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!

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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.

 

It Is Well

“It’s okay if you’re scared about endings and new beginnings. But remember, you do it every single day. All will be well.” ~Nanea Hoffman

Four years ago today I walked into a private gym to meet with a personal trainer for the very first time. I was absolutely scared that day. Stepping into a gym was like landing in a foreign country where nobody speaks English and the food is unrecognizable. I felt awkward and out of place. So far outside of my comfort zone. My only real hope was that I might finally lose some of my excess weight, but even then I was doubtful.

The journey of the past four years has been incredible and life-changing. I am not the same person today as I was then. The road has not always been easy or free from potholes and roadblocks. There have been ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments. I have reached goals that far surpass my original goal to lose 20-25 pounds, goals that I could never have even anticipated setting for myself. I went from someone who was finally beginning to consider herself a runner to a competitive powerlifter. Four years ago, I hadn’t even heard of powerlifting. I changed jobs. I found myself.

As I reflect on the past four years and where I am today, I can see the road before me disappearing into a shimmer on the horizon. It is very true that every day is a new beginning and you cannot always see what is coming your way. The path of my journey veered slightly this summer with a change in training venue and coaching. Dealing with injury made the road bumpy for most of the year. My husband had major surgery and an ongoing heart issue. Changes at work. Relationship trials. The day-to-day stuff of life. I’ve continued to do it every single day.

 

Dippity-Do

For a while now Mondays had been the end of my weekend, but that has now changed. This is my first Monday which is actually my Thursday. It was odd working yesterday, and I frequently found myself thinking it was Saturday rather than Sunday. I am not used to working on a Sunday, but I will adapt.

1a. tempo squats-high bar, flat shoes, closer grip

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 6, 115 x 8, 135 x 6, 145 x 6, 145 x 6

My hand position when I squat usually has the outside of my hands touching the outer rings. Of course, I have often noticed that many powerlifters squat with their hands in much closer to their shoulders, so last week I started using a slightly closer hand position with my tempo squats and continued with that today. My hands were roughly a thumbs length from the inner edge of the knurling. The position certainly helps keep my elbows from flaring back, but it is also harder on the shoulders. So far the shoulders are doing okay.

The tempo squats were somewhat easier today compared to last week, although I did a few sets of single leg box step downs prior to last week’s squats. Today my coach let me do the squats before any single leg work. Maybe that made the difference or maybe I was just more familiar with the movement. Really, the breathing is the hardest part of the tempo squats. They were done with a 4 second eccentric, a 1 second pause, and a 2 second rise.

1b. incline bench press, grip about a thumbs length from inner knurling

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 8, 70 x 6, 70 x 6, 75 x 6, 75 x 5 + 1

The second set at 70 pounds was faster and easier than the first set at the same weight. That could be because my coach told me to blast through my sticking point as I was setting up for the set. Sometimes the little cues will help me. Sometimes they won’t. I ran into a positioning problem on the fifth rep of the final set. I had to rack the bar, take a couple seconds to regroup, and then finish the final rep.

2a. barbell split squats-high bar, same closer grip

75 lbs x 10 each, 85 x 10 each, 85 x 10 each

After the tempo squats, I had expected the single leg work to suck. These did not suck. Sure, I was breathing hard, dripping sweat, and shaking like jelly after each set, but the actual work wasn’t too difficult.

2b. hip thrusts with hip circle

with circle below knees x 30, with circle above knees x 30

2c. barbell rows-wider grip comparable to my bench press, trying to keep the elbows out

65 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 75 x 10

2d. dips

with blue band x 7, with orange band x 7, with orange x 6

Dips are one of those things that always intimidate me a bit, because I imagine that they are too difficult for me to do. The set with the blue band was easy enough. As I was setting up for the second set and felt how little resistance there was with the orange band, I imagined that I would not be able to do many reps. That first set of orange band reps actually surprised me. It wasn’t super easy, but it wasn’t as tough as I had expected. The final set was tougher, but my entire body was mostly jelly by this point.

There is still lots of time ahead me, but I have begun to allow trickles of competition thoughts to seep through my protective barriers. My next competition is 4 months away minus a few days. But what took me by surprise was realizing that Nationals will be about 3.5 months following that! It’s still plenty of time, more time than I had between competitions last year. In fact, last year I did 3 competitions within a 3 month span! That was just a little crazy and definitely not ideal. This year is certainly moving at a different pace than the previous year, but I’m okay with it.

Dazed & Confused

It’s been a long week. As much as is possible, while still going to work and the gym, I have been playing the role of a hermit. I am numb, confused, and hurting. There is so much that cannot be said about the situation, and I honestly don’t even understand what has happened. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I feel as if I have lost a friendship.

I have cried an ocean of tears. Food has lost appeal and flavour. I’ve had one completely sleepless night, followed by nights with sufficient hours of sleep but far from restful. On a couple of occasions, I have been literally trembling as nervous adrenaline has coursed through my veins…adrenaline born out of the fear of confrontation and rejection. My smile feels artificial. Laughter only skims the surface. How is it that a heart can be both heavy and shattered at the same time?

I’ve been going through the motions and not even doing those too well. Going to work has been mostly a distraction. I may be an introvert, but I am quite capable of giving good customer service with a smile, even when I’m raining on the inside. But sooner or later I will need to pick myself up from the floor, do some housework, plan some healthy meals, wipe away the tears that seem to be perpetually ready to spill, and feel the sunshine rather than focusing on the gloomy skies overhead. Depression is messy. My struggles with depression have always been mild to moderate, yet every downward spiral leaves me feeling as if I’m scrabbling up a rocky mountain. It is exhausting, and I am left bloodied, bruised, and worn. My confidence takes a massive hit, and I retreat within myself. This is where I feel safe, or at least safer. This is where I feel ugly and unlovable and unworthy. Somehow it always feels appropriate.

 

Pulling Weeds

I’ll be honest…my head is lost in thoughts and emotions that I am trying to process and work through. It will be okay in the end. I will be okay. Sometimes you just take an unexpected hit. Even when you ultimately know that the hit hasn’t harmed you, there is still a sting and rush of emotion. In situations like this I tend to not say much for a couple of reasons, but the main one being that I simply need time and space to process. Another reason is that I realize how volatile and deceptive emotions can be in the moment. I’m currently cycling through several feelings and thoughts, but I know that not all of them are true in this situation. I don’t want to respond or react from a false position. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone else, and it wouldn’t be fair to me. Part of my eternal struggle is with self-confidence and self-image, and the unexpected hits, both harmless and barbed, flood me with all sorts of negative thoughts about myself. I’ve come far enough in this journey to realize that not all of those negative thoughts are true or accurate. Some of those feelings can help me grow and be better. They can be used to my advantage; however, a great many of those feelings simply need to be discarded, since they only tear me down. But in the moment it isn’t always easy to sift through those thoughts and feelings. Even when I allow myself the time and space to work through them, those feelings and thoughts are insidious and quick to plant deep roots. Pulling each negative thought out is hard, emotional work. This is my thing. It has nothing to do with training or work or anything really, at least nothing that I am going to share. Sometimes I withdraw into myself, so if the blog posts become a little sparse or robotic for a time, that’s why. Or I’m just busy with life.

But anyway…

1a. snatch grip block pulls

45 lbs x 10, 95 x 8, 125 x 8, 145 x 8, 145 x 8

1b. double kettlebell bench presses

10kg x 12, 12kg x 10, 16kg x 10, 16kg x 10

1c. sit ups on the GHD

x 10, x 8, x 10, x 8

This was my first time doing sit ups in a very long time.

2a. single leg deadlifts holding 2-10kg kettlebells

x 10 each leg

2 sets of 20 alternating legs which was much easier for my balance

2b. single arm kettlebell row

16kg x 15 each, x 12 each, x 10 each

2c. renegade rows with 10 lb dumbbells

x 10, x 14, x 12

3. a 5 minute circuit

every minute on the minute: 5 pushups and then kettlebell swings (15, 12, 10, 10, 10)

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.