A Thankful Heart

Thanksgiving is near the top of my list of favourite holidays. Being a low-maintenance, easy-going kind of person, I don’t usually go too crazy in celebrating any holiday, no matter how much I love it. For a few consecutive years, my Thanksgiving weekends revolved around running a local race and preparing a family dinner. Now that I no longer run, Thanksgiving plans are even more low-key as we need to tiptoe around several work schedules. One of the joys of working customer service/retail is that statutory holidays really don’t mean anything other than another day at work. With the way my own schedule looked this year, I hadn’t expected to do anything special for Thanksgiving and had told my family the best they might get was a couple of store-bought rotisserie chickens. My kids protested. So, despite beginning work at 5:30 AM on Saturday and then going to the gym after work, we had turkey dinner that night. It was delicious, and it was one of those exceedingly rare instances where the entire family unit was together at the same time around the dinner table. I am thankful for that.

Gratitude is a regular part of my life. I express my thankfulness to people in my life on a regular basis, and I regularly post lists of things that I am happy/thankful for. Attitude affects so many aspects of our lives…for good or bad. Being grateful and striving to see the good in all things, or despite some things, makes maintaining a positive attitude easier. It changes my outlook on so many things. Even on the days when I am tired, grumpy, angry, or sad, the intentional act of noticing positives, of finding the details to be thankful for makes me feel better about myself, about others, and about difficult situations.

I am working all of this long weekend. Last night was painfully slow, like so slow we didn’t serve a single customer in the final hour that we were open. I am off to work soon, and I don’t know whether tonight will be any busier than last night. I enjoy my job, but I can’t say that I always feel glad to need to go to work. Since I work through the weekends, I seldom get to enjoy an entire day with my husband, because he is working during the week when I get my days off. Sometimes it would just be nice to actually get a stat holiday off. Okay, that’s my little whine, now for some thankful, happy things…

  • family & friends
  • laughing so hard while reading an article this morning that my daughter asked if I was dying
  • we close an hour early tonight
  • leftover pumpkin pie
  • the more consistent you are with stretching and rolling, the easier it becomes
  • even though I can’t watch most if it…a Star Wars marathon on TV
  • sunshine through windows
  • crisp air
  • crunchy leaves underfoot
  • the new training program seems to be working
  • nurturing and inspiring the human spirit
  • a good cup of coffee in the morning
  • headphones in the gym
  • flannel and quilts
  • working with great people
  • my so not old-school chiropractor who helps keep this old body functioning
  • creeping towards my weekend
  • the annual Friends of the Library book sale is later this week
  • hearty breakfasts
  • hot baths
  • all the seasons but especially Fall
  • paper and pens
  • lip balm and hand lotion
  • music
  • houseplants that I can’t kill too easily
  • hot air balloons in the sky
  • sunrises/sunsets
  • prairie storms on the horizon
  • mountains
  • time to myself
  • a good book
  • fun socks, if I have to wear socks
  • card and board games
  • feeling strong and getting stronger

 

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Thanksgiving Training

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, although I’m working the entire long weekend. Since I had an open shift this morning and closing shifts the next three nights, I hadn’t planned on having a big turkey dinner. Of course, the kids complained, so a last minute decision was made to cobble together a nice meal. My youngest son took care of getting the turkey into the oven, although I had to do all the prep yesterday and leave him detailed instructions. My boys peeled and chopped potatoes, but the bulk of the cooking will fall on my shoulders. Right about now my shoulders are feeling figuratively tired and sore. I had a good work day, then I came home to change before heading to the gym. I had a good training session, too, but now fatigue is settling across my body like a heavy blanket. I even put my pajama pants on once I got home from the gym. I just realized that I have only had the equivalent of 2 espresso shots today, so I could definitely use some coffee. It’s not too late to have a cup, right?

1. competition bench (2-1×0) 3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 3, 100 x 2, 110 x 2

main event: 120 lbs x 3, 120 x 3, 120 x 3, 120 x 3, 120 x 3

My warm up sets prior to 100 pounds were done with my feet on the bench and no arch…just because.

Pretty certain that I’ve never done so many reps and/or sets at 120 pounds before! That knowledge made me feel slightly apprehensive about today’s plan, but I was successful.

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

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 3, 155 x 3

main event, with belt: 175 lbs x 3, 175 x 3, 175 x 3

These felt easy today and light.

3. long pause bench press (3-3×0) 3 reps

90 lbs x 3, 90 x 3, 90 x 3

These felt decently good. I have a feeling they would really suck if the weight was much heavier, but these were fine.

4. side planks

x 30 seconds a side, x 25 seconds a side

And although I’m not looking forward to the hassle of cooking, I am looking forward to eating all the food!

 

The Old Familiar

The back felt pretty good during and after yesterday’s deadlifts, so I was a bit perplexed and dismayed to feel soreness creeping into my back as I was working this morning. At first I thought the aching was due to the way I was twisting as I reached for hot water while making some beverages at work, so I tried to make sure that I wasn’t twisting more than absolutely necessary. However, as the morning progressed and I was no longer contorting, the soreness in my back continued to increase. It still wasn’t too bad…certainly not the same as last week’s pain. Then I finally figured it out. This soreness was different yet vaguely familiar.

The discomfort in my back today is good old-fashioned post-deadlift muscle soreness! This is what I am used to feeling the day after heavy deadlifts, the day after a competition. While yesterday’s deadlifts weren’t maximal in terms of weight, I did lift more weight than I have for months and for more reps than I’ve ever done at such a weight. This ache is normal muscle soreness, and that makes me happy.

Of course, I still did my mobility/rehab work when I got home this afternoon. Couch stretch. Mashing my abs into a medicine ball. Mashing my ql into a lacrosse ball. Pigeon pose. Foam rolling.

A co-worker asked at one point if I was hurting. Yes, I was, but I could honestly say that it was a different, normal kind of hurt. It was a hurt that I haven’t felt for a long time, but I don’t mind it now. This is a reminder of hard work and effort, not an indicator of injury or harm.

The King of Lifts

Deadlifts. The king of lifts, or so some say. Opinions may vary. My own opinion of deadlifts has fluctuated between love and hate over my training life. Over the past couple of months I have been enjoying deadlifts again. That might be due to the fact that I am finally able to consistently and regularly deadlift without pain or further aggravation to my back, despite last week’s minor tweak.

Just as I was nervous about squats earlier in the week, I felt the same about today’s deadlifts. The weight jumped again, which is to be expected as I’m gearing up for competition, but it also puts me at a weight I have not pulled since early June. When you throw in the tweak to my back last week and 9 months of recovering from back injury, a bit of apprehension is to be expected. The weight itself wasn’t really scary, as it is still a far cry from my max; however, I am not used to doing a lot of volume with heavier weights when deadlifting. Was that part of my previous coach’s training philosophy? Or was it what he thought worked best for me? I’m not completely certain, and I am striving not to get hung up on what I used to do under the direction of my former coach. That said, I am still in the process of learning what my new coach’s training style and philosophy is, and he is still trying to figure out what works best for me and what I respond to well.

Sometimes I look at my program for the week and think my new coach is pushing me beyond my capabilities or comfort zone. I look at the number of reps and sets and the weight, and I feel a surge of panic. I can’t do that. I’m not used to doing that many reps at that weight! But you know what? For the most part, I have done what I thought I couldn’t. Up until now, I was used to doing maybe one set of 2 or 3 reps at a highish weight for deadlifts and definitely only two or three single reps at high weights. Although today’s weight wasn’t truly high yet, I did more reps and sets with it than I have ever done before…and the back felt okay!

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 2-3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 6, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, with belt 195 x 2, 225 x 2

main event, with belt: 240 lbs x 3, 240 x 2, 240 x 2, 240 x 2, 240 x 2

The final two sets were beginning to feel a little tough, especially the final rep of each. My capacity may have increased, but heavier deadlifts are still taxing on the system. Unlike last week, the back was essentially fine. I felt some very minor aching after, but the ache truly was extremely slight. Heavier deadlifts, at least for me, will usually result in some minor back soreness for a day or so, particularly after a competition. That’s normal and to be expected. I just don’t want a repeat of last week where the pain increased throughout the day to a throbbing mess.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 3 reps

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

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

All of my warm ups, except for the set at 100 pounds, were done with my feet on the bench and no arch. I probably would have been fine to set up normally, but I want my back to get better and stay that way. Although there was that slight ache from the deadlifts, my back felt completely fine benching with an arch for my working sets.

3. plank

x 45 seconds, x 41 seconds, x 36 seconds

 

I also had an appointment with my chiropractor today. My right hip is a tad tight. So shocking! 😉 The tight hip can be causing the back issue, so I need to keep working on that.

A Weighty Subject

Competition is a month away. November 4th will arrive before I know it.

I guess I should start taking my weight seriously, or at least make sure I am more aware of where I stand on the scale.

For this competition with 100% RAW, I decided to move up a weight class rather than do a decent cut to stay in the weight class I’ve competed in since my first competition. RAW’s weight classes vary ever so slightly from the CPU’s classes. With RAW, I have always competed in the 67.5 kg (148.8 lbs) class, while in the CPU I compete in the 72 kg (158.7 lbs) class. RAW’s next higher class is 75 kg (165.35 lbs).

Last year, I cut about 16 pounds to make weight for my RAW competition. The bulk of the cut was done gradually over several weeks, while the last 5 pounds or so were lost in the final few days. I was successful, but it wasn’t exactly fun. Since my weight tends to sit between 158 and 165 pounds anyway, I decided that I’d save myself the hassle and move up. Of course, I still need to make sure that I weigh in on the day below the cap!

I have stepped on the scale now and then over the past few weeks, so I have a general idea of where my weight is at right now and I’m fine. I am hovering right around 165 pounds. Ideally, I could even be a few pounds heavier and cut it over the last few days before competition. Not sure if I want to take that route, but I also don’t need to be too far below weight. Such a tricky business this is! Mostly, I just need to make sure I’m giving my body good fuel and proper hydration.

 

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.