6 Minutes of Torture

It was so good to be back at the gym this morning, and I can still say that after a training session that left me dripping in sweat and gasping for breath. I knew my training would look different and would not focus on powerlifting, but I did not know exactly what to expect. By the time I finished my last rep, I could only collapse on the floor, breathing hard and muscles rubbery. My coach told me that he hadn’t intended to kill me, but I think he kind of did, at least subconsciously. Somehow I’m okay with it. The true intent is not to slaughter me but to make me better and stronger. Variation is good. Conditioning is good. Working weak spots is good. Moving is good.

warm-up:

Turkish get-ups with 8kg kettlebell x 2 each side

single leg box step downs x 10 each side

1a. single arm kettlebell presses + carry

10kg x 10 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 8 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 6 each + 4 lengths

1b. single leg box step downs with the box on top of 15 lb bumper plates

3 sets of 10 each leg

I was actually surprised with how “easy” these were. Single leg stuff can often be problematic for me. My balance isn’t always very good, and single leg stuff is just tougher. The warm up set with the box on the floor was rather easy, still I was skeptical when Michael increased the height with the bumper plates. Indeed it felt like I was lowering my leg a very long way, but I powered through my reps with much more balance and ease than I had expected.

2a. trap bar deadlifts-touch and go

75 lbs x 6, 115 x 8, 135 x 10

2b. barbell push-ups

x 12, x 12, x 8

2c. hanging leg raises, keeping a posterior pelvic tilt

2 sets of 8

Hanging leg raises and toes to bar have been more challenging for me since the problems with my SI joints began. Actually anything requiring a posterior pelvic tilt has been more challenging, because my back feels like it doesn’t want to move that way. It’s not so much pain, at least not anymore, so much as a sensation of the muscles being tight and not wanting to move that way. I’ve been working on making the back happier with that position, so there has been improvement…it’s just not completely there yet. The hanging leg raises today were definitely tougher to do with maintaining that pelvic position, but I will get better.

For the last portion of my training session, Michael had me do some conditioning work. He gave me 3 exercises. 30 seconds for each one followed by a 30 second rest. Repeat 3 times. You can call it whatever you like…I think I’m going to call it ‘6 minutes of torture’.

a) double clean & presses with 10kg kettlebells

I didn’t get more than 4 or 5 reps the first round, because I’m not so great at the clean & press. I think I got at least 6 reps on the second round, but the final round dropped back to 4 or 5 from sheer fatigue. I also anticipate seeing some bruises on my upper arms/shoulders over the next couple of days!

b) bear crawl

I think I managed to crawl a little bit further and with better form each round.

c) ab wheel

My brain can no longer recall how many reps I got each round. As Michael noted, my roll-outs were not very far either. Seriously, by the time I got to the ab wheel, my body and brain was rebelling against me. Every muscle was shaking. I needed oxygen in the worst way, and, on the final round, I probably came the closest I have ever come to feeling as if I might puke while training. I am glad to report that I did not.

This conditioning torture is going to be a common occurrence for a while, I think. As much as I am not looking forward to it, I am also oddly saying, “Bring it on!”

Confidently Stubborn

Okay, so this week without training hasn’t been too bad, but I am definitely looking forward to walking into the gym in the morning. I have no idea what my coach is going to have in store for me, although I can be fairly confident that my training will be designed to make me stronger and work on weaknesses. I’m ready.

“You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” ~ Rosalynn Carter

It would be easy to let my experience at Provincials shake my self-confidence. Although I have grown quite confident in my abilities, I am still humanly prone to stumbling along in the darkness of doubt. Whatever it was that happened in my back on my second squat, it flooded me with fear, uncertainty, frustration, and doubt. I still knew what I was capable of when healthy, but I was suddenly afraid that I might have done more damage to my body. I knew that I have determination and toughness, but are those qualities enough when you’ve been thrown into the fire? In all honesty, as much as I knew that I wasn’t about to throw in the towel and quit, in the midst of the pain and volatile emotions I wasn’t giving much thought to being tough enough to follow through. I just wanted to survive the day as best I could. Earlier this week my coach complimented me on being a person with strong character by pushing through when it was emotionally and physically tough. It’s not always easy for me to accept a compliment, but I’m trying.

Perhaps the biggest knock against my confidence was my failed bench press attempt. My competition bench press has been stuck at 60 kilograms since October 2015, yet I have only attempted a heavier press while competing twice, at Westerns last August and at Provincials last week. Having pressed more than 60 kilos in the gym means that I know I am capable, but my string of failures also plays with that confidence like a cat toying with a mouse. I will keep striving though.

“Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” ~ James Michener

With my next competition not until November, I have lots of time to heal and train and focus. I definitely have goals for November’s competition, although I am not going to say too much about them for now, partly since a lot can happen between now and then but also because I don’t really have specific targets yet. So far my goals are general. I know I am capable. I just need to be tough enough to push through and to keep trying. Or maybe I am just that kind of stubborn.

Numb

I don’t know where to begin this blog post, or if I even want to write it now or at all. Okay, so I do want to write it, but I’m not sure I am ready. Yet, I feel like I can’t wait too much longer lest I lose thoughts and emotions along the way. My current state of mind is exhausted, frustrated, disappointed, angry, a blink from dissolving into tears, pained and numb. The numbness is comforting in a way, because it helps keep the tears from pouring down my face and softens the sting of the negative emotions, at least for a time.

Yesterday was my Provincials powerlifting competition. Even though I wasn’t expecting to have my best performance, I was hoping to go 9 for 9 and break my Provincial bench press record. I didn’t achieve either goal yesterday.

My first squat was 92.5kg and moved well. Michael opted to be conservative with my second attempt, and that turned out to be a wise decision. My second squat was 100kg, which should have still been an easy 220 pounds. I did more than that last week in training. It felt fine when I unracked the bar. I believe that I did everything that I usually do. The eccentric felt fine. I began to rise out of the squat and felt a kind of pop and something giving in my lower back, which then caused my back to round in a way that is not typical for me. It hurt. I managed to finish the squat, barely remembering to hold until the command to rack. I walked off the platform feeling pain, fear, and crushing sadness. Michael instantly decided that we’d pass on my third attempt, then we headed to the warm-up area for some chiropractic treatment. As the chiropractor poked, prodded, bent and told me to push here and there, I fought to maintain some composure. By the time I got up from the table, the pain had dropped a couple of notches, but it was still there.

As we waited for my flight and the next to finish squats, I did the things the chiropractor told me to do and I gingerly tested my ability to set up for the bench press. Arching wasn’t too bothersome on the back, so we felt okay to stick with our plan there. My first two bench attempts, 55kg and 57.5kg, were decent. I am the current Provincial record holder with 60kg, which is the weight I have been stuck at since October 2015. Although I had some options, I chose to make a third attempt at 60.5kg in an effort to break my Provincial record. I was so close but failed. Words cannot express how I felt and still feel. Even as I lay on that bench, desperately trying to finish pressing the bar and realizing that it wasn’t going to happen, I felt so utterly crushed by disappointment and frustration. I know I am strong enough. I know I can do it. I have lifted that weight in the gym, including just last week, and it was easy. I came into this competition knowing that my squats and deadlifts would be sub-par, but the bench press record was something I knew was within my ability and I wanted, WANTED it!

My deadlifts weren’t going to be super heavy, but, with the fresh back injury, we opted to drop my opening attempt even more. An opening deadlift of 85kg wasn’t anything I could fake pride in, but I just needed to get a number on the board. It was embarrassingly easy. My next attempt was 102.5…again easy. My final attempt was 112.5kg or 248 pounds. Still easy. That final deadlift was 60 pounds less than my best deadlift. I think it would have been easier to feel some peace about low deadlift numbers if the rest of my competition had turned out differently. If I hadn’t hurt my back. If I had broken the bench record. If only. But, the last thing we wanted to do was inflict more harm to my back. Thankfully, I was able to deadlift without any added discomfort or pain to the back, which is something I wasn’t sure would happen after that squat.

At some point in the competition, Michael pointed out that there was another woman in my age/weight class after all. She hadn’t made her weight class and was bumped up into mine. Being the competitive person that I am, as soon as I realized that I could potentially lose, I wanted to win! However, I was no longer operating in a position where we could give any thought to making sure my attempts put me in a position to win. I still kept an eye on her numbers, chafing inside with the desire to win and re-familiarizing myself with a positive mindset in the event that I lost. Both my squat and deadlift were far from my actual ability and potential, but I still managed to come away with the win.

This was my 8th competition, and, in my opinion, my worst one. I had my third lowest total. The two lower totals came from my first two competitions. My Wilks score was my second lowest. The only one lower was my first competition. This was my second 7 for 9 meet. Not a single personal best. The first time I’ve ever passed on an attempt. The first time I’ve hurt myself in competition. The only goal I achieved yesterday was checking off the final requirement for competing at Nationals next year.

As much as words cannot express how I am feeling, there is so much more yet to say, but it will have to wait for another day. I left my house at 7:50 yesterday morning, and I didn’t get home until 12:30 this morning. I was in bed by 1:00 this morning but woke up before 6:30. My back is sore and achy, and I am exhausted. I need to decompress and process. I need to go hang out with some friends in a couple of hours, feel loved and celebrated, even though I don’t feel worth celebrating. Then I need sleep. Precious sleep. Tomorrow I will walk into my gym and begin the process of rehabbing (again) and rebuilding.

Defining Success

“You do not determine your success by comparing yourself to others, rather you determine your success by comparing your accomplishments to your capabilities.” ~ Zig Ziglar

Three days until Provincials!

I love the sport of powerlifting. At the end of competition, the winner is the one who lifted the most weight, and yet, each lifter is also working hard to better his/her own previous performance.

Over these past months of dealing with pain and injury, I’ve wrestled with myself over the unlikelihood of having a successful competition at Provincials. I know what I accomplished at my last competition, and I had hoped to do even better at the next one. Unfortunately, injury took those aspirations and shot them to pieces.

My back is getting better, feeling better. My squat technique is coming back. My deadlift is coming back. My coach thinks that my squat could be close to where it had been, but I still know that doesn’t necessarily mean I will PR across the board on Saturday. Without another woman in my age/weight class, I will be competing against myself. But I cannot compare myself to who I was last August. I cannot compare my results on Saturday to those from last August. Such a comparison would not be fair.

I do not know what I will be capable of on Saturday, but I still have goals. My goals might not be focused much on hitting specific numbers. I would like to have a perfect meet…going 9 for 9. I do want to break my Provincial bench record. Mostly, I want to walk away feeling proud of what I accomplished based on my capabilities, knowing that my capabilities had been hampered for several months. It won’t be my best ever competition in terms of numbers, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be one of the most satisfying competitions.

4 Days & Openers

Competition is in 4 days, and today was my first day back in my own gym with my coach. Today’s training was simple and essentially easy. I did squats, bench and deadlifts, working up to my potential openers…so not too heavy. It felt good to be in a familiar gym with familiar equipment with my coach who knows me so well. My back, though not 100% yet, has been feeling very good for the past few days. Like really good.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 5

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

With the exception of the first rep at 165, my squats were all good. The only issue with that one rep was that I dropped a little too quickly which pitched me forward on my ascent, but the second rep was much better. It’s so nice to have my squat back! These past few months have seen me looking like a different squatter almost every training session. Up until a few weeks ago, I’ve not been able to hit proper depth, which was so not like me at all. Everything is feeling good with my squat now.

1b. bench press-with legs and full arch

43 lbs x ? I wasn’t really counting! 73 x 5, 93 x 3, 115 x 1, x 1, 120 x 0, 120 x 1

Today’s bench started out well. The first rep at 115 was a little slow for Michael’s liking, so he had me do another. I don’t know what happened that first attempt at 120, but it was turning into a grinder, so Michael grabbed the bar. I expected it even before he took it, knowing that he wouldn’t want a grinder at this point in the game. I don’t know what happened. Did I bring the bar down to the wrong spot on my chest? I don’t know. Was the bar heavy? I don’t think so. Was it all in my head? Most likely. Michael asked if I wanted to try again or drop down. He didn’t know what happened either, because I am capable of doing several reps at that weight. Of course, I wanted to try again, and it was much better.

2. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 5, 145 x 3, 195 x 1

with belt: 215 x 1

The deadlifts were all good and easy today! Maybe my opener will be higher than 205 after all!

B is for Bench

I am a bit surprised to realize that I wasn’t nearly as nervous about this morning’s bench press session as I had expected to be. I was back at a commercial gym, and I managed to bribe my eldest son to come along as my spotter. It might have been harder to convince him to come with me than it was to actually bench, but I am glad that he did agree. He thought it was weird, but it would have felt weirder and more nerve-wracking for me to have had to ask a stranger to do it. Since I knew my son was already reluctantly agreeable, I decided to only do my bench pressing and band pull-aparts, which made for a short and sweet training session.

1a. bench press-competition grip, with legs and arch

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 95 x 3, 105 x 3, 115 x 3

125 x 1, 135 x 1

115 x 3

Today was my last heavy bench day. My coach’s instructions were to work up to 125-135 for singles without grinding or missing a rep. I’ve been mildly stressed all week thinking about the heavy singles. I knew I was capable of hitting both 125 and 135; however, I’ve only hit 135 pounds once and that was a couple of months ago. Even though I’ve always felt I was strong enough for more, my competition bench press has been stuck at 132.3 pounds since October 2015. Every time I’ve attempted to do more, I’ve failed and that has been frustrating. It’s messed with my head a fair bit, I think; so I have been nervous all week, wanting to hit 135 again but afraid that it wouldn’t happen, especially knowing that I shouldn’t even attempt 135 if 125 was slow. But this morning, I didn’t feel stressed out at all.

One positive to come out of my lengthy back pain battle is that I have done a lot of benching without an arch and without leg drive, which essentially put me in a less advantageous position, making pressing harder even with lighter weights. While I can’t say that 100% of my reps have been perfect, I have really dialed in my technique. It is more consistent, smooth and solid. Although we don’t test my maxes very often, we do believe that my bench is stronger. Okay, so sometimes Michael probably believes that more than I do! But I believed it today.

My warm-up sets all moved well. The single at 125 was fast and smooth, so I had no doubts about going up to 135. In the moment, the single at 135 felt a bit slow but decent, but it looks a bit faster in the video than it felt. Perhaps I can walk away from Provincials next week with a new bench personal and Provincial record!

9

Another not so great sleep. Another early start to the day. My body feels somewhat achy…a combination of the back, the shoulders, the neck, and mild muscle soreness. I am tired. Sounds like a broken record, I know. Do young people these days even know what a broken record sounds like?

My coach is still away, but I was blessed to be able to train at a friend’s house this morning. She has a lovely squat rack, one with reasonably spaced holes so I didn’t have to worry about awkward rack heights. It was a little odd to train in someone’s home, but it was also kind of nice. And I was glad to have someone “spot” my heavy squat attempts. Although a squat fail is rare for me, heavy weights can be scary and intimidating, so having someone there is comforting.

1. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 215 x 1, 225 x 1, 225 x 1, 225 x 1, 205 x 2

I am reasonably confident that my coach isn’t going to read this blog post, which may be a good thing, because I kind of did a little more than he probably would have liked. In my defense though, he had only given me the vaguest of instructions…on Thursday you could work up to 225 for singles…did he say single or singles? I don’t remember, but I don’t always do well with vague instructions, depending on the situation. I’m a details kind of person.

Ironically, my coach texted me as I finished the first rep at 225; however, his feedback was a little too slow to prevent me from going ahead with two more singles at that weight. By the time he texted that the first single was enough, I had already done two more! The first one was alright. The second one was more of a grinder than it should have been, which means I should have stopped. Sometimes I am stupid. The last one was okay, better than the second. The reason I went ahead with the third single was that the second one had issues. As I was stepping out with the bar, I hit the racks significantly. I should have racked the bar and refocused, but I didn’t. Then I was focusing on making sure I hit depth. I survived, but I know that my coach would have shut me down there based on bar speed.

2. bench press-competition grip, with legs and arch

45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 3, 110 x 3

These were easy and solid today. I just had to keep the bar moving well and with good speed. The heavy bench single will be Saturday.

My Provincials count down is now in single digits at 9 days! It feels so incredibly close but still so far away.