18 Days

Competition is 18 days away! That time feels both so distant and so close. Somehow the week or two before a competition is always crazy busy. Last night after I entered my work schedule into my calendar, I paused for a moment, feeling a tangle in my mind that I hadn’t expected. In unraveling it, I realized that I will be working 7 days in a row leading up to the competition. That’s not exactly how I had envisioned spending the bulk of those days, but I can get through it. Training should be minimal that week for a deload, but for now I’m still increasing the weights.

1. squats (2-0x0) 1-2 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 5, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 2, 205 x 2, 215 x 1

main event: 225 x 2, 225 x 2, 225 x 2, 225 x 2

Warm ups felt really good and moved well, I think. My bladder wasn’t playing nicely with me this morning. When you need to create tension by filling your belly with air and pushing it out against your belt, a full (or partially full) bladder can really interfere with that process. There are mornings when I can train without making a trek to the washroom…today was not such a day! In fact, I had to make two treks between sets. As annoying as it is to disrupt my training for a bathroom break, I’d rather do that and be able to fully create tension and use my belt effectively.

Yesterday I blogged about the fact that I haven’t had 225 pounds on my back since before Provincials in June. During Provincials, a 221 pound squat tweaked my back and set back my competition and training. My confidence has been growing over these recent weeks as I’ve found myself doing more reps and sets at heavy weights than I’ve ever done before. Once upon a time, I did 225 pounds for 2 reps but only one set. As I set myself up for the first set at 225 this morning, I wasn’t apprehensive or nervous. I knew I could do it. I knew I was going to do it. The reps didn’t all feel light or easy, but they still felt decent. Perception is funny. Some of the sets felt ugly, as if the bar was manhandling me, but what I saw on the video wasn’t nearly as bad as it felt. Regardless, I definitely felt my legs working. I am sure that I was missing a few cues here and there. Did I take a big enough breath each rep? Did I keep my chest up each rep? Was the bar over my midfoot each rep? I could watch the videos over and over and pick them apart to the best of my ability or wait for my coach to comment with his feedback. Today was another PR of sorts…my first time squatting 225 pounds for doubles for multiple sets!

2. bench press (2-1×0) 1 rep

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 4, 100 x 2, 115 x 1

main event: 125 x 1, 125 x 1, 125 x 1

These felt solid.

3. chest supported rows 10-12 reps

55 lbs x 12, 55 x 8, 55 x 8

Although the first set is never what I’d call easy, I always feel like it was easy enough that I will be able to get more reps on subsequent sets. Yeah, no.

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Respect for 225

I opened up the week’s training plan this morning. This might have been the first time in recent weeks that my eyebrows didn’t pop up and my jaw didn’t drop while reading what my coach had programmed for me. I actually find that fact quite interesting. With competition less than 3 weeks away now, the volume is dropping. Hallelujah! Of course, the weights are still increasing, although not beyond anything I’ve done in the past. I will be doing more reps at those weights than I’ve done before, but I think multiple single reps shouldn’t be a problem. Having had a couple of weeks with strong results recently, I feel very optimistic about the week ahead.

And yet, there is that teensy sliver of apprehension with tomorrow’s squats. 225 pounds for 1-2 reps. It is only 10 pounds more than I did last week for triples. I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I haven’t had that much weight on my back for a long time! I keep saying that because it is true. It’s been more than 4 months. The last time I squatted 225 pounds was leading up to Provincials in June. Hitting that weight in training then was fine; however, my second squat attempt at Provincials was 220 pounds. Although I was successful in the lift, something tweaked in my back in the process and the squat was painful and ugly. What should have been an easy second squat wasn’t and the back issues continued.

I think my back is generally doing quite well now. There was a little flare up a few weeks ago while deadlifting, but I’ve been aggressive in rehab and it seems to be doing fine. Squats have been feeling good the past couple of weeks, so I honestly have no reason to expect anything drastically different tomorrow. They could feel a bit heavy or tough and still be good. The first set will be important as it is where my confidence can be made or broken. My first set isn’t always the best, but being able to push through to finish well can fill me with the confidence needed to regroup and improve the next set. Alternatively, a really tough first set can make me feel weak and incapable. I am not either of those things.

225 pounds should be a relatively easy weight for me, but I also know that you need to respect the weight on the bar. That is a decent amount of weight! There are grown men who weigh that much…and I’m figuratively about to throw one of them on my back and squat once, twice, and over again.

Smooth Sailing

In training, as in many aspects of life, there are good days and bad days. The exact same weight can look and feel completely different from one day to the next. It might feel super easy today, but then you might feel crushed beneath the same weight next week. I have experienced these ups and downs over the course of my 4 years of training, and I’ve been blessed to have wise and seasoned individuals in my life to remind me that those ups and downs, good days and bad days are completely normal. They happen to everyone, and I’d like to think that the ups and downs are actually beneficial. Smooth sailing is pleasant and safe, but a lack of adversity can actually make you weak. It might even prevent you from venturing into faster, rougher waters for fear of the unknown dangers that could be waiting ahead. Easy is nice for a season, but I think we grow best in the storm and struggles, in the gym and outside of it. Fighting to reach a goal. Pushing through adversity. Swallowing pride, disappointment and frustration. Sweating. Straining. Determination. Resistance. Those are the catalysts for growth, for change.

This is why I try not to let tough days get me down for very long. I might feel frustrated in the moment, but I’ve been learning to embrace the suck. As I approach the bar for a set that feels hard and maybe more than I am capable of, I feel a hurricane of emotions raging inside. Fear. Doubt. Anger. Pride. Insecurity. Anxiety. Hopefulness. Despair. I feel them all and more that I cannot put a name to. I feel them battering away at my confidence, then I batten down the hatches and do what I need to do. Am I always successful? No. Sometimes I need to drop reps. Sometimes my body hurts. Once in a while, I simply fail. But I do the best that I can in the moment, knowing that a tough session doesn’t equal failure. I’ve got competition goals, and those goals can only be achieved on the platform. I can perform those goal weights in the gym, but I would only get personal pride in the achievement. On the flip side, fighting through 5 tough squat sets of 4 reps at 180 pounds does not automatically indicate that I will bomb my squats at competition.

Last week’s squats, those 5 sets of 4 reps at 180 pounds, felt tough and some of the reps felt ugly. The exact same weight, sets and reps the week before also felt rather tough. Until today, 180 pounds was the most weight I’ve had on my back since June 10 and that resulted in re-tweaking my back. Today’s training called for squats at 200 pounds, and I was respectfully apprehensive. That’s what months of injury and rehab will do to your sense of capability. I expected 200 pounds to feel tough. I expected that I might struggle through the reps and sets. The rep range was 2-3, and I was already mentally preparing myself to strive for 2 reps and not stress out over not getting all 3. I was even expecting that my back might erupt into pain again. I expected all of those things, but I walked into the gym with confidence in my step, in the knowledge that I am a fighter, determined and focused. Good, bad, or ugly…I was going to meet it head on.

1. competition squats (2-0x0) 2-3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 3, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 2

main event: 200 lbs x 3, 200 x 3, 200 x 3, 200 x 3, 200 x 3

Remember how I said 180 pounds has felt tough for the past two weeks? The final warm up set at 185 pounds felt a little bit heavy, but 200 pounds felt lighter and easier. Although I had prepared myself to simply strive for 2 reps, I had no trouble getting 3 reps for all 5 sets. While there might have been a rep here or there that wasn’t quite perfect, most of the reps felt and looked (at least the ones that I had video of) pretty darn good! My coach said I crushed it, and that’s exactly how I feel about it. After the first working set, I racked the bar and walked over to stop my video and broke into a big, sassy grin. I had approached the bar for that first set with trepidation and determination, and, as I was squatting, I realized that I was going to be okay. Confidence surged within me.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 2 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 2

All those sets were done with my feet on the bench. The back was feeling decent, but, knowing how much arching can quickly aggravate my back when it is irritated, I am going to take whatever measures I can to minimize the aggravation. At least until my back returns to normal function again!

100 x 2, 110 x 2

main event: 120 lbs x 2, 120 x 2, 120 x 2

In the same way that I haven’t squatted 200 pounds for almost 4 months, I also haven’t benched 120 pounds for just as long. Bench press is by far my weakest of the big 3 lifts, and my bench press in competition has been stuck at the same weight for two years. Now that is frustration if I ever experienced it! The programming given to me by my new coach has pushed me and my bench press further and harder than I’m used to going, but so far I’ve been able to keep pace.

The fact that a heavy squat has the ability to crush you like a bug will always make me feel more apprehension than a heavy bench press; however, once I crushed those heavy squats today, I had to look 120 pounds in the eye and tell myself that I was capable. And I was. The bar felt a bit heavy and the reps felt a little slow, but everything looked good on the videos!

3. pause squats (3-2×0) 3 reps

155 lbs x 3, 155 x 3, 155 x 3

4. chest supported rows (2-0x1) 10-12 reps

55 lbs x 10, 55 x 10, 55 x 8

Having completed my session, I walked to the change room with my head high and shoulders back. Maybe there was some swagger in my step, too. I’ve had a fair number of tough training days lately, but today was a good one. Day 2 will see more apprehension when I attempt to deadlift the most weight I’ve done since June. Day 3 will test me again when I am supposed to bench 120 pounds for 5 sets of 3 reps. Those could be good days or bad ones, but I’m looking forward to the challenges. Tomorrow will be 31 days until the competition!

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

decide

Week 11 of my training program begins tomorrow, and this week will see a shift in focus as competition is now less than 5 weeks away. The accessory work will shrink significantly, while I put in a lot of practice for my competition lifts, heavier weights and fewer reps. It’s an exciting time, even if the hard work continues.

I have experienced a wide range of emotions in the weeks leading up to prior competitions. Right now, I feel strangely disconnected. Competition is 4 weeks plus a few days away, and I have barely given much thought to it. Yes, I have thought about it, a little, but there is no emotion attached to the thoughts. It’s a date on my calendar…a date that I’ll get excited about as it draws near. Maybe part of the reason for this is the fact that I now train by myself. Also, with so much of the year spent dealing with injury, I have had to accustom myself to having tempered emotions in regards to training and competing. Last week’s back pain flare up barely caused a ripple of emotion. The timing sucked. The pain sucked. The potential of being thrown back to the beginning sucked. But I didn’t wallow. I didn’t panic or freak out. I breathed. I carried on with life and allowed myself some extra rest. I used every tool in my toolbox to help the problem. I did not stress out over how this set-back could possibly impact my competition. I carried on, knowing that I am okay. I will be okay, and I am not defined by the things I do.

The back has been improving quite rapidly since last Thursday’s whatever it was that happened. I finished off Week 10’s training yesterday, but my coach did make changes to my loads, reps, and sets. The back held up fine, but now I am facing Week 11. Tomorrow’s squats call for working sets at 200 pounds. On the one hand, it will be exciting to feel 200 pounds on my back again. However, it has been a long time since I’ve had 200 pounds on my back! I am almost 100% confident that I haven’t had that much weight on my back since Provincials in early June, and that sparks a bit of fear within me. Especially in light of the recent back pain flare. What if? That question taunts me. What if the back hurts again? What if I can’t do the squats?

Lifting heavy weights is fun, but it is also scary. You need confidence in your ability to lift heavy, and yet, I think having a healthy level of fear is normal and beneficial. Too much fear can paralyze you, make you too tentative and run you into trouble. Too much confidence can put you at risk of injury from over-reaching your ability. There is a happy road down the middle…I just need to find it and stay there.

 

Finishing off the Week

Last Thursday’s training session didn’t go quite as I had expected. Disappointing sessions come and go, but walking out of a session in physical pain is not ideal at all. Although I don’t think I did anything in particular to cause the back issue to flare up, that’s what happened. Since then I have been doing rehab stuff at home and enjoying some extra rest. My coach scaled back my numbers for today’s training session, too. The back has been improving each day. It’s still not as good as it was before Thursday, but I’m hopeful that it will get there soon.

1. competition bench (2-1×0)

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

I did all my warm up sets with my feet on the bench and no arch, since I knew that arching would probably tax my back more than anything else planned for the day.

main event: 95 lbs x 3, 95 x 3, 95 x 3

I set up with an arch for the first two sets and put my feet up for the third, not because I needed to but just because I could. The weight felt easy and light, so I knew I could manage without leg drive easily enough.

2. squats (3-0x0)

warm up: 45 lbs x 6, 95 x 6

main event: 125 lbs x 4, 125 x 4, 125 x 4

These also felt easy and light, and the back held up just fine.

3. close grip bench (3-1×0)

75 lbs x 6, 75 x 6, 75 x 6

I kept my feet down for all of these sets. There was some very mild aching in the back overall, but it felt essentially fine.

4. side planks

x 30 seconds each side, x 25 seconds each side

Here I Go Again?

Something happened in the midst of my deadlift sets this morning, and my back has been cranky ever since. Only this is the right side of my lower back, while the left side has bothered me most over the course of the year. <sigh> Just yesterday my coach had asked how the SI was feeling, and I said everything was feeling good. <sigh> About 5 weeks out from competition and this is not what I want to be feeling right now. Fatigue? Yes. Minor aches and pains? Okay. This? No. But I know what to do and I am motivated to do what it takes to get this back under control again.

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 4-5 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 7, 135 x 4, 165 x 4, with belt 195 x 3, 205 x 2

main event, with belt: 220 lbs x 5, 220 x 5, 220 x 4, 220 x 4, 220 x 2

Deadlifts were feeling good up until midway through the third working set when I felt a mild ache on the right side of my lower back. It could be felt throughout my final sets, too. In fact, the final set was cut short, because I lost my tension while trying to stretch my back a bit between reps.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 6-8 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 4, 100 x 3

The mild back ache gained some intensity during my bench sets thanks to the arch. I put my feet up on the bench to keep my back flat for my final two warm up sets.

main event: 110 lbs x 5, 110 x 6, 110 x 4, 110 x 3

Feet down and as much arch as I could tolerate which seemed to get less and less each set. These felt tough today, and I certainly had better numbers with the same weight last week. Thankfully my shoulder wasn’t an issue, but the back certainly was.

3. pause deadlifts (3-1×0) 4-6 reps

145 lbs x 5, 145 x 5, 145 x 4

With the way my back was feeling, I expected that these would be problematic and hard; however, they actually felt pretty good. I was definitely fatigued by the final set though, and there was a lovely burn in my glutes by the time I’d finish a set.

4. pull downs

70 lbs x 8, 80 lbs x 6

My coach programmed 90 pounds for these today, but I could barely get the bar to my chest. I dropped the weight and then added a bit on the second set. Again, I had better numbers for these last week.

5. plank

x 50 seconds, x 35 seconds, x 30 seconds

I came into the gym expecting a tough but good session, so what I experienced was a bit frustrating. Tough is acceptable, but I am so done with the back issues! And right now, I’m in a bit of pain. I’ve got some stretches and rolling to do at home, and I’ve been instructed to take an extra rest day. I will. That will mean making adjustments to next week’s training days, but I need to keep this back issue from becoming a major thing again.

Week 10 Begins

I almost feel my age today. You’d think that having an extra rest day would make this morning’s training session feel easier, better, but no. That’s not how it felt at all. I felt random aches and pains in multiple spots, although none were of great concern. As I felt the life being sucked out of me while squatting, I reflected on my training over the past year or even two. Without a doubt, my training is significantly harder and heavier these past couple of months than it has been all year. Of course, I was also dealing with an injury for most of the year, and that had a huge impact on my training. Still, without looking back through old training logs, I think my current training is still tougher than what I have done before, even when healthy. That doesn’t mean I’ve never had heavy or tough training sessions before. I certainly have! Just not in the same way all the time. If I wasn’t feeling so drained it might be interesting to compare my current training with previous competition prep. This will be my first competition under a different coach, so I expect that there will be differences in programming and philosophy.

1. competition squats (2-0x0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 5, 165 x 4

main event, with belt: 180 lbs x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4

The squats felt tough and ugly. My final warm up set felt brutal. The third and fourth working sets probably felt the best out of the bunch.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 4, 85 x 4, 105 x 3

main event: 115 lbs x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4

Warm ups felt fine. The working sets felt tough. The ache in the right shoulder that started during last Friday’s bench session continued, although it was not as much of a factor today. At least I don’t think it was. But maybe. Even getting those fourth reps was a bit of a grind.

3. pause squats (3-2×0) 5-7 reps

135 lbs x 5, 135 x 5, 135 x 5

4. glute bridges

135 lbs x 10, 135 x 10, 135 x 10

These were the easiest thing I did this morning…and I could have done so much more!

5. chest supported rows

55 lbs x 12, 55 x 10, 55 x 8

So glad it is my Friday. What are the odds of fitting in a nap before I go to work today?