Rise of the Machines

Being injured is not my idea of a fun time. If I had broken an arm, I would quite likely be having a cast removed any day now and on my way to regaining strength, but a herniated disc doesn’t necessarily have a predictable and tidy healing schedule. I’d rather have a broken bone or a pulled muscle, a sprain or stitches, or a week long flu. This is not fun.

I feel like two different people. One is the optimist who knows how to dream big and work to achieve it. The other isn’t quite defeated yet but is broken, frustrated, and despairing. I am both people, flipping back and forth sometimes as frequently as a heartbeat.

My training routine since the injury has been little more than rehab exercises. Everything has been careful and slow and simple. I’ve not been allowed to touch a barbell or perform certain movements. While I appreciate the necessity of the rehab and the restrictions, I miss moving some weight and training more like an athlete than an injured person. I might have a World record squat, but these days my prowess is pretty much limited to bird dogs and body-weight glute bridges.

With my training playlist blaring in my ears, I go through my rehab motions fighting an internal battle between determination and despair. It’s an ugly battle of hand-to-hand combat, trenches, and no man’s land. One day a song might bolster my spirits and fan the flames of positivity and determination, while the same song the next day might shoot down my hope in a fiery hail of bullets. The ongoing numbness in my left leg weighs heavily on me. It’s bad enough that I can feel the weakness in that leg and the tentativeness that comes with diminished physical sensations, but the thought of potential long-term nerve damage is rather frightening. Having resigned myself to missing out on Nationals, I have also accepted that there is no specific timeline for stepping back onto a powerlifting platform. Although I have seen some improvements over the past five weeks, my physiotherapist has pointed out that ideally there should be more. My worth and sense of self are not dependent upon being or training like a powerlifter; however, I do still greatly miss doing those things that I enjoy doing in the gym.

I smiled last night when I opened up this week’s training program from my coach. Not only did he put in a reference to the new Star Wars movie opening later this week, but he also changed up my program to incorporate a bunch of machines! This is both exciting and out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, because machines means I get to use some weight, even if I’m still starting out low and slow. This is potentially uncomfortable and scary, because I’ve never really used machines before! I’ve seen them in the gym, but I’ve always looked at them as strange, wild animals that you look at but don’t touch. I have no idea what they are or how to use them, so I quite literally need to google each exercise/machine before going to the gym. I need to know what machine I am looking for and how to use it properly. That’s the easy part. Then I need to find those machines at my gym. My gym has two floors with machines on both levels. Some are labelled, some are not. But I think I found all of the machines I need for now.

I’m still a long way from deadlifting, bench pressing, or squatting with a barbell, but it was so good to use some muscles that haven’t been used since the injury. The weights I’m using must start off low. I need to take each rep slowly and carefully, but I was able to work biceps and triceps, pecs and delts, quads and hamstrings. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many muscles quivering from exertion. I felt the effects of a lack of strength training and the ongoing left leg nerve impingement. Standing body weight calf raises…the left calf is weaker and lagging. The same is true of the left hamstring when doing leg curls. Even though my left quad is unaffected by the herniated disc, when doing leg extensions I can still feel a lack of involvement in my left foot, or at least the numb half of my foot. As I’m extending both legs, my right foot feels engaged and active, while the left foot isn’t engaged and feels as if it is merely hanging out for the ride. <sigh> Small weights. Small steps. Turtle’s pace.

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Desperately Seeking Energy

I’m waiting for the caffeine to hit my bloodstream and infuse me with some energy, because I feel as limp as a noodle right now. Although today’s training session saw me moving significantly less weight than Monday’s session, I feel done in. Deadlifts can do that to you.

1a. deadlifts (2-2×1) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 5, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, 195 x 3

main event, with belt: 205 lbs x 6, 205 x 6, 205 x 6, 205 x 4, 205 x 6

Today was my first time deadlifting more than 200 pounds since Provincials in June. These felt decent, although I am a little disappointed to have dropped two reps on the fifth set. Deadlifts and I have a complicated relationship when reps are involved, especially when there is a definitive stop before each rep. There is a natural rhythm involving the creation of tension, breathing and bracing against the belt, and initiating the lift. For me, if that rhythm is broken, even just a smidge, I find it difficult to continue the set. That’s what happened in the fifth set. Between finishing the fourth rep and initiating the fifth, something happened to upset my rhythm and I couldn’t do it. The smallest thing can ruin the rhythm…an extra second, an ill-timed breath or the wrong type of breath, the bar rolling. Even though I was already feeling the fatigue, I knew I was capable of maxing out my reps on every set, so I was determined to finish my final set well.

2. competition bench press (2-1×0)  6-8 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 6

main event: 100 lbs x 8, 100 x 8, 100 x 8, 100 x 6

Bench press is my weak link in the powerlifting chain, although I think I can safely say that I am generally solid up until a certain weight. My competition best has been stuck at the same weight forever, but my working sets feel good and strong.

3. pause deadlifts (3-1×0) 4-6 reps

145 lbs x 6, 145 x 4, 145 x 4

Today was my first time doing these for a long, long time!

4. barbell shoulder press 8-12 reps

45 lbs x 10, 45 x 6

My dislike for shoulder presses is strong, while my ability to do them well is weak. The first set felt okay, but the right shoulder fatigued rapidly during the second set.

5. plank

x 36s, x 30s, x 25s

I don’t understand how people can hold a plank for minutes at a time. If I was completely fresh, I might be able to hold a plank for a minute, but by the end of my training session I was fighting to maintain form as long as I did.

Looking to November

Over the past couple of training sessions I have begun to feel the stirrings of ambition, focus, and determination, along with the thrill that comes with pursuing a big goal. I’ve had a big goal for a long time now, and the competition where I will potentially have the opportunity to challenge that goal is now less than two months away. Although I’ve been eyeing this goal since before this year began, my grip on it has purposely been kept loose. I’ve been injured for most of the year and not lifting to my full potential. I am currently feeling better than I have felt all year, but I need to stay healthy and continue to rebuild my strength. That’s the main reason for the loose grip on my goal, but a secondary reason is that there are still opportunities for someone to move the marker on my goal. My goal involves a World record, but there is always the potential that someone could break that record (even multiple times) between now and my competition, possibly even breaking it beyond my ability to challenge. But regardless of what happens with that record between now and November 4th, of far greater importance is how I feel and what I am capable of doing. Breaking records is exciting, but it doesn’t define me. Being able to put in a solid competition after a disappointing Provincials would feel redemptive and rewarding, and my ultimate goals are to place well at Nationals next year and qualify for Worlds. Breaking a record in November would be super cool, but it won’t help me win Nationals or get to the World Championships. And yet, I am beginning to feel confidence in my ability to have a solid competition in November. Even when the training is tough or there’s an exercise I don’t like doing, I am finding the grit and determination to push through with my eye focused on November. This girl has goals and each one is a stepping stone on this journey.

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 6, 135 x 4, 165 x 3

main event, with belt: 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 6

Deadlifts are feeling good and moving well. The back isn’t bothered in the slightest.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 6-8 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 4

main event: 95 x 8, 95 x 8, 95 x 8, 95 x 7

3. stiff legged deadlifts (3-1×0) 8-12 reps

115 lbs x 12, 115 x 12, 115 x 8

4. BB shoulder press (2-0x1) 8-12 reps

50 lbs x 8, 50 x 7

This is one exercise that I do not enjoy and struggle to see improvement in.

5. plank

x 40 seconds, x 30 seconds, x 25 seconds

 

Head Case

Something happened on the way to the gym this morning.  It was nothing tangible, nothing observable. It was completely internal…my head messing with my emotions or my emotions messing with my head. Either way, my training session felt tougher than it should have because of the turmoil inside.

1a. front squats-flat shoes

43 lbs x 6, 93 x 6, 113 x 6, 123 x 6, 123 x 6

1b. chin ups using barbell and inclined bench, underhand grip

x 10 with bench at knees

with bench at mid-calf: x 5, x 5, x 5, x 3 + ? 3 or 4 or more? with bench at knees, I forgot to write that part down after and now I forget

2a. single leg deadlifts with single kettlebell

10kg x 8 each, x 9 each, x 10 each

16kg x 10 each

The last two sets were the best.

2b. seal rows

75 lbs x 12, 85 x 10, 85 x 10

2c. hanging leg raises with posterior pelvic tilt x 15

3a. barbell curls

45 lbs x 8 x 2 sets

3b. cable triceps pulldowns

40 lbs x 12, 40 lbs x 7 + 30 lbs x 10

Monday Morning Blues

It’s Monday and I feel a bit discombobulated. After a lengthy period of usually having Mondays off work, I am now working them. Not the end of the world but I do tend to prefer having two days off in a row rather than one day at a time, and I also prefer some semblance of consistency. I am able to be flexible and spontaneous when necessary, but there is a mental toll to the adjustment. Also, my husband is currently at the hospital getting his heart shocked. It should be fine, but he’s there and I am here. There are a million thoughts racing inside my head. My neck hurts. A lot. I am wiped out and wishing for a nap, but I work in a couple of hours and napping doesn’t come easily to me.

warm-up:

windmills: body weight x 5 each side; 10kg kettlebell x 8 each side

Turkish get-ups: body weight x 1 each side; 10kg kettlebell x 2 each side

1a. single leg box step downs

x 8 each

with box on block: x 10 each, x 12 each, x 12 each

1b. single arm kettlebell press

10kg x 8 each

with carry: 12kg x 8 each + 5 lengths; 12kg x 7 each + 4 lengths; 12kg x 5 each + 4 lengths

2a. trap bar deadlifts

115 lbs x 8, 135 x 8, 135 x 10

2b. Pendlay rows

75 lbs x 8, 85 x 8, 85 x 8 + 4

2c. push ups on barbell with feet on box

3 sets of 6

2d. hanging leg raises with posterior pelvic tilt

x 10, x 10, x 8

3a. double kettlebell curls bottoms up

6kg x 10 x 2 sets

3b. skipping

10 double unders; 1 minute

 

One Step Closer

It feels like I’ve hardly done anything these past few days, yet somehow I feel exhausted. A good portion of my time has been spent at the hospital, which isn’t exactly the most energizing place to be. I sat far too much Monday and Tuesday, which may be why my back feels slightly achy today, but the achiness is within reasonable limits. I think. My husband was released from the hospital this afternoon, so hopefully my extended sitting periods are over.

One thing that I did do today was my Wednesday morning training session. It was an interesting session, mostly good. Internally, the session was good enough for me to let loose a sigh of pent-up hope. Thanks to the disc/SI joint issues, many aspects of my training have been put on hold, because I couldn’t do certain things. With Provincials less than 5 weeks away, I am acutely aware of how long it has been since I’ve deadlifted or even been able to hinge my hip with any kind of load. We tested a little this morning, and I was able to do kettlebell swings, a set of super light deadlifts, and some barbell rows. The back was achy before I even started at the gym, so I think I’m safe in saying that my back is no worse for having done these things.

warm-up with 3 sets of:

16kg kettlebell swings x 10

5 medicine ball passes

5 medicine ball slams

Tested my ability to deadlift with 65 pounds for roughly 6-8 reps. There was a slight sensation of tightness/pulling similar to what I have felt at the bottom of the squat, but this was minor. Of greater concern to me was whether I’d have any pain when I’d create tension throughout my body before lifting, but there was only slight discomfort. Now normally I would begin deadlifting with significantly more weight than 65 pounds, but I was happy with how it felt to go through the motions once again.

1a. barbell rows

65 lbs x 8?, 85 x 10, 95 x 10, 95 x 10, 95 x 10, 95 x 10

I generally don’t get too excited about rows, but being able to do these put a huge smile on my face.

1b. close grip bench press with feet on bench

45 lbs x 6, 65 x 8, 85 x 6, 105 x 6, 105 x 6

1c. banded monster walks with blue band

2a. seated side laterals, front raises, and clean & presses, 10 lb dumbbells

-2 sets of 10 for the side laterals

-2 sets of front raises with varying reps that I cannot remember

-2 sets of clean & presses, averaging 5 reps, because I could barely press by this point

2b. double kettlebell curls

8kg x 4 + 6kg x 8; 6kg x 7?

2c. kettlebell triceps extension

12kg x 12 x 2 sets

Keep Breathing

So often lately I feel as if I am walking around holding my breath. Both my coach and my chiropractor frequently tell me to breathe, but this current spate of breath-holding is more figurative than literal. These months of living and dealing with disc and SI joint issues have been a roller-coaster ride, up and down, twisting and turning. Now I enjoy riding roller-coasters. The adrenaline rush of the ride is exhilarating, but then again I also know that the ride will end after a complete circuit. This back pain roller-coaster ride is not fun in any way. The ups are good days with less pain and less restriction, while the bad days have more pain, more limitations, more frustration. Just when I think I’m reaching a plateau, the track gives out beneath me and I’m plunging back towards the ground. So I hold my breath on the days where the pain is less, on the days where I can move more freely, because I am afraid to let my hopes get too high, knowing that the pain seems to keep coming back. I like to think that I am a dreamer, a believer, an eternal hoper of good things, but I sometimes think I am a pessimist. In actuality, I am probably just a realistic dreamer. I cling to my hopes and dreams and look for the positives, but I also see the potential pitfalls, the failures, the alternate realities.

My SI joint was in a lot of pain on Monday and Tuesday. Although it wasn’t quite as extreme on Wednesday, my coach changed up my training and asked me questions that made me grumpy. (I know he has to ask them; he’s just doing his job and being a good coach. There’s more I can say about that conversation…at another time but not today.) Yesterday, the SI joint was feeling even better but still not normal. This morning, I was able to lift things at work that I couldn’t on Tuesday morning. The back was still feeling decent but not normal. This is why I hold my breath. The little positive steps forward make me feel hopeful. What if the positive doesn’t last? What if the back pain ramps up tonight? Tomorrow? But I wore my ‘believe achieve’ socks to the gym today, because I can’t stop hoping…

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 lbs x 6, 165 x 3, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 205 x 1

Here is one of those little positives that cause me to hold my breath. For the first time since the back issues began at the end of January, I did not feel any tightness, pulling, or stretching in my lower back at the bottom of the squat! My depth probably still wasn’t quite where I need it to be, but most of the reps simply felt better, like I was in a position to hit depth.

The first single at 205 was a little slow. It felt a little heavy, and I was tentative. Then again, I haven’t had that much weight on my back since 2016! The second single was better.

1b. bench press-competition grip, with feet on bench and small arch

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 3, 115 x 1, 120 x 1

105 lbs x 3 pause the last rep

105 x 3 with a 3 second eccentric on last rep

105 x 3 with a 3 second eccentric each rep and a pause

2a. barbell hip thrusts

95 lbs x 13, 145 lbs x 15, 145 x 15

2b. seated cable rows

90 lbs x 13 x 2 sets

2c. leg raises using the dip bar

x 11, x 12

The back felt pretty good through my training session, so now I will keep holding my breath.