Return of the RDL

There will be lots of squatting and pressing in my training over the course of the next 6 weeks leading up to Provincials. By the sounds of it, I’ll be squatting and pressing three times a week. I don’t mind at all, but I really need my back to agree with my mind. Since this back saga began at the end of January, I have hardly done any deadlifting. My back just couldn’t do it. So when Michael said he’d like me to do some Romanian deadlifts this morning, I was both excited and nervous. I so desperately want this back/disc issue to heal up and go away. I desperately want to be able to go about living and training without the pain and physical limitations I’ve had for three months now. Although the back is finally improving, I recognize that there are still restrictions in my movement and there is still pain.

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 6, 113 x 6

with belt: 133 x 6, 143 x 6, 160 x 1, 143 x 6

I think the first several sets were okay. The set at 143 was a bit tougher, but my RPE was probably 7-8. I no longer remember if that was the set where my back started feeling cranky or if it was already achy the set before. The pain wasn’t sharp or intense, just an all-over achy, sore feeling, which really isn’t a very helpful description but the best I can do. Michael thought about having me do a wave, so he bumped up to 160 and wanted 3 reps but called it after one. The bar was heavy from the moment I unracked it, and I know I felt tentative and doubtful. I think a second rep might have been a bit better, but I wasn’t too disappointed in having that set cut short. I am also second-guessing the final set now that I’m blogging about it. I had written in my book that I did 133 lbs x 6, but I think we actually added 10 pounds more to the bar.

1b. bench press-close grip, with feet on 45 lb plates

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 6, 115 x 5, 115 x 5

The first set at 115 pounds was tough. I had some bar positioning problems. I’m not sure that I was gripping as hard as I could, and I was likely thinking too much about the ache in my back. With the crankiness going on in the back, the act of getting into position and arching was not the most comfortable thing to do.

Early on as I was doing my squats and pressing, I experienced a tightness or sensation of something pressing/squeezing between my shoulder blades. I did a bit of foam rolling and then used a lacrosse ball before a couple of my squat sets. The sensation wasn’t painful, but it did make me feel a bit winded more than normal for what I was doing and simply felt off. The rolling seemed to help.

2a. Romanian deadlifts

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 3

These first ones were done with squat shoes on. Then I took the shoes off and did them in my socks.

95 x 8, 95 x 9

I would like to know how these would have felt if my back wasn’t already feeling achy and cranky. Despite how the back was feeling, I think these felt okay. We had the bar set up in the rack, so I didn’t have to bend over to pick it up. Probably a good idea! The initial act of pushing the hips back to lower the bar was not super comfortable, and I could feel some pressure in the back; however, the discomfort wasn’t too much. The pain wasn’t sharp, shooting, radiating, throbbing, or worse. It was certainly no worse than the feeling during squats and bench. Now, an hour later, my back is definitely achy and cranky, but I think I’ll be okay. Time will tell, I guess, but I’m going to operate on the assumption that soreness is to be expected when you begin using muscles for movements that you haven’t really done in 3 months!

2b. single arm kettlebell rows

16kg x 12 each, 20kg x 12 each


Unsinkable Hope

Remember my post on Sunday when I was cautiously optimistic, because I felt a noticeable difference in my level of pain and mobility in my back? Turns out it wasn’t a fluke! The lessening of pain and the slow increase to my mobility has continued, although I have kept a tight grip on my emotions. This morning I had an appointment with my chiropractor, and I was greatly surprised to find that I was able to arch my back in a cat pose. Last week when he asked me to do that same movement, it was difficult and uncomfortable. And I am now able to go full cobra when doing my back extensions homework! Then this evening I had a training session after having 4 days off. It was the best training session I’ve had in about 2 months. I am so excited! The back isn’t pain-free. I can still feel restrictions in some movements, but nothing I did in the gym tonight hurt. The only restriction I felt was at the bottom of the squat if I tried to push my depth, but I generally only went as deep as was comfortable.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6 or 7, 115 x 6, 135 x 5

with belt: 155 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5

Speed was good for all the sets. The weight wasn’t maximal and felt comfortable. With competition being roughly 7 weeks away, I’ve got some work to do, but we didn’t want to push too much on this first good feeling training day.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5

I chose to keep my feet on the bench rather than have them on the floor with my full back arch…didn’t want to push my luck with the back. There was a small arch though, and the back still felt decent. The final rep of each set was paused.

2a. close grip bench press, touch and go keeping constant tension

75 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 85 x 8

2b. back extensions-without shoes

body weight x 20, 20 lbs x 20, 20 lbs x 17

2c. seal rows

75 lbs x 15, 95 x 12, 95 x 10

It was so nice to have a mostly normal feeling training session! Even the act of putting my knee sleeves on and taking them off was incredibly easier than it has been for weeks. Wonder what Friday’s training session will bring?

Of Joints and Discs

The back is cranky today. How else can I describe it when it isn’t anywhere near the worst I’ve experienced but also not close to normal? I haven’t done a whole lot today. I trained between 9 and 10 this morning and had a chiropractic appointment at noon, for which I was dropped off by a son and I walked home. The back was cranky at the gym, but I don’t think the squats negatively impacted anything. My chiropractor put me through the wringer, and I could barely get up off the exam table by the time he was finished with me. The walk home was short, only slightly more than 3 kilometres, but almost every step seemed to jostle the lower back uncomfortably. <sigh> SI joint trouble and a resurgence of a disc issue…I’d rather the disc issue over the SI one.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

43 lbs x 10, 93 x 8, 123 x 7

with belt:

153 x 6, 168 x 6, 178 x 6, 178 x 6

With the exception of two reps, the squats were generally good. They had good speed, consistent bar path. Depth was still questionable. There was some forward pitch on the final rep of the first set at 178 pounds, and the fifth rep, I think, in the final set had a wee bobble midway up. Not too sure what happened with that rep.

Michael made a comment at one point about every rep looking different and not like Angela. I completely understand what he was saying, because I feel the changes, the tentativeness, and the resistance in the low back. Even though I’m trying not to push for depth too hard, I am perturbed by the ongoing struggle to break parallel. I’m not used to having so much trouble making depth, and I don’t want to head into competition with questionable depth.

1b. bench press-competition grip

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 8 all of these sets were done with my knees bent, feet on the bench. Having my feet in the air hurts the back.

100 x 6, 115 x 6, 115 x 6 these were all done with my feet on the floor and with a moderate arch. It was quite uncomfortable to get into position (and out of it), but I’d rather put up with a bit of that discomfort than end up with shoulder pain because I can’t get my upper back and shoulder blades into the best position. It’s like choosing the lesser of two evils. Arching isn’t comfortable, but I don’t think it is truly detrimental to my back issues. Mostly.

2a. bench press-close grip, keeping constant tension with touch and go, not fully locking out

95 lbs x 6, 85 x 10

The first set felt so heavy, and I couldn’t press the bar off my chest for a seventh rep.

2b. rows

TRX x 15

inverted with rings, knees bent x 8

2c. Bulgarian split squats-with 54 pound vest x 12 each leg


The Calm Before the Volume Storm

Just like it had been a while since I last did back squats, it has been equally long since I have deadlifted. As excited as I am to have the green light to resume both, I have to admit that I was most nervous about the deadlifts. Yesterday’s squats may have been tentative, but I was mentally more concerned about how the lower back would hold up to pulling heavyish weight.

1a. deadlifts

95 lbs x 5 + 5 RDL

95 x 5 sumo + another 4 after refining start position

135 x 5 sumo + 5 conventional

There was slight discomfort in the right knee during the sumo reps, so we stopped doing sumo.

165 x 5 conventional and with double overhand! I usually use straps for reps when I get to 165 pounds.

195 x 5 conventional with straps

195 x 1 + 5 with belt

The lower back wasn’t happy with the first rep. Most likely I wasn’t adequately tight and I pulled with my back instead of pushing with my legs. The reminder to get tight everywhere and to my my legs made the next 5 reps feel better.

1b. bench press-close grip, touch and go

43 lbs x 10, 73 x 8, 93 x 8, 105 x 8, 120 x 5 PR, 105 x 8

The PR is for a close grip bench press.

2. deadlifts with a pause right below the knee

135 lbs x 1 without straps and probably using my back again

with straps 135 x 5 or 6

There was some throbbing in the lower back immediately following which eased up within a few minutes. Now, a couple of hours later, there is no throb, but there is some slight achiness. Actually, it feels much the same as after a competition. I’m not about to panic. I’m sure the back will be fine; it just needs to get used to deadlifting again.

SI Sighs

Today felt a little rough, or I felt rough. A headache settled in fairly early and stuck around all day. As my work day wore on, I deteriorated. I’m not sure if I was feeling a lack of caffeine, mere fatigue, a tight neck, or finally succumbing to something. I’ve woken up with a touch of a sore throat the past couple of days. While the throat hasn’t been too bad, it’s enough of a bother to make me desperately hope that I am not getting sick. The sore throat, the headache, and a sense of being overly warm made my work day feel long. I almost never get sick, and I don’t have time for getting sick. I am not sick. I refuse to get sick!

I arrived at the gym this afternoon feeling okay…of course, I arrived sipping a quad tall Americano (my second one of the day). I wasn’t feeling super amazing, but I was at my happy place. As is often the case, a training session has a practically magical ability to make me feel better, no matter what the issue may be. So, I left the gym feeling better than when I arrived. See, I refuse to get sick! 😉

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 73 x 6, 93 x 6

with belt: 123 x 6, 143 x 5, 143 x 5, 143 x 5

I might have had some minor difficulties with the front squats today. I had to re-rack the bar at the start of a couple of sets, because I realized upon un-racking that I wasn’t properly centred. The sets at 143 pounds were a little challenging but still not maximal. I suppose it makes sense that they were more of a struggle considering how I felt today. Michael wanted me to use my belt today for every set over 100 pounds. The first set felt a little weird merely due to re-familiarizing myself with my belt. The lower back felt fine though, and that’s really my main concern.

1b. incline close grip bench press

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 73 x 8, 83 x 5, 83 x 7PR, 83 x 7

For incline, I think these were pretty good. The range of motion was ginormous, but I am generally happy with how these moved. And I just looked in my little book of PRs…to discover that I set a new PR!

1c. rope face pulls

30 lbs x 15 x 6 sets

These felt easier today, almost too easy really.

2a. hip thrusts

95 lbs x 7

This first set was with a barbell and really should have been easy-peasy. I’m capable of using significantly more weight for hip thrusts, but the lower back was not happy with the barbell hip thrusts today.

bodyweight with hip circle x 20, x 20

For reasons unknown, the lower back was completely fine with bodyweight hip thrusts! I did these with a sandbag a few weeks ago without any bother to the back, so we thought we’d try a set with the sandbag. Or at least a rep or two…

70ish lb sandbag with hip circle x 20

And no bother to the lower back at all! I really don’t understand why the barbell caused such a bother to the back. Actually, there’s a lot that I don’t understand about the ongoing issues with my SI joints. I’ve tried to be patient. I’ve done everything that I need to be doing to help the issue. I’ve not been sitting anymore than absolutely necessary, like for driving. Heck, I don’t even sit while on my break at work! I have a competition in 3 months…kind of need to start lifting heavy things soon.

2b. hanging knee raises

overhand grip x 12, x 12

neutral grip x 12

Despite my angst with the SI joints and lower back, I am happy to say that the back didn’t bother me doing the hanging knee raises today, which has not been the case since the back issue started. The back actually felt okay with these today. I guess that’s improvement! The right shoulder felt a bit sore after each of the first two sets, so I thought I’d try a neutral grip on the final set. I think the neutral grip helped, although it is really difficult to say that with certainty. In all honesty, I’m just relieved that I was able to do an exercise that I haven’t been able to do since the SI joint issue first presented.

And you, despite how I felt for most of the day, I left the gym feeling better than when I arrived. I’m one more day away from a long weekend. I am not going to get sick!



The Lats Have It

My body currently feels cranky. Generally I don’t think it is too bad, but there are several body parts which are uncomfortable or mildly achy. My right wrist. Right knee. Right hip. Left lower back. Neck. Mostly right shoulder but a little of the left, too. And I’m not even talking about muscle soreness! Some of the discomforts are connected. Because the shoulders are cranky, I cannot sleep on my side for more than 5 minutes (and I am a side sleeper), which means I’m either on my back or on my side with my head propped up enough to somewhat ease the discomfort in my shoulders. The head elevation likely is the cause of the neck and back complaints. That’s just the way it goes sometimes, but it didn’t impact my performance in the gym today.

1. front squats-flat shoes

43 lbs x 10, 93 x 5, 123 x 5, 133 x 5, 133 x 5

Sometimes I wear my squat shoes for front squats, and other times I wear my flat shoes. It really depends on what else is on the agenda for the training session. With today being deadlift day, flat shoes were what I put on my feet. Squatting typically feels better with the slight heel elevation from the squat shoes, but I don’t have much of a problem adapting to the flats for the front squats. Still, the front squats weren’t the best feeling today, but they weren’t truly horrible. The bar was especially chokey today, which likely made the weight feel heavier. The right hip flexor felt a bit tight during the first couple of sets. The back of the right knee, sometimes bothered with a deep squat, held up okay in the gym, but it is feeling a bit sore now.

2a. bench press-close grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 8, 88 x 8, 100 x 6, 100 x 6, 105 x 7

with slingshot 125 x 6

When the time is right, I am greatly looking forward to seeing what I can do for a max attempt, because my bench press feels solid, smooth and strong…more often than it doesn’t lately.

2b. deadlifts-conventional

135 lbs x 5+

I’m not sure how many reps I did at this weight. I had already done a few, when Michael stopped me in order to give me a new cue to engage my lats. Then I did some more reps to practice the cue…engaging my lats by rotating my arms to show my biceps.

165 x 5, 195 x 5, 215 x 5

The cue seemed to help, and these looked good. Maybe even really good. Michael made a comment about me only having something like 50% tightness previously, but today was about 80%. <laugh> My coach usually knows what he is talking about. Sometimes I just need to be told what to do repeatedly before I actually get it.

2c. some sort of rope face pull thing

20 lbs x 12 x 4 sets

3a. Romanian deadlifts

165 lbs x 10 x 2 sets

The first set was okay, but the second was both more challenging and better.

3b. toes to bar

x 7, x 8

I haven’t done serious toes to bar for quite some time. As I was going on the first set, Michael commented that I should be able to do 6. Of course, I had to do 7. Finding the right rhythm is key for me when doing toes to bar. While not perfect, my body seemed to remember what toes to bar rhythm felt like on the second set and I was able to get an extra rep.

3c. single arm kettlebell row

16kg x 10 each x 2 sets

These rows were slightly different than the norm in terms of arm motion and angle. Now I cannot recall exactly what Michael said about it, but I’m fairly certain he said it would target the lats more. Have you noticed a common thread with my training lately? Lats, lats and more lats!

Now my biggest, most difficult decision is whether to sleep on my back (which I hate) or sleep on my side with head elevated, flipping sides all night (which my neck will hate). Sigh.

A PR, A Knee & An Ab

A different Angela walked into the gym today, or hobbled in thanks to the pesky right knee. The right knee has given me trouble off and on for some time and in two different ways. The back of the knee bothers me when squatting or with full flexion, while the front of the knee randomly hurts when I am walking or standing. Both are annoying and uncomfortable in the moment, and both issues seem to come and go at random. The front knee problem hasn’t been an issue for a while, which means that it must be feeling left out. It bothered me at work yesterday and all day today. Normally this front knee problem doesn’t affect my performance in the gym, except for walking from one piece of equipment to another. Mostly…

1. front squats-in flat shoes

75 lbs x 5, 105 x 6, 135 x 5, 145 x 5

2a. bench press, close grip

43 lbs x 6, 63 x 6, 83 x 8, 98 x 8, 105 x 8 PR

with slingshot: 125 x 5, 135 x 5

Sometimes the close grip makes the presses feel a bit harder due to the longer range of motion, but these felt solid today. Even the sets with the slingshot were rather solid. Michael and I were both expecting some wild reps, but I managed to keep them controlled. Well, except for the potential sixth rep on the final set. That missed rep was a combination of losing a shoulder, the slingshot slipping off an elbow, and a bit of a misgrooved position.

2b. deadlifts-conventional

Prior to each deadlift set, I had to do an isometric deadlift hold for 5 seconds, not too far off the floor, using absolute effort and maintaining proper form. Then, after about 10 seconds, I would do my proper deadlift set.

135 lbs x 5, 165 x 5, 195 x 6, 215 x 5, 215 x 5

Last week’s deadlift session was a rough one, but these felt so much better, faster, lighter. The isometric holds likely helped with making the sets feel lighter and faster, but I also like to think that I don’t often have consecutive bad training sessions  very often. 😉

3a. sumo block pulls

185 lbs x 10, 235 x 2?

As far as the weight goes, I definitely had the strength and ability to do more than the two reps I managed on that final set. The problem was the right knee. The sumo stance was fine in the first set, but the knee wasn’t very happy during the second set. Stopping seemed like the best thing to do, even though I wanted to continue.

3b. I was also supposed to do ab work, but that didn’t work out as planned thanks to a super sore spot right beneath my ribcage. I am fairly certain that is from the ab wheel on Monday. The spot isn’t as all-over sore the way that my abs have felt after other ab work. At least I’m not moaning and groaning with every move of my abdomen! However, this soreness is strongest in particular movements and situations. A sneeze. Laying back on the bench. Toes to bar. Overhead pressing. So Michael had me try some sit-ups on the GHD. One painful rep. Two painful reps. Nope. He had me try to do little circles on the Swiss ball. Just assuming the plank position on the ball and maintaining some stability was painfully uncomfortable. Then he asked about doing some hanging knee raises using straps to support my arms. Yeah…not! So much for the ab work today.

Despite the knee and abdominal issues, this was a good training session. I guess that’s just the way it goes…good days and bad ones and simply okay ones.