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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The Girl With All The Goals

“When a woman feels her own strength, it’s empowering. She believes in herself and knows she can do more. It changes everything.” ~Kathrine Switzer

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

It is always a challenge to recap a competition with the experience still fresh and raw in my mind and body. There are so many emotions and thoughts swirling within that I am liable to miss a detail, but waiting too long to put thoughts into written form can also result in missing details.

The day started early. I was mostly awake around 5:00 but managed to stay in bed until 6. The next hour was a flurry of getting dressed, making myself a doppio espresso, making sure I had everything I needed, and gagging down a bit of breakfast. My appetite disappears during a competition, but I know it is important to have fuel in the tank. We left the house around 7:00 and arrived at the venue before 8:00, which left some time to chill (literally because it was cold in the crossfit gym), stretch, change into my singlet, listen to the lifters’ meeting, and get my warm-ups in before lifting started around 9:15.

Yesterday the back felt a little creaky but generally okay. This morning it felt pretty darn good, better than it has felt for a few days. I was feeling good, too. Naturally I was feeling some nervous energy as I warmed up for squats and waited for my first attempt…even for my second attempt. I was mostly confident and optimistic with slivers of fear and uncertainty. My opening squat attempt was 100kg (220.5 lbs), which was the same weight that I re-tweaked my back on at Provincials in June. In recent weeks I have surpassed that weight in the gym, so I knew that I was more than capable but doubt is pernicious and persistent. Feeling nervous prior to the first attempt is completely normal, and it usually settles down once that first squat has been successfully completed. Although it did abate slightly this time, it didn’t completely settle until after my second squat at 110kg (242 lbs). I guess I should mention that my first squat attempt broke both the Provincial and National record!

I had several goals for this competition, big and small. The first of my two biggest goals was my third squat attempt at 115kg (253.5 lbs), because it was an attempt to break a World record. This weight wasn’t a complete stranger to me; it was the same weight that I did for a PR at Western Canadians last year. But this is a different powerlifting federation with different records…and I’ve struggled with back problems all year. As much as I believed I could do it today, I felt nervous and under pressure (self-inflicted). Succeeding on my second squat completely settled the nerves though, and I suddenly knew that I could, would succeed. Besides, I’ve never failed on a squat in competition except for once on a technicality. So how did I do on that final squat? I nailed it!

Excitement coursed through my veins as I walked off the platform into the warm-up area, accepting congratulations from a judge, my coach, my handler, and some fellow competitors. I chatted briefly with my coach and my handler about the lift and how my back was holding up (perfectly fine), then I said I was going to go see my family and friends until it was time to warm-up for the bench. No sooner had those words left my mouth than I was overcome by intense emotions that had me heaving and struggling to choke back tears. The emotion was so strong that I had to actually pause for a minute before resuming my walk to my family, and even then I was practically an emotional mess when I saw the smiles on their faces. It’s no secret that my eyes leak quite easily at the best of times, but I will not apologize for the tears or the emotion. I just broke a freaking World record! I have visualized this moment for a long time, through dark and hazy days filled with back pain and frustration and self-doubt, and today I achieved my goal.

The back was still feeling great at this point in time, and we were on to the bench press. My opening attempt was 55kg (121 lbs). I knew this should be an easy weight for me, since I’ve been smoking 125 pounds in the gym for a while now. It was respectable. My second attempt was 60kg (132.3 lbs), and I wasn’t supremely confident about it. I have been doing well with 130 pounds in the gym lately, so I did know that I could; however, this weight has been the proverbial monkey on my back for more than 2 years now. It was at a competition in October of 2015 that I was first successful in benching 60kg in competition, and that has been my best competition bench ever since, despite a couple of gym PRs at 135 lbs. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to better 132.3 pounds in competition until today! It might not have been the fastest press, but I made it. Of course, that meant my third attempt was yet another try at a bench press PR, and I had to fight against the doubt and mental block surrounding it.

My final bench attempt was 62.5kg (137.8 lbs). Thankfully, I had the unanticipated occasion to grind out a single rep at 130 pounds last week. I am not accustomed to being successful in grinding out a bench press and, for a moment, I didn’t think I would make that lift, but I stuck it out and made it. I think that grind was beneficial for me, because it gave me the opportunity to experience a tough, slow grind and to realize that I was now capable of pushing through it. It is my opinion that this recent experience was instrumental in my successful final bench press today. It was slow. It was a grind. Some might have doubted my ability to finish the lift, but I don’t recall ever feeling that way in the moment. I knew it was grinding and slow. I could hear the cheers. I could hear my coach’s voice shouting instruction. I just kept going, and once I reached a certain point I knew I had it. The monkey was off my back. Not only did I have a new Provincial record but also a PR!

With the bench press completed, my back felt slightly achy, probably from the arching, but it was still rather mild and normal. There was a bit of a wait until the deadlifts, and I no longer felt any doubts about my abilities. I had been perfect so far, and I knew that I was going to go 9/9.

My first deadlift attempt was 125kg (270 lbs). Once again, I was breaking a Provincial record on my first attempt. It was easy. The second attempt was 132.5kg (292 lbs). I probably used my back a little on this attempt. While it was still relatively easy, my back felt a little more achy immediately following this lift, but it still felt okay enough. My third and final attempt was 138.5kg (305.3 lbs). Although it was a bit tougher, I was successful in my attempt and secured myself another Provincial and National record. Unfortunately, I walked off the platform with a world of hurt in my left lower back and glute. The pain didn’t put a damper on my joy in having reached every single one of my goals for this competition. This was my ninth competition, and I have only ever had a completely perfect 9/9 with 27 white lights once before…two years ago. Today’s competition was perfect, 9 attempts with 9 successful lifts and not a single red light in the bunch. I achieved 8 records today: 4 Provincial, 3 National, and 1 World. (My total also broke Provincial and National records!) About the only thing that didn’t go as hoped for was hurting myself again!

Thankfully my chiropractor’s office was onsite to provide treatment to the athletes. Although there weren’t any chiropractors available by the time I finished competing, I was able to get some massage treatment which helped to reduce some of the pain. I will need to see my chiropractor though, which will be on Tuesday. (Gosh, I love being able to book an appointment online during non-office hours!) In the meantime, the RMT gave me some things to do at home. I also have other exercises at my disposal and Ibuprofen. But you know, I’m not overly frustrated by this unexpected twist. It’s slightly familiar but slightly different. The RMT said it was a disc, SI joint and piriformis issue. She could help a bit with the piriformis, but she can’t do any adjustments…hence my need to see my chiropractor. Although I did have some strong pain in my pelvis immediately after, right now, hours later, the most pain is in my left butt. It’s not ideal, but it could be worse. And I’m still riding the wave of euphoria of a successful competition, so I have no regrets. Okay, I have no regrets at all! While I may have only had two personal bests today (my bench and my total), I would say that this was my best competition to date.

I also have to mention just how much I love the sport of powerlifting. Since my first competition in 2014 and 8 more competitions including today’s, I have never had a bad experience beyond my own disappointment in a personal result. I have competed in two different federations, and each one feels like family. I only compete in 100% RAW once a year when they have a somewhat local meet. There is always a couple of people who make the trip from Calgary to here to bring equipment and act as organizers and judges, and they never fail to remember my name and welcome me as part of the family. Most of my competitive focus is within the realm of the British Columbia Powerlifting Assocation in great part for the simple fact that there are more opportunities to compete. RAW was where I did my very first competition. It was where I fell in love with powerlifting and competing. RAW is primarily based in Alberta, which is why I only compete once a year with them, but I love my RAW family. I liken the two federations to the Canadian Football League and the National Football League. They are the same sport with slight differences in rules, their own records and championships, and a vast difference in scope on the international stage.

Despite the pain, which likely came from using too much back on that final deadlift, today was a grand success. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the day. I achieved every goal that I set for myself, even the ones that I was hesitant to say out loud. After what has been a most problematic and frustrating year so far, today felt highly redemptive. I didn’t hit personal bests across the board, but this showing was the essence of what I had hoped to achieve at Provincials earlier this year. It’s been a long, tough year, but now I can celebrate my success. And heal again. Then start back at the beginning, gearing up for the next competition in February at Nationals.

The Weighting Game

Earlier in the day I had illusions of an eloquent blog post about the day, cutting weight, weighing in, and thoughts on the eve of competition; however, now that I have made weight and begun the process of re-hydrating and fueling my body, I mostly just want to hurry up and get to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and it will start early. Even though the meet is relatively close to home, we still have a 40ish minute drive ahead of us and we had our first dump of snow last night. I want to be hitting the road by 7:00 AM.

This water cut was quite easy, but then again I really only had a couple of pounds to lose. I could have allowed myself a bit of food today and still made weight, but I chose to play it safe and stick to the water cut plan. I managed fairly well and allowed myself a doppio espresso with an inch of hot water mid-morning. Hunger pangs didn’t hit until about 2:00 this afternoon, and I was feeling mildly shaky by 3:30. There is just something about competition though that plays with my sense of thirst and appetite, because I felt fine as soon as we arrived at the weigh in/competition location, even though we had to wait more than half an hour to weigh in. I weighed in at 73.1 kilograms, easily below the 75.3 kilogram cap. Two hours later and I’ve already put at least a pound back on, maybe more but my scale at home isn’t quite accurate. It doesn’t matter now though.

I got my competition t-shirt. I got my rack heights. This is my 9th competition, and I don’t think I’ve the same rack heights two competitions in a row! For this reason I always check my rack heights rather than assuming that they will be the same as the last time. I am feeling decently good. As we were driving to the weigh in, I had a moment where my thoughts focused in on visualizing my bench press and I felt adrenaline surge and nerves flare. My best bench press number has been stuck at the same weight in competition for two years. I know I am capable of beating it, and I’ve done so in the gym on a couple of occasions before…but it has been a source of frustration and I worry that it is becoming a mental block. Once again, I hope to beat it, but for a minute today I felt anxiety and doubt. The past is the past…and I can’t focus on that. I am not the same person.

Three!

This is how my mind works…

Several days ago already, I was mentally planning and arranging my time between then and my competition, because time seems to be something I don’t have a lot of right now. Today is day 6 of 7 consecutive work days. Two open shifts. Three closing shifts. Today is 10:30-6:30. Tomorrow is another open shift. I knew that I would need to go to the gym on Monday and Wednesday. Monday wouldn’t be a problem, but Wednesday wasn’t looking appealing with a mid shift sandwiched between a close and an open. I like sleep. I need sleep. I am usually drained by the end of my work week, and I am feeling that way already but I’ve got two shifts to get through yet. When would I be able to get to the gym on Wednesday?

Obviously I had two choices: before work or after work. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thrilled about either choice. Before work would mean sacrificing some sleep after a late night. Going after work would have me scrambling to train, eat, and unwind before getting myself to bed early enough to get enough sleep prior to waking up at 4:45. As unappealing as my choices were, I knew that I could make each of them work. I could get up early and go. I could survive an open shift on less sleep. I can do all of that and more, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’m in the process of water loading, which means drinking a ton of water and making frequent trips to the bathroom. It feels like I have so much to get done before the competition and no time to do any of it before I finish work early tomorrow afternoon. Excuse my little whiny moment!

In my brain I like to look at all the angles and options and then come up with a plan. My plan usually also has options in case I hit a snag along the way. So, I decided that it would be better to potentially lose a bit of sleep last night in order to get to the gym early this morning. I can function on less sleep than I get, but I definitely do not like having my time crunched together at the end of the night, trying to fit everything into a tight space. I was awake at 7:10 this morning and at the gym ready to train at 8:00. Today’s training was super easy, because I am 3 days from competition. I performed all three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlifts. At 50% for 3 single reps. Twenty minutes later I was finished without even breaking a sweat. Everything moved well and felt good.

Shortly I will be on my way to work. Hopefully it will be a day that seems to pass quickly, because I definitely feel exhausted and it wasn’t from the gym. But at least now I only need to worry about eating, drinking more water, and unwinding in the 2 hours between finishing work and crawling into bed!

5 Days!

Competition is in five days, yet it sometimes feels still so far away. I am so excited and nervous and aware of every little ache and pain and twinge in my body. As long as those aches remain minor annoyances…this is normal at this point in time. The biggest area of concern is my back, especially since last Friday’s day of pain for no apparent reason. Since then the back has been okay, and I say that tentatively. While the pain is gone it leaves a palpable presence lingering in the shadows, which has me figuratively holding my breath, waiting for the back to explode and destroy my hopes and goals for this competition. So far, so okay.

Today’s training session was relatively easy, although not nearly as easy as Wednesday’s will be! The hard training work has been done. This morning I did all three lifts, working up to my openers or thereabouts. I worked up to a 225 pound squat, a 120 pound bench, and a 270 pound deadlift. Generally I think everything moved fairly well. My back is still intact with no explosions or implosions yet. The other achy body parts just have to be accepted as part of the family for now.

one week

I went to bed last night hoping that the pain in my back or pelvis (whatever it was) would be gone by the time I woke. This morning I woke up and went tentatively on with my day…without any pain in my back. It wasn’t normal. I can still feel the discomfort lurking in the wings, waiting to strike at any moment, but I know what I can do to fight this battle. Whether or not I will win remains to be seen. One week! I just need my body to hold together for one week.

Today’s training was again short and sweet, more or less. A bit of benching and a bit of squatting.

1. bench press

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 100 x 4, 110 x 2

main event: 120 lbs x 1, 130 x 1

With yesterday’s back pain, I played it safe on the bench by having no arch or leg drive for the first three warm up sets. My pressing was rolling along smoothly until the final single at 130 pounds. Although my husband was at the gym with me today, he was busy elsewhere and I thought I’d try to unrack 130 pounds by myself. After all, it was only one rep, one set, and I had benched 125 pounds without assistance a week or so ago. I unracked the weight without too much difficulty and settled into position, bringing the bar to my chest. Since competition requires holding that position until the judge says you can press it, I might have held my pause a bit long. It’s better to be able to hold a longer pause than to not wait for the proper command. I’ve done 130 a few times recently, so I wasn’t overly concerned about today’s single…but it turned out to be more of a grind than I was expecting. At one point I honestly didn’t think I’d make it and imagined having the bar resting on my chest in need of assistance. When it comes to grinding out a bench press, I’m not exactly well known for my success. When I’ve failed a bench press in competition, I grind as much as I can and get stuck. It’s like I hit a ceiling that I cannot push through. For a moment today I thought I’d hit that ceiling again, but I managed to grind it out and finish the rep. The back held up okay, too.

2. squats

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 3

main event: 165 lbs x 1, 165 x 1

Squats felt good and easy. No back issues.

 

Believer

The excitement that I felt yesterday had evaporated during the night. I went to the gym feeling focused and determined but tempered. I went through the motions of warming up, adding weight to the bar in the slow and gradual process that is so familiar and comforting. Although things were feeling okay, fear began to creep around the edges like the beginning of frost on a window. It wasn’t paralyzing fear, nor was it the kind of fear that gnaws away at your stomach. This was just hesitation, that soft voice which questions your sanity and safety like a conscience. There was no doubt that I would make the attempt. The real question was would I overcome my aversion to asking for help to ask a complete stranger to give me a spot. Did I need a spot? Could I get by without one? Who could I ask? The muscley guy with his head in his phone? The toothpick of an older lady doing leg raises on a mat? The jacked dude all the way on the opposite side of the gym a mile away? Or the young woman quarter squatting while wearing gloves? I’ve seen too many videos and live examples of people who do not know what they are doing in the gym…the last thing I need when squatting heavy weight is a spotter who doesn’t know what he/she is doing. I hemmed and hawed but ultimately caved. In my indecision I had paced around and wound up near a piece of equipment that was currently unused. The glove-wearing, quarter squatting lady approached to ask if I was using that equipment, so I asked if she knew how to spot a squat. She said she did. After watching the video of my squat, I’m not so convinced, but I survived my squat.

You might not know it to have seen me in the gym following that squat or to see me now, but that squat was huge for me. In the 4 years that I have been competing in powerlifting, I have only squatted this much weight 3 times and all in competition. I have never had this much weight on my back for an actual squat in the gym EVER. I have never squatted this much weight without wearing knee sleeves. I have not had this much weight on my back since Western Canadians in August 2016. Okay, so maybe a smile just split my face!

1a. squats

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 3, 205 x 2, 215 x 1

main event: 225 lbs x 1, 245 lbs x 1

Undoubtedly some of today’s squats weren’t very pretty or perfect, but they still managed to feel decently good. And although 245 pounds felt like it moved slowly, I am still happy with how it really did move and feel. There is more there, I know it. I feel it.

2. bench press

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 4, 100 x 2

main event: 115 x 1, 115 x 1

Easy peasy.

3. chest supported rows 8-10 reps

40 lbs x 10, 40 lbs x 10

For the first time, I maxed out my reps here. Of course, both the weight and a set were dropped, but I’m still going to feel good about how good these felt.

With competition in 11 days, the volume is dropping significantly. Physically I am not feeling too fatigued yet, but I’m still glad for the drop.