Super-powered Singlet

Yesterday afternoon I pulled my singlet out of the drawer and put it on to make sure it still fit. It fit just as I expected it to. My little weight cut is going well. There is just nothing flattering about a singlet. Still, I chose to wear the singlet at the gym this morning. I knew I’d be doing some heavy squat singles, so the singlet would make it easier for my coach to judge my depth. Next week my coach will be away, so I will have my few pre-competition training sessions in a strange gym surrounded by strangers. Since I like to wear the singlet at the gym at least once before a competition in order to re-familiarize myself with it, I would much rather wear it at my coach’s private gym than out in public.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves, in a singlet, almost pausing

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 5

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 2, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 215 x 1, 215 x 1

I don’t know what it was, but I felt strong today. I’m losing weight and feeling hungry fairly often, but the bar felt light this morning and moved fast and smoothly. And all to legal depth! Maybe it was the singlet! Maybe I’m finally getting my groove back. Maybe by the time I get to Provincials I will be close to where I was last competition…

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on bench: 43 lbs x 8, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 5…paused last reps

with legs and arch: 110 lbs x 4, 110 x 3, 110 x 3…paused each rep for last two sets

2. hanging leg raises

x 12

I kept these quite strict with no back swing, so I couldn’t lift the legs too high, but that is also due in part to the back issues. Mostly this was about decompressing the spine a bit without aggravating the back problems.

3a. rope face pulls

20 lbs x 15, 30 lbs x 15

3b. dumbbell curls

20 lbs x 10 x 2 sets

3c. TRX rows

2 sets of 20

Remember the Deadlift

When I walked into the gym this morning, my coach said that we’d do some deadlifts if my back was feeling okay. I’m sure he was hoping that my back was feeling okay, because, aside from wanting me to be healthy again, being able to deadlift is kind of important heading into a competition! Last week I was allowed to do one super light set of deadlifts at 65 pounds, and those felt good. I did have a couple of deadlift sessions in March, but the second one was cut short because of the back. Really, I have hardly deadlifted at all since the beginning of my back problems at the end of January. As excited as I was to be allowed to deadlift this morning, I was also tentative and nervous. What if the back screamed in pain? What if deadlifting set me back again? Only one way to find out…

1a. deadlifts!

but first a set of Romanian deadlifts 45 lbs x 10

95 lbs x 5, 135 x 5, 165 x 3

with belt: 185 x 2, 205 x 1, 205 x 1, 205 x 1

Although I haven’t deadlifted for a while, we kept my reps low, because why run the risk of aggravating the back for the sake of more reps! The first couple of sets felt pretty good. I think I first “felt” my back during the set at 165 pounds. It was fine as I set up and even as I created tension, but I could feel some discomfort and pressure in the low back as I lifted. I think that first “heavy” set was the worst in terms of how the back felt, but there was a measure of discomfort, maybe even pain for the rest of the sets. As a result, I was probably more tentative than I should be. The second rep at 185 was too far from my body from the start, but I was using a double overhand grip beyond what I would normally be able to manage. An alternated mixed grip for the heavy singles worked well, and each single improved on the previous. The deadlifts weren’t all perfect, but I was able to deadlift. The best part is that there was no pain or discomfort in the back beyond each rep. After my training I went to work and still felt no change or increase in back pain or discomfort! Hopefully the back will still feel as good tomorrow!

1b. bench press-close grip

feet on bench, small arch: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 5, 93 x 5

with legs and arch: 103 x 3, 115 x 3, 115 x 3, 115 x 3, 120 x 3

With how much benching I’ve done over the past five months, I am beginning to dislike the close grip. The range of motion is just so huge, and I always seem to have more issues with bringing the bar down to the same place on my chest consistently. My last set at 115 was the best and fastest. The set at 120 was kind of slow, and I’m pretty sure the second rep’s bar path was a mess.

2a. reverse hypers with long strap

60 lbs x 20

2b. single arm kettlebell rows

16kg x 15 each

 

Just a Squat That I Used to Know

Provincials are 25 days away according to my countdown app…just under 4 weeks, which means I really only have 3 weeks of real training. The final week will be for deloading.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves, slower eccentric

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 185 x 2, 200 x 1, 210 x 1

The set at 135 pounds actually felt really good. Michael even said that he might pass most of the reps. The slower eccentric helped a bit, but I’m still mostly hitting parallel for depth. We took video of the 185 and 200 sets to assess. It’s difficult to judge the depth with certainty. Maybe I’ll have to start wearing my singlet. One thing that was quite obvious in the videos was my ankle mobility and extreme angle of my shins! My body is doing all sorts of things in the effort to squat safely, to protect my back, and to try to hit depth. Unfortunately, that also means that my squat looks different almost every time I go to the gym! But my final single did move better than my heavy single last week. Hopefully my body is getting used to the feel of heavy weight on my back again.

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on the bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 5

with feet on floor and arch: 113 lbs x 5, 118 x 3, 118 x 3

My back is still not 100%. I’m hesitant to even attempt to rate the state of my back at this time. It is definitely improving and has improved significantly compared to a few weeks ago, but I can still feel a degree of pain or discomfort through most of the day. There may be a reasonable chunk of time with almost no pain, but then the simplest thing, like taking a step up a stair, can jostle the back uncomfortably. Although my back generally feels okay at the gym, I want to keep it feeling that way through my training session and beyond, and this is why I elect to do as much of my benching with my feet up on the bench. Having my feet on the bench enables me to have less of an arch…or no arch, if necessary. It’s not my favourite way to bench, but sometimes you do what you gotta do. Benching was all solid and smooth today.

2a. pause squats-low bar, with belt, 2 second pauses

155 lbs x 3, 175 x 3

I love pause squats! There is something about doing a pause squat that allows me to nail my technique. Michael was hoping that having a slower eccentric on my regular squats would have the same result, but it didn’t. I’m not sure why, except for maybe the difference in knowing that I will be staying in the bottom for a bit when doing pauses. Pause squats have always been a good tool for me, but we mostly avoided using them over the past few months because of my back and not wanting to put more strain there. That was likely a good decision, but I’m glad that I am able to use the pause again.

2b. hanging leg/knee raises

x 12

I started off raising my legs and switched to knees at some point. There was some minor back discomfort doing these, particularly with the legs straight…the feeling of muscles being pulled or stretched more than they want to. That same sensation has been present at the bottom of my squats since the back problems started. It’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve been able to squat without feeling it, so I’d say that’s progress. Several weeks ago, I couldn’t even do hanging knee raises without significant discomfort. More improvement!

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.

Ups & Downs

The ongoing disc issue affects so many aspects of my life and often with little in the way of consistency. I had one day of pain-free sneezes, but I’m back to feeling my back blow out with every sneeze. Of course, allergies are probably hitting me now, because I was sneezing all day. My low back/pelvic area has felt out-of-sorts all day, bothering me enough to make me feel doubts about how well my training session would go later in the day; however, my training session felt quite good! I don’t understand my back, but as long as it continues to improve…

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 155 x 3, 175 x 3, 185 x 3, 195 x 3, 195 x 3, 195 x 3

The final set was a wee bit slower but still quite decent. The rest of the sets were good. Bar path and speed were good. The bar felt light, even though this is the first time I’ve had 195 pounds on my back since the end of January! I’m happy with that.

1b. bench press-competition grip, with arch and feet on the floor!

43 lbs x 8, 75 x 5, 95 x 5, 110 x 3, 110 x 3, 115 x 3, 120 x 3, 120 x 3

100 x 12 touch and go

The bench sets felt decent and smooth. It was nice to bench with my feet on the floor without plates and to have almost my full arch. Getting into position wasn’t too bothersome, but I did need to get out of position carefully. The back doesn’t feel any worse for arching though!

2a. pause squats-with belt, low bar, 2 second pauses, slow/controlled eccentric

135 lbs x 5, 145 x 5

2b. TRX supine rows-with legs straight + with knees bent

x 5 + 10, x 5 + 10

Provincials are 6 weeks away!

Squats & Presses

The lower back is still cranky, very cranky and achy. It’s little things that cause the most bother and discomfort and pain. Sitting which I try to limit to the toilet and the car. Getting out of the car. Laying on my side with my knees pulled up. Bending forward to pick something up. Sitting on the floor at the gym, leaning forward to put on my socks and shoes. Getting up from the bench after pressing with heavy dumbbells. Lowering my body to the floor. At times I feel as if I am moving like an old lady, but I also think that most of the time my level of pain or discomfort isn’t even noticeable to anyone but myself. My coach notices most of the time…when I can’t quite keep it hidden. 😉 But, for all that is not easy to do right now, I am glad that there is still plenty I am able to do without too much bother. I might not be able to deadlift for a while yet, but I can still squat.

1a. squats-low bar, sleeves

45 lbs x 10  Michael had me experiment with bar position for the last several reps to see the difference in my back angle between high and low bar. There wasn’t much difference.

95 x 7, 125 x 7, 145 x 7

with belt: 155 x 7, 165 x 7, 170 x 7

total volume: 6435 pounds

Depth is still questionable. I’m not entirely certain if that is due to an actual restriction in the lower back or just a subconscious restriction to protect the lower back. Either way, it is a little frustrating. My depth isn’t super terrible…probably right about parallel, but another inch deeper would be better when it comes to competition. I’m not too worried about it yet.

Despite the depth issue, these squats were pretty good. Michael said he’s happy with them and that they are an improvement…that I’m getting my squat mojo back! The final set was virtually as fast as any of the earlier ones, and I believe my bar path was good overall.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10  I think Michael noticed the expression on my face as I got up from the bench after this set. Of course, the weight was negligible; however, the lower back wasn’t too happy with arching. Michael recommended benching with my legs up, because doing so would only make my bench stronger without putting more stress on my back.

63 lbs x 7 I had my feet in the air for this set, but the lower back actually hurt more in this position than it did with the arch.

83 x 7, 100 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7

total volume: 3622 pounds

The working sets were done with my feet on the bench rather than in the air. This seemed more comfortable on the back, and I managed to keep myself from using leg drive.

2a. barbell split squats-high bar position

95 lbs x 10 each, 105 x 10 each, 105 x 10 each

Split squats are a funny animal. With the left leg planted on the first set, my balance was atrocious. Same set, right leg planted was so much better. For the second set, my balance troubles switched legs. The final set was easier overall, but finishing off the final rep was torture and there was a definite pause between finishing that rep and being able to rack the bar thanks to jelly leg syndrome.

2b. chest-supported rows-keeping constant tension, using 2-16kg kettlebells

3 sets of 12

2c. flat dumbbell presses-with feet on the bench just like the barbell presses

34 lbs x 10 x 3 sets

I think these presses were okay. My biggest struggles were in getting into position on my back with the heavy dumbbells and then getting back up after. Michael has some pity on me since my back is injured, so he’d take the dumbbells from me so I could sit up. Normally I could do it on my own, even with the dumbbells, but the current state of my back makes that uncomfortable and difficult. He did offer to hand me the dumbbells once I got into position, but I’m too stubborn and managed to get into position without too much trouble.

 

Attack of the Back and Other Sad Tales

Now is the time to begin a season of high volume training. As we get closer to competition, then the weight will continue to climb while the volume will drop. High volume generally sucks, but I’m still excited for the hard work ahead. I do reserve the right to whine a little now and then, because high volume does suck. Competition thrills me, and I’ve been restlessly waiting for the chance to get back to competition mode; however, I am also feeling something else, which is quite different from anything I’ve felt heading into competition before.

A bit of fear and uncertainty? I’m trying to think of the most accurate word to describe this feeling, and I’m drawing blanks. Tentative? Pessimism? Insecurity? Perhaps if you take all of those feelings…fear, uncertainty, unsettled, doubtful, doom & gloom…and swirl them all together, then that might reflect what I’m feeling. There is usually some measure of fear and uncertainty leading up to any competition, but this goes beyond the normal and revolves around my lower back. As much as the back is improving, I worry and fret and stew that it won’t improve enough or quickly enough or ever. It can feel okay in so many ways, and yet, the simplest things can also feel uncomfortable and tough. Sitting on the toilet or in the car hurts. Bending forward, lifting my right leg to put on pants is not always easy…often feels like my back just won’t bend enough that way. I can stand and walk without any issue. The back can feel generally fine, but then, like this morning, I can wake up with a cranky back from whatever position I managed to sleep in. The back felt decent yesterday, but I woke up with it feeling stiff and sore, which meant that it bothered me more in training. And that only fuels this mad swirl of emotions, because how am I going to be ready for competition when the back continues to be an issue…

I can literally feel my mood descending into the pit of despair. I want to cry. I want to have a little, or big, pity party, yet I don’t. I want to pull myself up and shake off the negative thoughts, but after the pity party. Maybe I’ll finish this blog post and go for a walk.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

warm-up: 45 x 8, 95 x 7, 125 x 7 with belt

The lower back didn’t feel so great during the first two sets.

with belt: 145 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7

total volume: 6170 pounds

I have no idea what my depth was like, and Michael wasn’t always watching that. But I think the bar path was generally good. The weight definitely wasn’t maximal, but there’s no need to increase it too quickly, especially with the ongoing back issue.

1b. bench press-competition grip

warm-up: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 7, 83 x 7 with belt

I do not bench with a belt, but Michael suggested trying it. The back wasn’t too happy with getting into my bench position for the first two sets (and pretty much every set after), but this first set with a belt didn’t feel too bad.

103 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7

total volume: 4378 pounds

I wore a belt for the first three working sets but opted to go beltless for the final set. I’m not certain if the belt truly helped at all, but I could feel a weird sensation in my abdominal muscles while benching with the belt. Maybe that is due to the fact that I’m used to pushing out against the belt for squatting and deadlifts. In benching without a belt, I think I just tighten or lock down my abs rather than pushing outward with them.

Bench was decent today, despite the back discomfort. Michael would smirk as I’d finish each set, because my last rep would be faster than the previous ones.

3c. band pull-aparts

5 sets of 15, 1 set of 10-orange band and these were actually done before my bench press

2a. pause squats-high bar, 2 second pause

115 lbs x 5 x 3 sets

In a way, these felt easier and more comfortable than the previous squats, even though it felt strange to do high bar. I love pause squats, although I think I am currently a little afraid of them since it was a super-extended (and stupid) pause squat that caused my back issue. These felt good. They felt super easy. They were easy.

2b. dumbbell bench press

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

Unlike the barbell bench presses, my final rep was not faster than the previous ones!

Now I’m off to enjoy my pity party…