failed set at all, but it still didn’t feel as good as the set at 155.

It’s hard to say exactly why squats were troublesome today, when I’ve been having forward progress with them for the past few weeks. There is the possibility that alternating my squat sets with bench had a negative impact, especially as I was arching for my bench pressing today. I’m hoping that is the ultimate reason. We shall stop working both lifts at the same time for the next while to see if that makes a difference.

1b. bench press: competition grip, with arch and feet

43 lbs x 10, 73 x 6, 90 x 6 last rep paused, 105 x 6, 110 x 6 last rep paused

My pressing was going well, I think. Of course, as soon as the squats hurt too much, we also stopped benching.

2. back extensions

x 0

I was slow getting into position, and there was a fair bit of discomfort in bending forward. In a way, I’m not really surprised as forward hinging tends to be problematic these days; however, I’ve done back extensions within the past couple of weeks without the pain and restriction I felt today.

Taking off my shoes, socks, and knee sleeves was a slow and painful process. Actually the sleeves were the worst, and the left sleeve was the more difficult to remove. I’m not sure which was worse though: putting all of that on or taking it all off. Driving home was torture, but at least the car didn’t smoke. A cough might rip my back apart, but I’m now able to sneeze without needing to remove shrapnel from my back. This is me, trying to keep my chin up, even as tears well up in my eyes. I will not cry. At least not until I am somewhere alone. Mostly I’m just weary of the up and down, the bad days and the less than bad ones.

Talking It Out

Oh dear. It is almost 8:00pm, and I’m only now finally home for the first time since 7:30 this morning. I need to prep some food for tomorrow’s work day. I need to blog, and I fear that a multitude of thoughts are swirling inside of my head, disjointed but unrelenting. With tomorrow being an open shift, I’d ideally like to be in bed no later than 9pm, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. C’est la vie!

After work, I went to the gym. After the gym, I stopped at the grocery store for some necessary items. After the store, I went out for dinner with my husband, to Red Robin, where I enjoyed a greasy burger wrapped in lettuce and some fries, even though I really should have chosen salad for my side. After we were finished eating, the waitress brought me an ice cream sundae, because I had made some comment that gave her the impression that I’d had a crappy day. How could I pass up free ice cream?! I ate it, even as I fought to hold back tears. My day wasn’t all that bad, but the past two months of back issues have been tough both physically and emotionally. Although I am more honest in my blog, my general tendency is to keep the majority of my thoughts and feelings locked up inside, being highly selective about what I share and who I share it with. For good or bad, that’s my nature. So, I ate the ice cream, choking back tears, but I definitely didn’t feel any better for eating it. I actually felt rather gross.

As I lay in bed last night trying to fall asleep, I thought about asking my coach for his honest thoughts about my back, training and competing. I knew I wanted to ask for his thoughts, but I wasn’t sure how to put the question into words. I’d barely finished my warm up at the gym, when Michael began asking me questions about what I was feeling and thinking! I swear that man can read my mind sometimes! We talked. I tried to explain what I’m feeling in my back, but that isn’t always an easy thing to do…it varies and sometimes significantly. I do still want to compete. I plan on competing. I am still hopeful that the back will heal up soon. I would love to break my records at Provincials; however, I also have to acknowledge the fact that I don’t want to do more harm to my body and might need to lower my hopes and expectations when it comes to Provincials. It’s hard to say what that might look like, because I can’t predict what will be going on with my back two months from now. Maybe I can challenge my squat and bench records. Maybe the back will feel great and I can push the deadlift a little. Or perhaps I might need to do a token deadlift at an easy weight just to put up a total. While I don’t like the idea of not giving my best effort, I do understand that it might be necessary. And although I have been entertaining those thoughts for at least a few weeks now, today was the first time I’ve given them voice to anyone. As much as I want to be okay with this (and I basically think I am okay with it), I also can’t help but feel somewhat frustrated, disappointed, and mopey.

1a. trap bar deadlifts

75 lbs x 8 with low handles + 8 with high handles

125 lbs x 6 low handles, 145 x 3 low + 7 high

We thought we’d try trap bar deadlifts, that they might not bother my back as much as regular deadlifts. And they were mostly okay but not okay enough. No more of those. Switch to front squats.

front squats-flat shoes

95 lbs x 6, 125 x 5, 135 x 5

1b. flat dumbbell presses-feet on bench

25 lbs x 19, 34 x 8, 44 x 8PR, 44 x 7

1c. chin ups-small green band, neutral grip

4 sets of 6

2a. Bulgarian split squats-54 lb vest x 10 each leg

2b. seated cable rows

90 lbs x 10?, 90 x 6? + 70 x 6?

Sitting is usually a painful thing for me right now, so I had to position my body angle in such a way as to minimize the discomfort on my back.

And now I remembered that I still have to do my foam rolling. It’s almost 9pm now…sigh.

 

Goblet Squats

Since it is Wednesday I walked into the gym expecting military presses to be on my agenda, but my coach surprised me by saying that we weren’t going to do them today…if I was okay with that. The military press. while I will do them when required, is not my favourite lift and I did not mind doing something else this morning at all!

warm-up:

bottoms up kettlebell presses 8kg x 8 each, 10kg x 9 each

Since overhead pressing tends to be an area of struggle for me, I am pleased as punch whenever I manage to have strong feeling sets. Michael only asked for sets of 8, but I pushed for an extra rep on the final set in order to set a PR. Of course, I only pushed because I felt confident in my ability to complete the extra rep.

hip thrusts with hip circle 2 sets of 20

1a. floor press-competition grip

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 8, 90 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 4

1b. goblet squats-flat shoes

12kg kettlebell x 8, 44 lb dumbbell x 8, 64 lbs x 8, 84 x 8, 105 lb dumbbell x 3, 95 x 0, 84 x 10, 84 x 6

For the most part, these goblet squats felt really good. Michael intervened after the third rep at 105 pounds, recognizing that the upper back wasn’t going to hold for another. We dropped the weight a bit. Since my back is still an issue, Michael helped me by lifting the heavy dumbbells, so I could just be in position and take the dumbbell from him rather than running the risk of hurting my back trying to pick it up from the floor. He’d given me the 95 pound dumbbell and I held it but decided against attempting a squat, because I could feel more strain on my lower back than I had felt during the previous sets. This was likely due to the fact that the 105 and 95 pound sets were with regular plates on handles which meant a larger dumbbell that protruded further away from my body and required a bit more bend in the lower back. We dropped the weight and the first set was no problem. The final set started out easy enough, but the upper back was done.

2a. chest supported rows

45 lbs x 20, 70 x 3…the low back was feeling a bit pressured

2-16kg kettlebells x 12, x 4…this time the upper back was just done

2b. cable triceps pull-downs: reverse grip + overhand grip

30 lbs x 15 + 10, x 10 + 7

From the very beginning when I was doing the hip thrusts, I had the urge to take a picture of a section of the wall in the gym. My coach has a ribbon of words spanning the length of one wall, and my gaze was drawn to a handful of words over and over again. Ironically, as I am typing now roughly 11 hours later, I cannot recall the exact words that caught my eye. The first set of hip thrusts started out most uncomfortably on the low back, and I focused on the words. It bothers me that I can’t remember the words now. In my defense, there are many words and I have gazed upon them all many a time. I shall have to look at them again tomorrow…and maybe snap a picture. The back is determined to shove splinters of doubt into my confidence, so I need all the positive input I can get.