Aches, Pains & Injury

It’s no secret that this year hasn’t gone as well as I might have planned or hoped in terms of my training and powerlifting. The “little” SI joint problem that began all the way back at the end of January has been an ongoing presence in my life. Although it has greatly improved, especially over the past couple of months, there remains an ache, a discomfort that is just there more than it is actually an issue. Midway through Monday’s training session, I began to feel little aches in other parts of my body. A bunching up sensation behind my right knee when I’d squat. An entirely different sensation behind the left knee as if I had hyper-extended it. There was a general sense that something was out of sorts in my pelvis. Some of my disc issue symptoms are subtly shifting into my perception again…a bit of tingling/numbness in the big toe of my right leg and a heavy, achy feeling at the bottom of my hip. Everything combined truly is not all that much to complain about…it is just there and I can feel it. Maybe I’m just acutely aware of what is going on with my body, and I suppose that makes sense considering the nature of my training over the past few years. But let me just say that coming back from an injury sucks! I hesitate to call my SI joint issue an injury, but I suppose there really is no other way to look at it.

With only two competitions this year and the first one being less than what I would have liked, I am hoping for a much better performance in November. Of course, I have a goal in mind for that competition. It isn’t out of line with my capabilities, at least my capabilities pre-SI joint problem! As much as I believe that I am still entirely capable of achieving this goal, I’m hesitant and cautious, knowing that this has not been my best year. Over the past few weeks of training with a new program written by a new coach, I’ve had moments where I felt as if I was so far removed from what I know I can do, moments when the weights felt so much heavier than they actually were and I wasn’t completely confident that I could regain my strength. Yet, there have also been moments when I have felt strong and confident and could envision being capable of more. The line between those opposing feelings is paper thin. Today’s deadlifts made me feel strong and confident and capable, but then my incline bench left me feeling weak and frustrated. The feedback from my coach was that my incline sets were looking perfect, that struggling is expected at this point. Hallelujah!

1. deadlifts (2-2×1)

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 8, 135 x 4, 165 x 4

main event, with belt: 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 5

2. incline bench (3-1×0)

warm up: 45 lbs x 8

main event: 65 lbs x 8, 65 x 8, 65 x 5

These were definitely tougher today. The rep range was 8-15, but I stopped each set with maybe, maybe one rep left in the tank.

3. stiff legged deadlifts (3-1×0)

115 lbs x 15, 115 x 13

4a. side plank

x 25 seconds, x 25s, x 25s

4b. barbell row

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

4c. glute bridge

60 lbs x 15, 60 x 15, 60 x 15

The weight for the glute bridges is not a struggle at all; however, that weight is becoming uncomfortable and awkward when it comes to getting into position and having the weight across my abdomen.

 

 

Yokes & Blocks

Generally if you were to ask me which day in my training week is my favourite, I would hesitate with uncertainty. Upper body work is not really a favourite, because my upper body is basically weak; however, I do enjoy most aspects of my training. Picking a favourite day isn’t an easy thing to do. Since my last competition, my training has looked vastly different than it has for a long time. This is not a bad thing, but it has been tougher than training for a competition in some ways. As I was driving to the gym this afternoon, I thought about what I’d be doing today and felt almost a sense of relief that I’d most likely be doing block pulls. My training lately has been a lot of single leg work. I’m not complaining…not really! I know there is tremendous value in switching up the training, and I am more than willing to put in the work. Somehow block pulls just feel less challenging than the single leg stuff. In fact, I was given the option today to do block pulls or trap bar deadlifts. I chose block pulls, which was probably the better choice anyway, since the blocks are about the height where I tend to run into trouble when deadlifting.

1a. single arm landmine presses

45 lbs x 6 each, 55 lbs x 8 each, 65 lbs x 7 each, 65 x 6 each, 65 x 7 each, 55 x 20 each

1b. block pulls, with a pause hovering just off the blocks

75 or 95 lbs (not sure what was on the bar) x 6, 135 lbs x 8, 165 x 8, 185 x 8, 185 x 8

These were really good. Lowering the bar to barely skim the blocks and pause there helped with keeping the bar close to my legs. Back positioning was good. I was using my legs. All good.

1c. V sits

x 6, x 8, x 6, x 5 or 6

2a. walking lunges with kettlebell in opposite hand, one side at a time, with knee raise

12kg x 8 each, 16kg x 10 each

These were actually rather easy. The hardest part was resisting the natural inclination to step forward with the opposite leg after each rep.

2b. supine rows on the rings, with legs straight + with knees bent

x 5 + 6, x 5 + 8

2c. hanging leg raises

2 sets of 10

2d. standing kettlebell triceps extensions

12kg x 10 x 2 sets

3a. yoke walk

185 lbs x 4 lengths (about 60 feet), 205 lbs x 4 lengths, 205 lbs x 5 lengths (about 75 feet), 205 lbs x 5 lengths

I haven’t done yoke walks very often and not for a long time, but they’re super fun.

3b. close grip floor presses with a pause at the bottom

75 lbs x 12, 75 lbs x 9

 

 

Monday Morning Blues

It’s Monday and I feel a bit discombobulated. After a lengthy period of usually having Mondays off work, I am now working them. Not the end of the world but I do tend to prefer having two days off in a row rather than one day at a time, and I also prefer some semblance of consistency. I am able to be flexible and spontaneous when necessary, but there is a mental toll to the adjustment. Also, my husband is currently at the hospital getting his heart shocked. It should be fine, but he’s there and I am here. There are a million thoughts racing inside my head. My neck hurts. A lot. I am wiped out and wishing for a nap, but I work in a couple of hours and napping doesn’t come easily to me.

warm-up:

windmills: body weight x 5 each side; 10kg kettlebell x 8 each side

Turkish get-ups: body weight x 1 each side; 10kg kettlebell x 2 each side

1a. single leg box step downs

x 8 each

with box on block: x 10 each, x 12 each, x 12 each

1b. single arm kettlebell press

10kg x 8 each

with carry: 12kg x 8 each + 5 lengths; 12kg x 7 each + 4 lengths; 12kg x 5 each + 4 lengths

2a. trap bar deadlifts

115 lbs x 8, 135 x 8, 135 x 10

2b. Pendlay rows

75 lbs x 8, 85 x 8, 85 x 8 + 4

2c. push ups on barbell with feet on box

3 sets of 6

2d. hanging leg raises with posterior pelvic tilt

x 10, x 10, x 8

3a. double kettlebell curls bottoms up

6kg x 10 x 2 sets

3b. skipping

10 double unders; 1 minute

 

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)

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!”

Wax & Clay

“What if I fail? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” ~Erin Hanson

That’s a great quote, isn’t it! I love it for the hope and courage it inspires for the simple act of trying. But about when you actually do fail? Sure, it’s great to think about soaring with the eagles, proud and victorious, but reality isn’t always like that. Sometimes we crash and burn. We choke on the ashes of our hopes and dreams and feel searing pain. Quite often we suffer alone. Even when others may be sympathetic to our pain, very few can actually see the depths of our disappointment and suffering. They mean well, and I appreciate their efforts to sympathize and encourage. I know it isn’t always easy to wholly know another person’s innermost hopes and dreams.

Going into my competition, I had thought that I was mentally ready for disappointment, because I had months to prepare and come to an understanding of what I would or would not be capable of on the day thanks to my back troubles. And yet, for all that I was truly ready for a lesser performance, I was still blind-sided by the the struggles of the day. It certainly didn’t feel like I was flying…I had crashed and burned.

Processing the results of a competition, for me, can be a lengthy process. Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that there can be months of physical and mental preparation leading up to a competition. Then the day of competition is often long and somehow still a blur. It takes time to work through my thoughts and emotions, even when the results are positive. I’ve competed enough now to know that this is a process that cannot be rushed or forced; it happens in bits and pieces that push their way to the surface in their own time. Usually I have the opportunity to rehash details with my coach, which is part of the process and often helps, but since I’m not allowed to train this week that step in the process is missing. For now.

Perspective is also an important piece of the process, although it isn’t something that I can always just pull out of my pocket and apply to my situation. Obviously when the emotions were still raw, I had no perspective. Now that the emotions are once again under control, I can find perspective.

This was not my best competition in so many ways. I failed on the one lift I wanted most of all, and I didn’t even bother attempting one lift that might have caused me more injury or pain. It is easy to focus on those disappointments. The squat that hurt my back again…that was a scary moment that I have never experienced before. It took a great deal of focus and determination to not give up on that squat at the moment I felt my back give. Once I got the bar off my back and myself off the platform, I was assailed by a storm of emotions: fear, frustration, anger. I could have quit. Maybe the smart decision would have been to quit, but I was determined to finish.

It’s easy for me to look at my numbers from the competition and be frustrated, knowing I am capable of so much more; however, perspective properly applied creates a new outlook. Although I am capable of more, I still moved a lot of weight that day. In fact, I moved more than 1300 pounds over the course of the competition, and that isn’t including my warm-ups! My final deadlift was only 248 pounds. It’s a far cry from what I can pull, but that is still as much or more than picking up a large man. My competition bench press seems permanently stuck, but I still pressed the equivalent or more than the body weight of a Victoria’s Secret model. As I talk about that unlucky squat, I am quick to point out that the weight was easy for me, because 220 pounds is typically an easy weight for me to squat. But 220 pounds is still a lot of weight! It is still a large man or a couple of models! Those lifts might not have equaled my best weights, but I wasn’t on the platform using fake weights. I still worked hard, even if most of my lifts were not too physically taxing.

It’s all about perspective!

“The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay
And the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay
And the mighty wind that knocks us down
If we lean into it
Will drive our fears away”

 

The Undiscovered Country

The commercial gym…the final frontier. These are the voyages of Angela. Her mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out a new life, to boldly go where she has never gone before.

Okay, so I have been in commercial gyms before, but today was indeed an entirely new experience. I went to a commercial gym to train this morning, to weight train with free weights…all by myself! There were a couple of instances last year where I had to do some weight training at a commercial gym, but my husband was there to give me a spot and hand-offs when necessary. Eons ago, when I had a gym membership, I never touched the free weights. So training solo today in an unfamiliar gym was a step outside of my comfort zone. Thankfully, I wasn’t planning on attempting any maximal weights, so I felt reasonably confident that I’d be okay on my own.

One thing I do not like about commercial gyms is the equipment. Although I haven’t been to many gyms, my experience has been that commercial equipment is usually awkward to use. The squat racks are impossible to set at the ideal height for me, which means I either need to have an awkwardly low set up or difficulty unracking and re-racking the bar. The deadlift platform had a wicked slope to it, probably just old and worn out. The benches were too short. The markings on the bars were unfamiliar. There wasn’t enough knurling where I needed it. The collars sucked. The rubber plates for deadlifts were a pain to put on and off. No chalk. Too many mirrors. My experience today, however, was not all that bad. Yes, the equipment was unfamiliar and awkward, but I didn’t have to wait for a squat rack or a bench or a platform. No one hassled me. In fact, the only person to speak to me was a guy asking if I was finished with the deadlift platform after I put away all my plates. I was able to do what I needed to do, and the woman at the desk was really quite kind and pleasant. She didn’t charge me the drop-in fee and gave me a 10-day trial pass to use in the future, and she was rather interested in and proud of my powerlifting pursuits.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 3

185 x 3 This set was a little bit ugly. I pitched forward coming out of the hole on the first rep and had to take a step forward to catch myself. Pretty sure I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I was seriously tempted to rack the bar; however, I took a couple extra breaths, gave myself a little pep talk, and finished off the set.

195 x 3, 195 x 3

The first set here felt a bit tough but not horrible. Yesterday as I was tentatively hashing out what I would do today, I had thought that I might try some triples at 200 or 205 pounds, depending on how 195 felt. Although the first set felt a bit tough, it wasn’t maximal effort. Still, I decided to do another set at the same weight and then possibly go up for the final set. The second set felt decent, I think, but I had some troubles unracking and re-racking the bar (commercial gym problem!). Getting the bar back on the rack required more effort this time and resulted in some awkward body movement, so I figured that adding more weight wasn’t going to be a good idea. Then I decided to scratch the third set for the same reason. The last thing I need right now is to hurt my shoulders or aggravate my disc or SI joints again.

1b. bench press-competition grip

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

I had wanted to do these lighter sets with my feet on the bench in an effort to minimize strain on my back, but the bench was too short for my feet to rest on it. Seriously? Why such short benches? So, I had my feet on the floor, used my leg drive, but tried to keep my arch as small as possible for the lighter sets.

105 x 3, 110 x 3, 115 x 3

I did use a full arch and leg drive for these sets. I didn’t film any of my bench sets, but I think the bar moved well and with decent speed. I even made sure to pause each rep. When I decided to scratch the last squat set, I also scratched doing another bench set at 115. I’m sure I could have done it, but I also didn’t want to end grinding any reps.

2. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 8

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 5, 185 x 3

These sets felt good. It seems like every deadlift session feels a bit better than the previous, which is a good thing considering how very little I have deadlifted since January. My coach never actually gave me clear and precise instructions for today’s training (he’s on holidays this week), but he seemed to indicate that I could work up to 205 for deadlifts today. With how good 185 felt, I decided to be a tad more adventurous and try a couple of singles at 215.

215 x 1, 215 x 1

I’d say that those two singles felt pretty decent. Last week I did a single rep at 225 and it did not feel good at all. These singles felt much better than that, and this is a perfect example of how each deadlift session feels better than the one before. Yes, it is 10 pounds less than last week’s single, but it was faster, smoother, and felt better on the back. I’d say that’s progress.

Yesterday I asked my coach what he thinks my opening deadlift will be at Provincials, and I have to admit that I was crushed by his response. His feeling is that I will open with 205 pounds with my final attempt being 255 pounds. I know that I cannot and should not expect to deadlift a personal best this time around, but I felt instantly demoralized upon seeing my coach’s projections. His anticipated final attempt isn’t even as heavy as my opening attempt at any of my previous three competitions! I know I’ve not had the best training because of the back problems, and I’ve been mentally preparing myself for a mediocre performance…but, but, BUT I have to be able to do better than 255 pounds! Of course, everything is variable. It changes day by day, and the day of competition is always unique. The numbers aren’t set in stone, and we can make the final decisions on the day based on how the back feels and how my warm-ups move.

135 x 7

Since my chiropractor wants me to get more light reps in, I decided to do a drop down set at a weight that would be fairly light while still providing enough weight to require good technique. Then I called it a day!

I survived the commercial gym! It was as hot as Hades in there, so I was sweating buckets, but I did it.