Seeking Serenity

I don’t know exactly why I look to the sky on my way to work in the early hours after our opening time, but I do just that every morning when the sky is clear blue and cloudless. I am looking for a hot air balloon, which is perhaps an odd thing to be looking for so frequently, since hot air balloons are not an everyday sighting. Yesterday, as I drove to work at 5:15 AM, I finally became aware of the fact that I was looking towards a specific portion of the sky in hopes of seeing a hot air balloon. Of course, there wasn’t one to be seen yesterday morning, but I found it somewhat amusing to realize what I had been subconsciously doing for many months now.

I didn’t open this morning, but I was still headed for work around 7:30 AM. As I turned the corner, I looked up to the sky as I always do and there it was…a hot air balloon! Although my emotions are not nearly as heavy and gloomy as they were last week, I am still rather a mess of eating poorly, sleeping even more poorly, a hurricane of thoughts inside my head, and emotions still tender to the touch. The sight of the hot air balloon this morning, especially after yesterday’s realization of what I am looking for, almost reduced me to tears. But why? What is it about a hot air balloon that had me unconsciously looking for one? Between work, training, and all the stuff raging inside me, I realized that I find the sight of a hot air balloon in the sky to be simply serene. Peaceful. Calm. Soothing. As much as I am the kind of girl who prefers her feet on the ground, a hot air balloon is free to just flow with the breeze. You don’t see hot air balloons out in high winds or storms. I know what it is like to stand in the midst of strong winds and storms. I know I am capable of standing, but sometimes I just want to float in quiet peace above this crazy, hectic insane world and the storms that rage inside my heart and head, at least for a while. And I am choosing to believe that this morning’s hot air balloon was a little reminder from my God that I am not alone or forgotten or unloved, that He sees deep inside of my heart and He has known from the beginning why I keep looking to the sky.

1a. single leg box step downs + single leg glute bridges, with the box on top of a block

x 10 + 10, x 12 + 10

1b. standing single arm kettle bell presses

10kg x 8 each, 12kg x 8 each

2a. tempo squats, high bar with flat shoes

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 8, 105 x 7, 105 x 6, 105 x 6, 105 x 6

These were done with a 4 second eccentric, a 1 second pause, and a controlled rise. While the weight itself wasn’t taxing, I did find these challenging as I was essentially holding my breath for the roughly 6 seconds of each rep.

2b. flat dumbbell presses

25 lbs x 15, 34 lbs x 10, 34 x 10, 34 x 9

The right hip threatened to cramp on me during the second set at 34 pounds, while the left hip threatened to cramp as I set up for the final set.

3a. TRX T’s

3 sets of 8

3b. seated cable rows

90 lbs x 10, 90 x 6 + 80 lbs x 4, 80 x 9

3c. floor kettlebell triceps extensions

6kg x 11, x 9, x 9

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.

Discs & Disappointment

Normally I prefer to blog about my training session as soon after training as possible, because I don’t want my impressions and thoughts to fade from memory before I am able to put them into writing. Even though I trained at 8 this morning, I was rather intentional about not blogging as soon as I got home. It is now 1:30 in the afternoon, and I think I have delayed long enough. My training session was not what I had hoped it would be. In fact, it was mostly an exercise in frustration and pain. The back wasn’t too bad yesterday, but today is an entirely different story.

Yesterday I left my chiropractor’s clinic feeling more optimistic than I have felt for several weeks. There was a measure of relief in knowing that the SI is fine and that this is all disc-related. I’ve been through the disc thing before, although there was no pain in my back then and it didn’t really affect my training. This round of disc issue is different from the pain in my back to the way it affects my training and daily life. I like to think I am fairly independent and self-sufficient. I don’t always like to ask for help, especially not for something I feel should be easy enough for me to do on my own, but even the most simple of tasks presents significant challenge and pain lately. I’m weary of it all.

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 5, with belt 113 x 5

The front squats didn’t feel very good from the start, although the later reps in each set were somewhat easier than the first couple. Just not good enough to continue.

1b. dips

with small green band x 8

unassisted: x 6, x 5, x 5

It’s been a while since I’ve done dips, so I wasn’t very confident in my ability to do any unassisted. I’m always glad to be wrong when it comes to self-doubts. These didn’t hurt the back really, but there was some mild unpleasant sensations in having my lower half hanging.

1c. seated cable rows

70 lbs x 12, 80 lbs x 12, 80 x 4, 80 x 12, 100 x 10

I’m not sure what happened during the second set at 80 pounds, except to say that the back hurt enough that I just stopped.

2a. front foot elevated split squats

x 12 each

with 10kg kettlebell x 12 each

These actually felt kind of good. No stress on my back which was already in a ton of pain.

2b. double kettlebell curls

8kg x 7, 8kg x 12

That’s quite a discrepancy between the first and second set, and I cannot explain why the second was so much better. Sometimes my second sets just are better, because I needed to prime the movement or simply remember how much effort I need to exert.

2c. standing triceps extensions

10kg kettlebell x 15, 12kg x 12

My chiropractor says it is important for me to continue training, and I would be miserable if I had to give it up. But I’m desperately looking forward to the day I can train without pain once again.

The Benchmark

It’s been a month since I’ve done back squats. Gosh. I don’t think I was fully aware of how long it has been until just now when I looked back in my training log. Provincials are roughly 3 months away. My desire to compete again is intensifying, and I am trying not to let my thoughts linger too long on how the current SI joint problem may affect my training and performance. I have goals. I am not content to put in a sub-par performance on the platform; I want to continue to improve. I want to break my records, go to Westerns, go to Nationals next year, and qualify for Worlds. Provincials is not the ‘be all and end all’ of competitions, but I want to start and finish well.

I’ve been assured that my strength isn’t going to evaporate into thin air from a lack of back squats. My confidence in that statement may waver depending on the day; however, I do trust my coach, except for those times when he tells me that a pesky little exercise is going to be easy and I know that it won’t be. My chiropractor still doesn’t want me to do back squats, but he has given me the okay to do goblet squats and front squats. I’ll take whatever form of squats I can get!

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 6 or 7

This first set was just the bar, so it was naturally easy and light; however, I did feel some discomfort in my lower back at the bottom of the squat. Not too bad…certainly less than the pain I felt sitting to put on my gym shoes. But the discomfort was enough to make me slightly apprehensive about putting weight on the bar.

73 lbs x 8, 93 x 6, 113 x 6, 133 x 6, 113 x 8

That discomfort I felt during the warm-up set? It was non-existent once there was some weight on the bar! In fact, these front squats felt really good. Bar path was good. Speed was decent, I think, although the weight was far from maximal. My rack position was probably the best it has ever been! I seemed to have no trouble at all keeping my elbows nice and high. Honestly, I am supremely satisfied with my front squats this morning. It almost makes me forget just how much I am missing the back squats!

1b. bench press-competition grip, using the fat bar

43 lbs x 8 warm-up with a regular bar since the fat bar itself weighs 74 pounds

74 lbs x 8, 94 x 6, 109 x 6, 124 x 5118 x 8

The sting of no back squats has been lessened by the recent spate of pressing PRs. I am not going to complain about finally seeing gains in my bench press, even if I still don’t always feel confident. After the 109 pound set, Michael said to put 124 pounds on the bar, that I could do that for 5 reps. I changed the plates on the bar and said nothing, but my thoughts were swirling. Does he seriously believe that I can do 5 reps at that weight?! I just set a new PR last week of 120 lbs for 5…with a regular bar. This is a fat bar and more weight. What if the previous PR was a fluke? Inside I was apprehensive, but I can be stubborn in my willingness to try just about anything. And I did it! All of the hard work is finally paying off.

1c. seated cable row-leaning back

80 lbs x 12 x 4 sets

90 lbs x 12

2a. hip thrusts-with hip circle and medium sandbag x 20

2b. TRX knee-ins x 8

2c. triceps cable pressdowns

40 lbs x 12 overhand grip + 20 lbs x 18 underhand grip

As I’ve been laying here composing this blog post, I’ve been considering a walk this afternoon. The sun is shining and there is actually blue sky. I want to plug in my earbuds and walk. Part of me wants to put that off until tomorrow, but the forecast doesn’t sound so wonderful. Of course, the forecast for today doesn’t truly look much better than tomorrow’s, but the weather in this moment is actually nice. I guess that seals it then…time to put on some socks and shoes!