Unsinkable Hope

Remember my post on Sunday when I was cautiously optimistic, because I felt a noticeable difference in my level of pain and mobility in my back? Turns out it wasn’t a fluke! The lessening of pain and the slow increase to my mobility has continued, although I have kept a tight grip on my emotions. This morning I had an appointment with my chiropractor, and I was greatly surprised to find that I was able to arch my back in a cat pose. Last week when he asked me to do that same movement, it was difficult and uncomfortable. And I am now able to go full cobra when doing my back extensions homework! Then this evening I had a training session after having 4 days off. It was the best training session I’ve had in about 2 months. I am so excited! The back isn’t pain-free. I can still feel restrictions in some movements, but nothing I did in the gym tonight hurt. The only restriction I felt was at the bottom of the squat if I tried to push my depth, but I generally only went as deep as was comfortable.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6 or 7, 115 x 6, 135 x 5

with belt: 155 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5

Speed was good for all the sets. The weight wasn’t maximal and felt comfortable. With competition being roughly 7 weeks away, I’ve got some work to do, but we didn’t want to push too much on this first good feeling training day.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5

I chose to keep my feet on the bench rather than have them on the floor with my full back arch…didn’t want to push my luck with the back. There was a small arch though, and the back still felt decent. The final rep of each set was paused.

2a. close grip bench press, touch and go keeping constant tension

75 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 85 x 8

2b. back extensions-without shoes

body weight x 20, 20 lbs x 20, 20 lbs x 17

2c. seal rows

75 lbs x 15, 95 x 12, 95 x 10

It was so nice to have a mostly normal feeling training session! Even the act of putting my knee sleeves on and taking them off was incredibly easier than it has been for weeks. Wonder what Friday’s training session will bring?

A New Hope

It would be extremely premature to get excited, but today my back has felt better than it has felt for a couple of weeks. By better I do not mean without pain. However, I do mean less pain and greater ease in some simple movements. Of course, I have not had to do much today that might be too much for my back, which is why I am keeping my excitement under control.

The last few weeks have been more bad than good. Two days ago was a very bad day for my back. In the gym on Friday, Michael asked me to do some dead bugs, and tears stung my eyes from the pain and effort just to lift my legs into the air and hold them there. Today I did dead bugs without any pain or difficulty. On Thursday, my chiropractor had me do some back extensions similar to the yoga cobra pose. My range of motion that day was limited and the movement wasn’t overly comfortable. Today those extensions were easier, less uncomfortable and with greater range. Even yesterday the basic act of walking often resulted in pain, while today I have been able to stand and walk without experiencing shooting pain. This is the improvement I have been desperately waiting for and not seeing.

There has been improvement today, yes; however, it is far too early to throw caution to the wind and return to normal activities. There is still pain and the feeling of restriction to some movements. But maybe, just maybe the nerves are starting to settle down. Wouldn’t that be nice! That thought makes me feel hopeful. Cautiously optimistic.

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.

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! 😉

 

 

Don’t Cry Out Loud…

Yesterday I set out the top and socks that I would wear for training this morning, and I had selected a Wonder Woman tank and my FIGHTER socks. As I was getting dressed this morning, I changed my mind and grabbed a different tank top, one that says, “If at first you don’t succeed, fix your ponytail and try again!” There was no rhyme or reason for the change. I just felt like it. Little did I realize just how appropriate the shirt slogan would be…or how frustrating my training session would be.

Most of the time the gym is my happy place, and even a difficult session can still be a rewarding and positive experience. While there were glimpses of smiles this morning, they were rare and weak and merely attempts to keep tears at bay. I suppose, in that regard, the smiles were effective. I did not shed a single tear at the gym today! At least I can claim that as a victory. My coach could tell that I was frustrated, although I’m sure it was rather obvious. He reminded me that one bad workout isn’t the end of the world…but it has been more than one. Over the past two months, there have been more bad training sessions than good ones in terms of being able to do what I need to do without pain or physical limitation and discomfort, and I am extremely frustrated by that. Frustrated doesn’t even accurately describe how I am currently feeling.

When it comes to personal pain and situations, it is easy to be myopic. For all my frustration and angst over this ongoing back issue, I do know that my struggle is actually quite small. There are so many people who struggle with issues and pain much greater than what I am dealing with, and the fact that I can’t train the way I want cannot compare to the true limitations many people experience on a daily basis just living life. I understand that. I really do. My husband is scheduled for hip replacement surgery at the end of April and has been in pain daily for years. I can complain about not being allowed to back squat for several weeks, but my husband literally cannot squat. I can complain about how uncomfortable it is to sit long enough to put my shoes on, but there are days when my husband cannot even put his own sock on. In the grand scheme of things, my current struggle is minor. I know it, but it is still frustrating and disappointing to feel as if you are stuck and going nowhere. The ‘one step forward, two or three steps back’ thing gets really old, really quick.

The back felt pretty good yesterday. Not 100% normal but really good. Then I woke up this morning. It seems that the back is stiff and achy almost every morning when I get up. Then add a little bit of necessary sitting, like using the toilet and driving to the gym, and the back just gets crankier. And then training doesn’t go as planned either.

1a. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 8

After this warm-up set, Michael asked me how it was or if I just like to make faces on warm-ups. The weight itself was fine, but the back wasn’t exactly thrilled with deadlifting. The discomfort was just that…uncomfortable but not unbearable.

135 x 8

Same as above.

165 x 1 + 1 + 2

There was stronger pain on the first rep, which is why the reps were disjointed. Now I could get into position just fine, but the back started to hurt as soon as I created tension prior to initiating the lift and then as soon as I initiated lowering the bar.

with belt and straps: 165 x 0

I think it was about this point that Michael asked me what my body was telling me, and this was when frustration reared it’s ugly head. Michael pointed out that my response to his question was my mind talking and not my body. <grumble> So, then we tried a bunch of variations to see if one would feel better. Deficit deadlifts were a no-go. Block pulls were a no-go. Sumo block pulls were a no-go. Even kettlebell swings were a no-go. By that point, the fighter in me wanted to fix my ponytail and try again, but that inner fighter was also mentally sitting in a corner, sobbing her eyes out.

1b. military press

43 lbs x 7, 53 x 6, 63 x 5, 63 x 5, 63 x 5, 63 x 5

The last two sets were a bit tougher and likely sloppier, but the previous sets were decent and the bar moved well. The military press has long been a trouble lift for me, but I feel as if I am finally feeling more comfortable with it and struggling less. It used to be that my shoulders would burn with fatigue just holding the bar in the rack position between reps, but I didn’t feel any of that today. And that is one thing I have going for me…that no matter how frustrated, upset or defeated I feel, I can still manage to find a positive somewhere!

2a. reverse hypers

x 20, with 10 lbs x 20, 10 lbs x 20

I’m capable of doing these with more weight than this, but I’m also used to doing reverse hypers without discomfort in my lower back! It didn’t take many reps for me to appreciate the fact that my coach was keeping the weight light.

2b. back extensions

x 25, with 10kg x 25

3. single leg deadlifts

2-10kg kettlebells x 12 each leg

2-12kg kettlebells x 10 each

The first set was pure ugliness. My balance was horrid. The second set was a bit better with slightly less balance issues, especially with the right leg planted.

 

 

The Monkey Off the Back

Last Thursday’s sumo block pulls may not have been a super fantastic idea in hindsight. While the first few sets were fine, the last couple definitely didn’t feel good on the lower back, and I’ve been feeling it ever since. The pain and discomfort are still tolerable and not nearly as bad as a couple of weeks ago but more than earlier last week. I see my chiropractor tomorrow afternoon, and I’m not looking forward to telling him that I might have pushed it a bit too much. I can hear his laugh at my foolishness already.

I drove to the gym this morning resolved to be happy with whatever my coach would let me do and whatever my back would allow me to do. I wanted to believe that I had learned another lesson…not to rush into an exercise or movement that my body isn’t ready for. Ha! Okay, so I might not be in a hurry anymore to pull some deadlifts before the back is ready, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be stubborn when it comes to pushing further in other ways.

One of the first things Michael said to me this morning was that he thought we could have some fun and try for a bench press PR. Heck yeah! I don’t get to attempt PRs very often and, with the long gap between competitions, I haven’t been training to peak my strength. The SI joint problem has kept me from doing any sort of bench press with an arch in my back, so I haven’t been using my legs and my shoulders have been in less than optimal position…but I didn’t feel keen on attempting a personal record without the use of my leg drive and an arch to keep the shoulders happy. Most of the warm up sets didn’t bother the back much at all. Getting into position with the arch wasn’t the most comfortable feeling on the last few sets, but the discomfort was not the same as what I experienced on the final sets of block pulls on Thursday. Hopefully the SI joints will agree with my conclusion. If not, then I guess that is something else my chiropractor can snicker about tomorrow. For today, it was worth it!

1a. bench press-squat shoes, with legs and arch!

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 8, 85 x 3, 105 x 3, 120 x 5 PR135 x 1PR

with slingshot-135 x 6

The most I had done for reps at 120 pounds previously was 3, so today’s 5 reps was the first PR of the day. The last time I set a bench press single rep PR of 132.3 pounds was on October 7, 2015 at the BCPA Fall Classic competition. I could probably find an app to tell me exactly how many days it has been since I set that PR, but it is enough to know that was a very long time ago. Since that PR, I have competed three more times. Last May, I failed to press that same weight on my final attempt. Last June, I was successful in pressing the same weight on my final attempt. Last August for my final attempt, I wanted 137.8 pounds but failed. I have been so frustrated by my bench press for so long, feeling like I was capable of more than I was achieving, and today I finally broke through that plateau. The rep was not even maximal. There is more there yet!

1b. Bulgarians-with 54 lb vest + 6kg kettlebell

x 8 each, x 10 each, x 7 each

without the kettlebell x 10 each

The Bulgarians felt particularly nasty today. The first set felt incredibly hard. It seemed as if the bar my foot was resting on had been set too high. Actually, I forgot to put the mat down for my knee to descend to! With the mat, there was some ease but not much. The legs felt shaky and weak. Michael assured me that he hadn’t added any weight to the vest, but it sure felt heavier than last week.

2a. back extensions

x 20, x 17

2b. TRX rows, fairly inclined

x 10, x 11

 

Three Days

Earlier this afternoon I saw a meme which stated, “I feel like I’m already tired tomorrow.” That is exactly how I feel! I did sleep mostly better last night; there just weren’t enough hours of sleep. Exhaustion is oozing out of my pores, and I cannot even begin to imagine feeling well-rested when I wake up tomorrow. It would be nice to be wrong though.

I trained first thing this morning, which means that I was at the gym for three consecutive days. That is not typical for me, but it is how it had to be this week. I’m okay with it. But it is tiring. Thankfully, I’m not in the midst of a heavy, pre-competition training block, but then again…do I ever really have easy training sessions? I keep wanting to say that the past two weeks of training almost feels like a deload, because I haven’t deadlifted or done real squat. There is some truth to that. It does feel like a bit of a deload, and yet, I’ve still been pushed and challenged and worked hard in different ways.

1a. front rack alternating reverse lunges

43 lbs x 12, 73 x 12, 93 x 12, 93 x 12

I just knew that lunges would show up today! Since my chiropractor wants me to do lots of single leg work to help my SI joints and I’ve already done Bulgarians and split squats this week, predicting the arrival of lunges wasn’t all that amazing.

The first few sets were okay. The final set was tough, not due to the weight but simply fatigue. Michael pushed me to finish the final half of the set, and that was okay, too. Sometimes I need that little push, the reminder that I am capable of a little bit more. My coach is pretty good at recognizing when I can keep going or when I should stop.

1b. flat dumbbell presses-without legs

25 lbs x 12, 34 lbs x 9, 39 x 8, 39 x 8

Michael almost had me do military press here, but then he decided against it in order to avoid putting my back into a potentially bothersome position. I’ve got to say that I am loving the flat dumbbell presses lately, even without using my legs. While pressing a 25 pound dumbbell for reps while standing presents a challenge for me, I am no longer intimidated by the bigger dumbbells when I’m on my back.

1c. single arm, single leg plank

x 10-15 seconds each side

x 10-15 seconds each side

x 15 seconds (actually timed for this set) each side

2a. back extensions with 25 lb dumbbell

x 15

x 18 with an 8 second hold on last rep

2b. TRX supine rows (legs straight + knees bent)

x 5 + 6

x 5 + 5

2c. triceps cable pulldowns

40 lbs x 11

40 lbs x 8

I don’t want to get too excited prematurely, but I can’t help but notice that my back feels better than it has for the past 11 days. It isn’t pain-free yet, but it will get there. At one point this morning, we joked about the list of ailments I am either currently experiencing or have recently experienced: hip, knee, back, etc. I pointed out that I am 45 years old! Then I tacked on that I also feel great. It’s true! Despite the current back pain, despite the off and on again knee pain, despite all of the little tweaks, twists, and boxes dropped on my head, I do feel great. I almost never get sick. Current fatigue level aside, I have more energy than I did in my thirties. I am in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I am strong and getting stronger, and I do things many, if not most, women my age cannot.