Feeling Progress

Last night I went to a theatre production of Anne of Green Gables with my daughter. The show was amazing, and we were thrilled to be there. A couple of weeks ago I suddenly realized that I might have a painful problem with taking in the performance, namely the pain in my back and my inability to sit. Since the back pain issues began late in January, I have severely restricted the time that I sit to what has been absolutely necessary, like in the car, if we were out to eat somewhere without tall tables, or for the few minutes required to do some computer stuff at work. The longest I could sit with minimal pain was 10-15 minutes. How was I going to survive nearly 3 hours of sitting? But then last week was drastically improved from the previous several weeks, giving me hope that I might make it, at least without tears of pain. I think I managed to sit comfortably until about midway through the first act and then the squirming began. Intermission was an opportunity to stand up and walk before squirming uncomfortably through the final act. While I did manage to stay seated for the performance, I was definitely in a hurry to stand up and walk outside as soon as the show was over. I take last night as a small victory in this battle with my back! Sitting is still something that I should and will keep to the bare minimum as much as I am able, but it feels good to discover all of the things that reveal healing and progress. It makes me feel even more hopeful that this disc issue with resolve itself, that I will be able to compete at Provincials in June, and maybe even that I will be able to do more at Provincials than I have allowed myself to hope for considering the past few months.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

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

with belt: 155 x 5, 170 x 5, 170 x 5, 175 x 5, 175 x 5

Last Friday’s squats were a hot mess. The bar felt heavy, and my bar path was all over the place. Today’s squats were sweet and steady. The bar felt light. My bar path was consistently over my mid-foot. No forward pitching. Good speed from the first rep to the last. The only thing not ideal with my squats is the depth, but since the back is resistant to hitting proper depth I’m not trying to fight it. Yet. When it is time to compete, I will need to be deeper. Right now, we just need to peak my strength without hurting my back.

1b. bench press-competition grip, last rep paused

feet on bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5

Because of the back, I’ve been doing most of my benching these past couple of months with my feet on the bench. This has allowed me to bench without too much arch in my back in an attempt to prevent too much aggravation to the original SI joint problem and the current disc problem. I am capable of benching without a full arch and leg drive, but it is certainly more difficult. Difficult isn’t necessarily bad; it’s kind of like deadlifting from a deficit. It’s harder but will benefit you down the road. With all this benching without leg drive, Michael has noticed that my lockout has suddenly become a bit slower, as if my triceps are weaker. I’m sure my triceps are somewhat weak, but it also stands to reason that part of the problem is the lack of leg drive and the lack of arch which helps keep my shoulders in position. So, Michael suggested trying to bench with my feet on plates on the floor. The plates would reduce the distance slightly and hopefully allow me to arch without causing more pain in the back.

with feet on 45 lb plates: 105 lbs x 5, 110 x 5, 115 x 5, 115 x 5

The back felt okay. There was some mild discomfort in getting into position, but everything felt fine once the bar was unracked and I went about pressing. There’s really no reason why I shouldn’t be able to arch. Flexion is where my back really feels restricted. The sets done without leg drive weren’t bad, but these sets with leg drive were so much better! The final set was probably the fastest and smoothest of them all.

2a. pause squats-slow, controlled eccentric, with belt, roughly 2-3 second pauses

115 lbs x 5, 135 x 5

Michael wanted these slow and controlled so that I could find where my comfortable depth was. The bar was super light, but we decided to stay at the same weight for the second set. Right before I was ready for the final set, I decided to add more weight to the bar. The first set was like nothing on my back, and I know I am capable of pause squatting more weight. Even 135 pounds was still super easy. Depth was close to parallel, but not where I need it to be.

2b. TRX supine rows-with legs straight + with knees bent

x 5 + 5, x 5 + 5

Supine rows suck, but I do the sucky things when I am told, knowing they are for a purpose and will make me better. Honestly, these still sucked but didn’t feel as bad as I expected. I’m pretty sure that doing these bothered my back the last time I had to do them! Just another little step forward!

Climb Every Mountain

Last Friday’s training session looked drastically different than today’s. Last week I was in a lot of pain, my front squats were stopped almost as soon as they had begun, and I was still wondering when I would ever begin to feel better. I was trudging uphill, emotionally and physically drained from the effort, completely unaware of just how close I was to the summit. Now that I seem to be on the road to wellness, I find my energy returning, even though my emotions still appear to be all over the place. I can be one motivational post away from bursting into tears, yet I feel hopeful, joyful, determined, focused, excited. Provincials are 7 weeks away. My back still isn’t 100%. It still isn’t wholly cooperative in the gym, but it is time to ramp up the training to peak my strength for competition. Although there has often been some sort of minor problem during my previous competition prep, this is the first time preparing for a meet after such a prolonged, painful and limiting injury, which means I really have no idea what will happen over the next 7 weeks. But I am looking forward to seeing what I can do. In spite of. Despite. Because I believe I can. I will.

1a. squats-low bar, without sleeves

45 lbs x 10, 95 x 6, 115 x 7

with belt: 135 x 7, 145 x 7, 145 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7

Since we are 7 weeks from competition and I’m dealing with the back problem, we need to work patterns more than spending a lot of time on accessory movements. My squat pattern has been all over the place since the start of the back problems, mostly due to the fact that there is restriction in how my back moves which has affected my ability to hit proper depth. That inability to squat deep also prevents me from taking advantage of the spring reflex coming out of the hole. My eccentric is also slower in an effort to control my descent to avoid going deeper than my back will comfortably allow. Although my knees usually push forward a fair bit when I squat, the back problem has also resulted in my knees pushing forward even more. I’m afraid I’d be a “quarter” squatter if I tried to prevent the forward knee movement. I have never had as much struggle with hitting depth as I have these past couple of months. Today’s squats still had depth issues, but there were also several reps where I had to fight against my body pitching forward.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 12, 63 x 8, 83 x 5, 105 x 4, 105 x 4, 105 x 4, 105 x 4, 110 x 4

These were all done with my feet on the bench and a minimal arch. Without my normal arch and the ability to use my legs, it is more difficult to get (and keep) the shoulders in the proper position. But I’m okay with making things more difficult when it makes me stronger in the end.

2a. glute-ham raises

x 15

with arms straight up overhead x 12

2b. push ups

x 7, x 5

I haven’t done push ups for a while, but I didn’t expect them to be too much of a problem. Weird! Did I just say that? Since when do I think push ups won’t be a problem?! Unfortunately, despite my optimism, the push ups were more challenging than I anticipated due to the fact that holding the proper position caused an unpleasant feeling in my very low back.

2c. ab wheel

x 10, x 10

There was more of that unpleasant very low back feeling while doing the ab wheel, although to a slightly lesser degree.

I practically dragged my carcass home after training last Friday, because I was in so much pain. There is still pain. In fact, I must have moved oddly or too quickly when getting up off the bench after one set of pressing, because I had to take a second or two to breathe and recover from the jolt of pain. However, the difference between today and a week ago is like night and day. Now we do our best to push the training while still respecting the injury and allowing it to continue to heal.

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?

Becoming Mrs. Clean

It was going to happen sooner or later, but now that I really should begin I want to drag my feet. What am I talking about? Cleaning up my diet. I knew I’d eventually have to do it to make weight for competition, but I wasn’t expecting to start now. The reason for cleaning up my diet now has nothing to do with making weight and everything to do with reducing inflammation. My chiropractor suggested this due to the inflammation in my lower back. Although I have eaten super clean for periods of time and for specific reasons in the past, right now I feel stubbornly opposed.

I don’t want to give up a glass or two of wine on my weekend. I don’t want to make the extra effort required to prep food for work that doesn’t include flour, sugar, or processed items.

How interesting! Here I have been making small efforts over the past several months to re-focus my eating habits. I’ve been focusing on eating more vegetables again, on planning meals in advance, on eating less processed stuff, so this suggestion to clean my diet even more shouldn’t be as onerous as it feels. I think I just feel unprepared.

Although I have done well with meal planning for the past few weeks, I will admit that I really have nothing planned for this week. I did plan for yesterday’s dinner, but I could only come up with blanks for the rest of the week. My schedule is such that I won’t be home to prep or eat dinner with the rest of the family almost every day of the week, and that scenario tends to be where I struggle with meal planning the most. Unfortunately, when you are trying to eliminate sugars, flours and processed foods, many quick and easy meal solutions are suddenly problematic. A sandwich? Nope. Cereal? No. Forget about treats like muffins or brownies or ice cream. Dairy should probably go, too.

I am working a close shift tonight, which means I need a snack and something closely resembling dinner to eat on my breaks. In cleaning up the kitchen last night, my husband tossed the rest of the rice which I had thought I would bring with some of the chicken and vegetable stew I made for dinner yesterday. The stew without the extra carbs just wouldn’t be enough. This is where the stubborn streak began to tug at my emotions, telling me that I didn’t need to do this. But I do. I am weary of this back pain and the limitations that come with it. I want the problem to resolve, go away and never come back. I want to be able to squat to proper depth without feeling as if my back is stuck. I want to be able to set up for a bench press without wincing and holding my breath. I want to be able to deadlift again. Heck, I’d like to just sneeze without feeling like a bomb went off in my lower back. Or sit! I haven’t done a lot of sitting for well more than a year, but I’d love to just sit for a while without pain. I want to get better, which is why I do the drills my chiropractor tells me to do. I want to get better, which is why I listen to my coach’s advice on when to push and when to play it safe. I want to get better, so I am going to clean up my eating habits…it just might not be perfect immediately.

I already know that I will be starving by the time I get home from work tonight, but I made the effort to prepare some food to take to work with me. Raw veggies to enjoy with some guacamole. A salad of mixed greens, veggies, seeds and nuts, and some roasted chicken I set aside when making yesterday’s stew…and a simple olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. My meal break will be around 5pm and I work until 9:30. I bet I’ll be starving by 7:30.

Sorry/Excited

notasplanned

My competition is 11 weeks away, and I have been dealing with this SI joint problem for about 8 weeks. Isn’t it funny how oddly time can feel? It seems as if I’ve been dealing with the SI issue for so much longer, while competition seems to be coming towards me like a high speed train. These past 8 weeks have caused me a great deal of pain and frustration, physically and emotionally. I haven’t always handled it well. I’ve been frustrated with myself, because it was my own stupidity that resulted in the SI problem in the first place. I’ve been frustrated with the pain, the discomfort, the restrictions to my mobility. I’ve been frustrated that getting back to normal seems to be taking so long. I’ve been frustrated by the interference to my training, and that interference has been messing with my confidence as I look forward to Provincials and reaching new goals.

I hit a low last Wednesday when my brief deadlift session didn’t go as planned and the SI issue reared its ugly head with renewed fierceness. The day before had been such a good day, probably one of the best since the problem started. I was feeling hopeful that the worst had passed, that I was finally on my way to normal. Wednesday took all of my hope and joy and crushed it. I was in pain. I was crushed. I went to see my chiropractor…in despair and misery. He promptly gave me a hug, because he said I needed one. He made me laugh and “dance”, and he told me we had lots of time yet before Provincials. Simple things. Well, getting me to dance is no simple thing, but he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He was just himself, and a major reason why I even see a chiropractor is because of his character and nature. I needed that hug just like I needed to laugh and dance and be reminded that I would be okay.

That day was definitely a low one; however, each day is new and full of hope and opportunity. I had to remember who I am and what I am capable of. The path behind me is littered with reminders of my character, focus, determination, and ability to press through tough spots. This SI joint issue has become much more than a speed bump, but it doesn’t have to become a permanent road block. My training might not go as I’d like leading up to a competition, but I know how to work hard and smart. I know how to focus on the finish line and to fight for the goals I want to reach. I know the importance of a positive attitude and outlook. I know how to see threads of silver in the storm clouds, and I know the beauty and wonder of the rainbow once the storm has passed.

My focus is narrowing, because I do have goals and I am not content to stay stuck. The SI is still cranky, but my own crankiness is waning. Crankiness is being replaced with excitement. I don’t know what the next 11 weeks will hold for me, but I am determined to make the most of them.

Attack of the Back and Other Sad Tales

Now is the time to begin a season of high volume training. As we get closer to competition, then the weight will continue to climb while the volume will drop. High volume generally sucks, but I’m still excited for the hard work ahead. I do reserve the right to whine a little now and then, because high volume does suck. Competition thrills me, and I’ve been restlessly waiting for the chance to get back to competition mode; however, I am also feeling something else, which is quite different from anything I’ve felt heading into competition before.

A bit of fear and uncertainty? I’m trying to think of the most accurate word to describe this feeling, and I’m drawing blanks. Tentative? Pessimism? Insecurity? Perhaps if you take all of those feelings…fear, uncertainty, unsettled, doubtful, doom & gloom…and swirl them all together, then that might reflect what I’m feeling. There is usually some measure of fear and uncertainty leading up to any competition, but this goes beyond the normal and revolves around my lower back. As much as the back is improving, I worry and fret and stew that it won’t improve enough or quickly enough or ever. It can feel okay in so many ways, and yet, the simplest things can also feel uncomfortable and tough. Sitting on the toilet or in the car hurts. Bending forward, lifting my right leg to put on pants is not always easy…often feels like my back just won’t bend enough that way. I can stand and walk without any issue. The back can feel generally fine, but then, like this morning, I can wake up with a cranky back from whatever position I managed to sleep in. The back felt decent yesterday, but I woke up with it feeling stiff and sore, which meant that it bothered me more in training. And that only fuels this mad swirl of emotions, because how am I going to be ready for competition when the back continues to be an issue…

I can literally feel my mood descending into the pit of despair. I want to cry. I want to have a little, or big, pity party, yet I don’t. I want to pull myself up and shake off the negative thoughts, but after the pity party. Maybe I’ll finish this blog post and go for a walk.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

warm-up: 45 x 8, 95 x 7, 125 x 7 with belt

The lower back didn’t feel so great during the first two sets.

with belt: 145 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7

total volume: 6170 pounds

I have no idea what my depth was like, and Michael wasn’t always watching that. But I think the bar path was generally good. The weight definitely wasn’t maximal, but there’s no need to increase it too quickly, especially with the ongoing back issue.

1b. bench press-competition grip

warm-up: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 7, 83 x 7 with belt

I do not bench with a belt, but Michael suggested trying it. The back wasn’t too happy with getting into my bench position for the first two sets (and pretty much every set after), but this first set with a belt didn’t feel too bad.

103 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7

total volume: 4378 pounds

I wore a belt for the first three working sets but opted to go beltless for the final set. I’m not certain if the belt truly helped at all, but I could feel a weird sensation in my abdominal muscles while benching with the belt. Maybe that is due to the fact that I’m used to pushing out against the belt for squatting and deadlifts. In benching without a belt, I think I just tighten or lock down my abs rather than pushing outward with them.

Bench was decent today, despite the back discomfort. Michael would smirk as I’d finish each set, because my last rep would be faster than the previous ones.

3c. band pull-aparts

5 sets of 15, 1 set of 10-orange band and these were actually done before my bench press

2a. pause squats-high bar, 2 second pause

115 lbs x 5 x 3 sets

In a way, these felt easier and more comfortable than the previous squats, even though it felt strange to do high bar. I love pause squats, although I think I am currently a little afraid of them since it was a super-extended (and stupid) pause squat that caused my back issue. These felt good. They felt super easy. They were easy.

2b. dumbbell bench press

25 lbs x 12, 34 lbs x 9, 34 x 8

Unlike the barbell bench presses, my final rep was not faster than the previous ones!

Now I’m off to enjoy my pity party…

 

Gains & Losses

Facebook has a lovely feature which reminds you of stuff that you posted on that same date over previous years. A few days ago, as I perused my “on this day” highlights, I noticed one of my blog posts from last year. I found it rather amusing, because I had a momentary freak out that day when I stepped on the scale and realized that I was 164 pounds. The number itself didn’t bother me, but I had a competition in two months and wanted to be in the 148 pound weight class. I cut out flours and sugars initially, then cut my calorie intake by roughly 2-300 calories/day. And wine. I cut that out, too. I didn’t work at Starbucks at that time, but I was a regular customer and the baristas became well acquainted with my no fun orders for those weeks. As much as I would like to say that the entire process was difficult, the truth is that it was not as challenging as some might imagine it to be. It wasn’t always fun. I was hungry at times. I missed sipping wine. But I was focused on the task and was able to rise to the challenge in order to reach my goals. Losing 16 pounds in 8 weeks isn’t necessarily the best, but I also didn’t do anything crazy drastic, at least not until the last few days prior to weigh-in. I made weight…after stripping off my clothes!

The memory amuses me, because I’ve been reluctant to step on the scale for several weeks now but also knowing that I really should do so soon. If I were to make a guess, I think I am probably around 164 pounds again. No big deal, I know, but I’m now about 12 weeks out from competition. This is with a different association with slight variances in weight classes, so I don’t need to get down to 148 pounds again yet! My weight class maxes out at 158 pounds. My reluctance to step on the scale has been born out of dread, thinking that I was ridiculously above my weight class. That line of thinking is completely silly, but sometimes the brain just doesn’t see the numbers as they actually are. There are times when I’m squatting or benching and forget how much weight is on the bar. It might feel very heavy or light, and my thoughts will be swirling as I go through the motion, trying to remember what the weight is. I think my reaction to my perceived weight at this point in time prior to competition follows that same twisted mental process, where I forget what the numbers actually mean. I was freaking out inside over all the weight I’d have to lose to make my weight class in June, but talking about it with my coach yesterday made me realize that I’m not as far over as I feel. (Of course, until I actually step on the scale and verify my weight!) If I am accurate in thinking I’m around 164 pounds, then I’m only 6 pounds over and that can easily be dropped in a relatively short period of time. There is no need to panic yet, but I’m still somewhat afraid to step on the scale. First thing tomorrow morning…if I don’t forget as I’m getting ready for work at 4:50AM!