The Undiscovered Country

The commercial gym…the final frontier. These are the voyages of Angela. Her mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out a new life, to boldly go where she has never gone before.

Okay, so I have been in commercial gyms before, but today was indeed an entirely new experience. I went to a commercial gym to train this morning, to weight train with free weights…all by myself! There were a couple of instances last year where I had to do some weight training at a commercial gym, but my husband was there to give me a spot and hand-offs when necessary. Eons ago, when I had a gym membership, I never touched the free weights. So training solo today in an unfamiliar gym was a step outside of my comfort zone. Thankfully, I wasn’t planning on attempting any maximal weights, so I felt reasonably confident that I’d be okay on my own.

One thing I do not like about commercial gyms is the equipment. Although I haven’t been to many gyms, my experience has been that commercial equipment is usually awkward to use. The squat racks are impossible to set at the ideal height for me, which means I either need to have an awkwardly low set up or difficulty unracking and re-racking the bar. The deadlift platform had a wicked slope to it, probably just old and worn out. The benches were too short. The markings on the bars were unfamiliar. There wasn’t enough knurling where I needed it. The collars sucked. The rubber plates for deadlifts were a pain to put on and off. No chalk. Too many mirrors. My experience today, however, was not all that bad. Yes, the equipment was unfamiliar and awkward, but I didn’t have to wait for a squat rack or a bench or a platform. No one hassled me. In fact, the only person to speak to me was a guy asking if I was finished with the deadlift platform after I put away all my plates. I was able to do what I needed to do, and the woman at the desk was really quite kind and pleasant. She didn’t charge me the drop-in fee and gave me a 10-day trial pass to use in the future, and she was rather interested in and proud of my powerlifting pursuits.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 3

185 x 3 This set was a little bit ugly. I pitched forward coming out of the hole on the first rep and had to take a step forward to catch myself. Pretty sure I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I was seriously tempted to rack the bar; however, I took a couple extra breaths, gave myself a little pep talk, and finished off the set.

195 x 3, 195 x 3

The first set here felt a bit tough but not horrible. Yesterday as I was tentatively hashing out what I would do today, I had thought that I might try some triples at 200 or 205 pounds, depending on how 195 felt. Although the first set felt a bit tough, it wasn’t maximal effort. Still, I decided to do another set at the same weight and then possibly go up for the final set. The second set felt decent, I think, but I had some troubles unracking and re-racking the bar (commercial gym problem!). Getting the bar back on the rack required more effort this time and resulted in some awkward body movement, so I figured that adding more weight wasn’t going to be a good idea. Then I decided to scratch the third set for the same reason. The last thing I need right now is to hurt my shoulders or aggravate my disc or SI joints again.

1b. bench press-competition grip

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 95 x 3

I had wanted to do these lighter sets with my feet on the bench in an effort to minimize strain on my back, but the bench was too short for my feet to rest on it. Seriously? Why such short benches? So, I had my feet on the floor, used my leg drive, but tried to keep my arch as small as possible for the lighter sets.

105 x 3, 110 x 3, 115 x 3

I did use a full arch and leg drive for these sets. I didn’t film any of my bench sets, but I think the bar moved well and with decent speed. I even made sure to pause each rep. When I decided to scratch the last squat set, I also scratched doing another bench set at 115. I’m sure I could have done it, but I also didn’t want to end grinding any reps.

2. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 8

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 5, 185 x 3

These sets felt good. It seems like every deadlift session feels a bit better than the previous, which is a good thing considering how very little I have deadlifted since January. My coach never actually gave me clear and precise instructions for today’s training (he’s on holidays this week), but he seemed to indicate that I could work up to 205 for deadlifts today. With how good 185 felt, I decided to be a tad more adventurous and try a couple of singles at 215.

215 x 1, 215 x 1

I’d say that those two singles felt pretty decent. Last week I did a single rep at 225 and it did not feel good at all. These singles felt much better than that, and this is a perfect example of how each deadlift session feels better than the one before. Yes, it is 10 pounds less than last week’s single, but it was faster, smoother, and felt better on the back. I’d say that’s progress.

Yesterday I asked my coach what he thinks my opening deadlift will be at Provincials, and I have to admit that I was crushed by his response. His feeling is that I will open with 205 pounds with my final attempt being 255 pounds. I know that I cannot and should not expect to deadlift a personal best this time around, but I felt instantly demoralized upon seeing my coach’s projections. His anticipated final attempt isn’t even as heavy as my opening attempt at any of my previous three competitions! I know I’ve not had the best training because of the back problems, and I’ve been mentally preparing myself for a mediocre performance…but, but, BUT I have to be able to do better than 255 pounds! Of course, everything is variable. It changes day by day, and the day of competition is always unique. The numbers aren’t set in stone, and we can make the final decisions on the day based on how the back feels and how my warm-ups move.

135 x 7

Since my chiropractor wants me to get more light reps in, I decided to do a drop down set at a weight that would be fairly light while still providing enough weight to require good technique. Then I called it a day!

I survived the commercial gym! It was as hot as Hades in there, so I was sweating buckets, but I did it.

Not Enough Time in the Day

My morning didn’t go quite as I had planned or expected. I had a training session first thing in the morning, followed by taking my husband to a doctor’s appointment. Mentally, I allowed for 45 minutes at the doctor’s office, because I know that making people wait is what the office excels at. After the appointment, I expected to have roughly two hours to get stuff done before going to work. The stuff I had to do wasn’t super important, just writing this blog post and making preparations for tomorrow’s early start and busy day, because sometimes I am smart enough to plan ahead. Unfortunately instead of rushing off to bed now that I’m finished work, I am rushing around trying to get this blog post written and my preparations for tomorrow finished. My generous allowance for the doctor’s appointment wasn’t quite generous enough. We were there for just over an hour, and then we had to go get a prescription filled. By the time we did get back home, the two hours I had hoped to have was reduced to about half an hour. That only gave me enough time to eat and change my clothes.

1a. deadlifts-conventional

double overhand grip: 95 lbs x 8, 135 x 5, 165 x 5

mixed grip/with belt: 185 x 2, 205 x 1, 225 x 0, 225 x 1, 205 x 1, 205 x 1, 185 x 3

Deadlifts were a mixed bag today. Last week I only worked up to 205 pounds, and there was some discomfort in the back beginning with 165 pounds. Today those same weights felt much better and without any back discomfort. Unfortunately, 225 pounds didn’t feel so great. I gave up on the first attempt, because it seemed like my back was rounding and it felt uncomfortable. Apparently I was lacking in tightness. Tried again, managed to lift the weight, but it still seemed as if my back was rounding horribly and it felt uncomfortable, though maybe not quite as bad as the first attempt. The back down sets were better.

The missed rep was disappointing and frustrating. Michael said I was allowed to feel disappointed, but I couldn’t let it get to me. I’m trying not to let that happen. There is no way that I am going to squat more than I can deadlift at Provincials!

1b. rope face pulls

30 lbs x 15, x 15, x 15, x 15, x 12

orange band pull-aparts x 15, x 15

1c. bench press-competition grip, flat shoes

feet on bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 5, 83 x 5, 103 x 3

with legs & arch: 115 x 3, 115 x 3, 115 x 3

My bench was generally all good, but the final set at 115 was the best.

I will be back at the gym early tomorrow morning, like 8:00 in the morning. My coach is leaving for holidays on Friday and I start work at 10 tomorrow, so early it is! I’m pretty much okay to train at any time of the day, but I’m a little less keen on an early start after a later night. I’m eyeing the clock, knowing I need to get to bed but also knowing that the night owl is awake and won’t be easily settled. That’s what happens when I work a close shift. Unfortunately, I worked until 9:30 pm. Being at the gym for 8:00 am means I need to wake up around 6:00 am, which means I am not getting enough sleep tonight! While I can function quite well on short sleep, I know the value of a good, proper night’s sleep. Guess I’ll sleep tomorrow night!

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!