6 Minutes of Torture

It was so good to be back at the gym this morning, and I can still say that after a training session that left me dripping in sweat and gasping for breath. I knew my training would look different and would not focus on powerlifting, but I did not know exactly what to expect. By the time I finished my last rep, I could only collapse on the floor, breathing hard and muscles rubbery. My coach told me that he hadn’t intended to kill me, but I think he kind of did, at least subconsciously. Somehow I’m okay with it. The true intent is not to slaughter me but to make me better and stronger. Variation is good. Conditioning is good. Working weak spots is good. Moving is good.

warm-up:

Turkish get-ups with 8kg kettlebell x 2 each side

single leg box step downs x 10 each side

1a. single arm kettlebell presses + carry

10kg x 10 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 8 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 6 each + 4 lengths

1b. single leg box step downs with the box on top of 15 lb bumper plates

3 sets of 10 each leg

I was actually surprised with how “easy” these were. Single leg stuff can often be problematic for me. My balance isn’t always very good, and single leg stuff is just tougher. The warm up set with the box on the floor was rather easy, still I was skeptical when Michael increased the height with the bumper plates. Indeed it felt like I was lowering my leg a very long way, but I powered through my reps with much more balance and ease than I had expected.

2a. trap bar deadlifts-touch and go

75 lbs x 6, 115 x 8, 135 x 10

2b. barbell push-ups

x 12, x 12, x 8

2c. hanging leg raises, keeping a posterior pelvic tilt

2 sets of 8

Hanging leg raises and toes to bar have been more challenging for me since the problems with my SI joints began. Actually anything requiring a posterior pelvic tilt has been more challenging, because my back feels like it doesn’t want to move that way. It’s not so much pain, at least not anymore, so much as a sensation of the muscles being tight and not wanting to move that way. I’ve been working on making the back happier with that position, so there has been improvement…it’s just not completely¬†there yet. The hanging leg raises today were definitely tougher to do with maintaining that pelvic position, but I will get better.

For the last portion of my training session, Michael had me do some conditioning work. He gave me 3 exercises. 30 seconds for each one followed by a 30 second rest. Repeat 3 times. You can call it whatever you like…I think I’m going to call it ‘6 minutes of torture’.

a) double clean & presses with 10kg kettlebells

I didn’t get more than 4 or 5 reps the first round, because I’m not so great at the clean & press. I think I got at least 6 reps on the second round, but the final round dropped back to 4 or 5 from sheer fatigue. I also anticipate seeing some bruises on my upper arms/shoulders over the next couple of days!

b) bear crawl

I think I managed to crawl a little bit further and with better form each round.

c) ab wheel

My brain can no longer recall how many reps I got each round. As Michael noted, my roll-outs were not very far either. Seriously, by the time I got to the ab wheel, my body and brain was rebelling against me. Every muscle was shaking. I needed oxygen in the worst way, and, on the final round, I probably came the closest I have ever come to feeling as if I might puke while training. I am glad to report that I did not.

This conditioning torture is going to be a common occurrence for a while, I think. As much as I am not looking forward to it, I am also oddly saying, “Bring it on!”

Confidently Stubborn

Okay, so this week without training hasn’t been too bad, but I am definitely looking forward to walking into the gym in the morning. I have no idea what my coach is going to have in store for me, although I can be fairly confident that my training will be designed to make me stronger and work on weaknesses. I’m ready.

“You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” ~ Rosalynn Carter

It would be easy to let my experience at Provincials shake my self-confidence. Although I have grown quite confident in my abilities, I am still humanly prone to stumbling along in the darkness of doubt. Whatever it was that happened in my back on my second squat, it flooded me with fear, uncertainty, frustration, and doubt. I still knew what I was capable of when healthy, but I was suddenly afraid that I might have done more damage to my body. I knew that I have determination and toughness, but are those qualities enough when you’ve been thrown into the fire? In all honesty, as much as I knew that I wasn’t about to throw in the towel and quit, in the midst of the pain and volatile emotions I wasn’t giving much thought to being tough enough to follow through. I just wanted to survive the day as best I could. Earlier this week my coach complimented me on being a person with strong character by pushing through when it was emotionally and physically tough. It’s not always easy for me to accept a compliment, but I’m trying.

Perhaps the biggest knock against my confidence was my failed bench press attempt. My competition bench press has been stuck at 60 kilograms since October 2015, yet I have only attempted a heavier press while competing twice, at Westerns last August and at Provincials last week. Having pressed more than 60 kilos in the gym means that I know I am capable, but my string of failures also plays with that confidence like a cat toying with a mouse. I will keep striving though.

“Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” ~ James Michener

With my next competition not until November, I have lots of time to heal and train and focus. I definitely have goals for November’s competition, although I am not going to say too much about them for now, partly since a lot can happen between now and then but also because I don’t really have specific targets yet. So far my goals are general. I know I am capable. I just need to be tough enough to push through and to keep trying. Or maybe I am just that kind of stubborn.

The Week’s Post-Mortem

Exactly one week ago, I was roughly halfway home after a long day of frustration and disappointment at my Provincials competition, and yet, I didn’t hit the depths of despair until the next day. By Monday afternoon, I was pretty much back to normal.

Not only was I required to take this week off from training, my Precision Nutrition course, quite ironically, also had a week off of sorts. Although I have been okay with not going to my training sessions, I am looking forward to resuming my training on Monday. This week has been nice, but it has also felt quite long. I’ve enjoyed my down time. I’ve gone for some walks. I’ve enjoyed just having extra time to relax, hang out, do whatever. I have eaten whatever I have wanted, and I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of wine and a couple of sugary drinks that I typically avoid. My eating habits have been mostly controlled for the past month or so as I had some weight to cut to make my class for competition. I cut roughly 10 pounds without too much effort; in fact, I had to relax my self-control in order to not lose too much weight. Even then I likely lost too much, since I weighed in more than an entire kilogram under the limit. This week I’ve enjoyed burgers and fries, poutine, pastries, wine, Frappucinos, and ice cream. I stepped on the scale this morning and weighed in at virtually the same weight as I did for my competition! That won’t last for too long though. My next competition is with a different federation with slightly different weight classes, and I’ll be competing in the 75 kilogram class, which means I can add a few pounds to my frame.

One thing I have noticed with this week “off” has been that I am finally starting to sleep better again. I haven’t taken my ZMA for at least a week, but I’ve been falling asleep fairly quickly. While I still wake up at least once or twice a night (and toss a fair bit throughout), I am falling back asleep more quickly. It is a rare occurrence for me to actually be woken by my alarms. Yes, I have two alarms. One is through my sleep app, and the other is your typical alarm clock. My sleep app alarm is set to go off within a 10 minute window, which I always set so my real alarm would go off in the middle of that 10 minutes. For someone who is never late and never sleeps through her alarm, I go to a lot of trouble to make sure that either situation never happens! One day this week, my real alarm did actually wake me up! It had been a long time since I’d heard that annoying beep.

Despite the way the back felt during my second squat a week ago and the pain I experienced on the long drive home that night, my back actually feels pretty good this week. Sure, it’s still not perfect, but I am back to how things felt prior to the competition. For reasons unknown to me, my back feels the worst when I am sleeping. There is a great deal of achiness in my back whenever I need to change position in the night, but it feels basically okay once I’m up for the day. Go figure! I’m still doing my stretches, and I am determined that this will get better!

So, a week post-competition and I’m sleeping better, feeling better, and chomping at the bit to get back to training. I think those are all good things. My head is screwed on properly. My attitude has been re-adjusted. Tomorrow will be one more day of rest. I shall drink coffee, especially since I am staying up late tonight. I might go for a walk. I will do some laundry and housework and make dinner for the family. And, I will prep my gym bag for Monday morning.

Future Me

“There’s a future version of me who’s proud I was strong enough.” ~Khanos

Five days post-competition finds me emotionally balanced and rational, maybe even beginning to resemble the future version of me who can be proud of what I did do on that day. I haven’t been spending a great deal of time actively thinking about Provincials, but my brain is always ticking and grinding away even when I am busy with other thoughts and tasks.

A few months ago, I began to prepare myself mentally for a lesser performance at this competition. I am the sort of person who always wants to improve and do more, which can be both a positive and a negative trait. Positively, I am not content with stagnation. I want to learn and grow and push myself. However, when failure comes, and it always does at some point, the desire to always improve can blow even the smallest failure into an apocalyptic event. All my efforts to prepare myself seemed to crumble into dust at the moment I felt my back give on my second squat. I was prepared for lesser numbers, but I wasn’t prepared for that unexpected happening.

I still cannot explain what happened in that squat. I cannot explain why I failed on my final bench attempt. Watching the videos a dozen or more times hasn’t helped me to figure out either situation. Does it even matter? Something wasn’t right in my back on that squat. I failed that bench press. I know what I am capable of, what I have done before and will do again.

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

I have something else going for me…the ability to pick myself up, shake off the dust, and continue on. I am not afraid of starting over or hard work. Emotions might choke me up for a moment, but I have the ability to re-group and re-focus. There is no point in wallowing in my Provincials disappointment. Instead, I am choosing to enjoy this week of rest and casting my gaze forward to November when I will compete again. A lot can happen between now and then, but I’ve got my eyes set on a few goals. These past several months have been dark and gloomy, but I’m growing through it.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.” ~Christine Caine

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” ~Bethany Hamilton

Wax & Clay

“What if I fail? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” ~Erin Hanson

That’s a great quote, isn’t it! I love it for the hope and courage it inspires for the simple act of trying. But about when you actually do fail? Sure, it’s great to think about soaring with the eagles, proud and victorious, but reality isn’t always like that. Sometimes we crash and burn. We choke on the ashes of our hopes and dreams and feel searing pain. Quite often we suffer alone. Even when others may be sympathetic to our pain, very few can actually see the depths of our disappointment and suffering. They mean well, and I appreciate their efforts to sympathize and encourage. I know it isn’t always easy to wholly know another person’s innermost hopes and dreams.

Going into my competition, I had thought that I was mentally ready for disappointment, because I had months to prepare and come to an understanding of what I would or would not be capable of on the day thanks to my back troubles. And yet, for all that I was truly ready for a lesser performance, I was still blind-sided by the the struggles of the day. It certainly didn’t feel like I was flying…I had crashed and burned.

Processing the results of a competition, for me, can be a lengthy process. Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that there can be months of physical and mental preparation leading up to a competition. Then the day of competition is often long and somehow still a blur. It takes time to work through my thoughts and emotions, even when the results are positive. I’ve competed enough now to know that this is a process that cannot be rushed or forced; it happens in bits and pieces that push their way to the surface in their own time. Usually I have the opportunity to rehash details with my coach, which is part of the process and often helps, but since I’m not allowed to train this week that step in the process is missing. For now.

Perspective is also an important piece of the process, although it isn’t something that I can always just pull out of my pocket and apply to my situation. Obviously when the emotions were still raw, I had no perspective. Now that the emotions are once again under control, I can find perspective.

This was not my best competition in so many ways. I failed on the one lift I wanted most of all, and I didn’t even bother attempting one lift that might have caused me more injury or pain. It is easy to focus on those disappointments. The squat that hurt my back again…that was a scary moment that I have never experienced before. It took a great deal of focus and determination to not give up on that squat at the moment I felt my back give. Once I got the bar off my back and myself off the platform, I was assailed by a storm of emotions: fear, frustration, anger. I could have quit. Maybe the smart decision would have been to quit, but I was determined to finish.

It’s easy for me to look at my numbers from the competition and be frustrated, knowing I am capable of so much more; however, perspective properly applied creates a new outlook. Although I am capable of more, I still moved a lot of weight that day. In fact, I moved more than 1300 pounds over the course of the competition, and that isn’t including my warm-ups! My final deadlift was only 248 pounds. It’s a far cry from what I can pull, but that is still as much or more than picking up a large man. My competition bench press seems permanently stuck, but I still pressed the equivalent or more than the body weight of a Victoria’s Secret model. As I talk about that unlucky squat, I am quick to point out that the weight was easy for me, because 220 pounds is typically an easy weight for me to squat. But 220 pounds is still a lot of weight! It is still a large man or a couple of models! Those lifts might not have equaled my best weights, but I wasn’t on the platform using fake weights. I still worked hard, even if most of my lifts were not too physically taxing.

It’s all about perspective!

“The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay
And the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay
And the mighty wind that knocks us down
If we lean into it
Will drive our fears away”

 

Numb

I don’t know where to begin this blog post, or if I even want to write it now or at all. Okay, so I do want to write it, but I’m not sure I am ready. Yet, I feel like I can’t wait too much longer lest I lose thoughts and emotions along the way. My current state of mind is exhausted, frustrated, disappointed, angry, a blink from dissolving into tears, pained and numb. The numbness is comforting in a way, because it helps keep the tears from pouring down my face and softens the sting of the negative emotions, at least for a time.

Yesterday was my Provincials powerlifting competition. Even though I wasn’t expecting to have my best performance, I was hoping to go 9 for 9 and break my Provincial bench press record. I didn’t achieve either goal yesterday.

My first squat was 92.5kg and moved well. Michael opted to be conservative with my second attempt, and that turned out to be a wise decision. My second squat was 100kg, which should have still been an easy 220 pounds. I did more than that last week in training. It felt fine when I unracked the bar. I believe that I did everything that I usually do. The eccentric felt fine. I began to rise out of the squat and felt a kind of pop and something giving in my lower back, which then caused my back to round in a way that is not typical for me. It hurt. I managed to finish the squat, barely remembering to hold until the command to rack. I walked off the platform feeling pain, fear, and crushing sadness. Michael instantly decided that we’d pass on my third attempt, then we headed to the warm-up area for some chiropractic treatment. As the chiropractor poked, prodded, bent and told me to push here and there, I fought to maintain some composure. By the time I got up from the table, the pain had dropped a couple of notches, but it was still there.

As we waited for my flight and the next to finish squats, I did the things the chiropractor told me to do and I gingerly tested my ability to set up for the bench press. Arching wasn’t too bothersome on the back, so we felt okay to stick with our plan there. My first two bench attempts, 55kg and 57.5kg, were decent. I am the current Provincial record holder with 60kg, which is the weight I have been stuck at since October 2015. Although I had some options, I chose to make a third attempt at 60.5kg in an effort to break my Provincial record. I was so close but failed. Words cannot express how I felt and still feel. Even as I lay on that bench, desperately trying to finish pressing the bar and realizing that it wasn’t going to happen, I felt so utterly crushed by disappointment and frustration. I know I am strong enough. I know I can do it. I have lifted that weight in the gym, including just last week, and it was easy. I came into this competition knowing that my squats and deadlifts would be sub-par, but the bench press record was something I knew was within my ability and I wanted, WANTED it!

My deadlifts weren’t going to be super heavy, but, with the fresh back injury, we opted to drop my opening attempt even more. An opening deadlift of 85kg wasn’t anything I could fake pride in, but I just needed to get a number on the board. It was embarrassingly easy. My next attempt was 102.5…again easy. My final attempt was 112.5kg or 248 pounds. Still easy. That final deadlift was 60 pounds less than my best deadlift. I think it would have been easier to feel some peace about low deadlift numbers if the rest of my competition had turned out differently. If I hadn’t hurt my back. If I had broken the bench record. If only. But, the last thing we wanted to do was inflict more harm to my back. Thankfully, I was able to deadlift without any added discomfort or pain to the back, which is something I wasn’t sure would happen after that squat.

At some point in the competition, Michael pointed out that there was another woman in my age/weight class after all. She hadn’t made her weight class and was bumped up into mine. Being the competitive person that I am, as soon as I realized that I could potentially lose, I wanted to win! However, I was no longer operating in a position where we could give any thought to making sure my attempts put me in a position to win. I still kept an eye on her numbers, chafing inside with the desire to win and re-familiarizing myself with a positive mindset in the event that I lost. Both my squat and deadlift were far from my actual ability and potential, but I still managed to come away with the win.

This was my 8th competition, and, in my opinion, my worst one. I had my third lowest total. The two lower totals came from my first two competitions. My Wilks score was my second lowest. The only one lower was my first competition. This was my second 7 for 9 meet. Not a single personal best. The first time I’ve ever passed on an attempt. The first time I’ve hurt myself in competition. The only goal I achieved yesterday was checking off the final requirement for competing at Nationals next year.

As much as words cannot express how I am feeling, there is so much more yet to say, but it will have to wait for another day. I left my house at 7:50 yesterday morning, and I didn’t get home until 12:30 this morning. I was in bed by 1:00 this morning but woke up before 6:30. My back is sore and achy, and I am exhausted. I need to decompress and process. I need to go hang out with some friends in a couple of hours, feel loved and celebrated, even though I don’t feel worth celebrating. Then I need sleep. Precious sleep. Tomorrow I will walk into my gym and begin the process of rehabbing (again) and rebuilding.

Defining Success

“You do not determine your success by comparing yourself to others, rather you determine your success by comparing your accomplishments to your capabilities.” ~ Zig Ziglar

Three days until Provincials!

I love the sport of powerlifting. At the end of competition, the winner is the one who lifted the most weight, and yet, each lifter is also working hard to better his/her own previous performance.

Over these past months of dealing with pain and injury, I’ve wrestled with myself over the unlikelihood of having a successful competition at Provincials. I know what I accomplished at my last competition, and I had hoped to do even better at the next one. Unfortunately, injury took those aspirations and shot them to pieces.

My back is getting better, feeling better. My squat technique is coming back. My deadlift is coming back. My coach thinks that my squat could be close to where it had been, but I still know that doesn’t necessarily mean I will PR across the board on Saturday. Without another woman in my age/weight class, I will be competing against myself. But I cannot compare myself to who I was last August. I cannot compare my results on Saturday to those from last August. Such a comparison would not be fair.

I do not know what I will be capable of on Saturday, but I still have goals. My goals might not be focused much on hitting specific numbers. I would like to have a perfect meet…going 9 for 9. I do want to break my Provincial bench record. Mostly, I want to walk away feeling proud of what I accomplished based on my capabilities, knowing that my capabilities had been hampered for several months. It won’t be my best ever competition in terms of numbers, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be one of the most satisfying competitions.