Rise of the Machines

Being injured is not my idea of a fun time. If I had broken an arm, I would quite likely be having a cast removed any day now and on my way to regaining strength, but a herniated disc doesn’t necessarily have a predictable and tidy healing schedule. I’d rather have a broken bone or a pulled muscle, a sprain or stitches, or a week long flu. This is not fun.

I feel like two different people. One is the optimist who knows how to dream big and work to achieve it. The other isn’t quite defeated yet but is broken, frustrated, and despairing. I am both people, flipping back and forth sometimes as frequently as a heartbeat.

My training routine since the injury has been little more than rehab exercises. Everything has been careful and slow and simple. I’ve not been allowed to touch a barbell or perform certain movements. While I appreciate the necessity of the rehab and the restrictions, I miss moving some weight and training more like an athlete than an injured person. I might have a World record squat, but these days my prowess is pretty much limited to bird dogs and body-weight glute bridges.

With my training playlist blaring in my ears, I go through my rehab motions fighting an internal battle between determination and despair. It’s an ugly battle of hand-to-hand combat, trenches, and no man’s land. One day a song might bolster my spirits and fan the flames of positivity and determination, while the same song the next day might shoot down my hope in a fiery hail of bullets. The ongoing numbness in my left leg weighs heavily on me. It’s bad enough that I can feel the weakness in that leg and the tentativeness that comes with diminished physical sensations, but the thought of potential long-term nerve damage is rather frightening. Having resigned myself to missing out on Nationals, I have also accepted that there is no specific timeline for stepping back onto a powerlifting platform. Although I have seen some improvements over the past five weeks, my physiotherapist has pointed out that ideally there should be more. My worth and sense of self are not dependent upon being or training like a powerlifter; however, I do still greatly miss doing those things that I enjoy doing in the gym.

I smiled last night when I opened up this week’s training program from my coach. Not only did he put in a reference to the new Star Wars movie opening later this week, but he also changed up my program to incorporate a bunch of machines! This is both exciting and out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, because machines means I get to use some weight, even if I’m still starting out low and slow. This is potentially uncomfortable and scary, because I’ve never really used machines before! I’ve seen them in the gym, but I’ve always looked at them as strange, wild animals that you look at but don’t touch. I have no idea what they are or how to use them, so I quite literally need to google each exercise/machine before going to the gym. I need to know what machine I am looking for and how to use it properly. That’s the easy part. Then I need to find those machines at my gym. My gym has two floors with machines on both levels. Some are labelled, some are not. But I think I found all of the machines I need for now.

I’m still a long way from deadlifting, bench pressing, or squatting with a barbell, but it was so good to use some muscles that haven’t been used since the injury. The weights I’m using must start off low. I need to take each rep slowly and carefully, but I was able to work biceps and triceps, pecs and delts, quads and hamstrings. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many muscles quivering from exertion. I felt the effects of a lack of strength training and the ongoing left leg nerve impingement. Standing body weight calf raises…the left calf is weaker and lagging. The same is true of the left hamstring when doing leg curls. Even though my left quad is unaffected by the herniated disc, when doing leg extensions I can still feel a lack of involvement in my left foot, or at least the numb half of my foot. As I’m extending both legs, my right foot feels engaged and active, while the left foot isn’t engaged and feels as if it is merely hanging out for the ride. <sigh> Small weights. Small steps. Turtle’s pace.

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An Exercise in Frustration

About two weeks ago I pulled out the diabolical candy cane puzzle that I received as a gift from my eldest son a few years ago. I say it is diabolical, because it is. This puzzle is 1000 pieces and the most difficult puzzle I have ever done. Now I have done hundreds of puzzles over the years and even the toughest ones seldom take me more than 2-4 days to complete. This puzzle easily takes me a month. I took the photo below this afternoon, and yes! This is two weeks worth of progress.

candycanepuzzle

For most puzzles, I have my own little system that works for me. This puzzle takes my system and throws it out the window. Solving this puzzles is an exercise in frustration and patience. It requires an eye for the smallest details which connect two pieces together, even if you cannot connect those two pieces to anything else. What you see on my board is a hodgepodge of randomly connected pieces and an assortment of pieces with just the sort of details that might be helpful at some point. Ever so slowly I manage to put the scattered bits into small groupings, and eventually I can connect those groupings to the edges. I cannot work on the puzzle for large periods of time; this is partly due to the fact that I need to stand and partly due to the fact that I have other things to do with my time. This is not something that can be rushed.

As I was working on my puzzle today, my thoughts bounced back and forth between the frustration that is my candy cane puzzle and the frustration that is my herniated disc. I see a lot of similarities between the two. Healing the herniation will take time; it cannot be rushed. There will be tedious exercises and small victories that won’t appear to connect to much of anything. Patience will be required, and frustration will undoubtedly be felt on many occasions. Progress might not always look like much, but little steps of progress will gradually reveal the bigger picture that I’m looking for. It would be easy to give up and quit, but determination and perseverance will bring results. The results might trickle in slowly at first, but at some point they will come more quickly. And just like I can feel pride in finishing the puzzle, I can take pride in weathering the storm of injury and coming back stronger.

About the only difference between this puzzle and my injury is that I will finish the puzzle before the end of the year. My physical recovery might take longer than that!

Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

They Told Me to Go to Rehab

This morning I went to the gym. It was my first time back in the gym since my competition ten days ago. My husband started to question my sanity when he found out I was planning on going to the gym today until I explained what I would be doing. No squats. No deadlifts. I wouldn’t even be looking at a barbell. Instead, my coach has programmed some rehab exercises: 90/90 breathing drill, bird dogs, standing lunges, hip hinges, one arm dumbbell floor presses, and standing cable facepulls. Hardly the stuff of a powerlifter’s dreams!

Yesterday a friend asked if I might be up for a bit of a day road trip on Saturday, and I optimistically said that I could handle it. Then I left my house this morning to go to the gym. I hadn’t even backed my car out of my driveway before I was in agonizing pain. My drive to the gym barely takes 5 minutes, but it felt much longer today. By the time I got to the gym, I had to peel my hands off of the steering wheel, and I’m surprised that the steering wheel was still in one piece. Sitting is pure torture. I had to text my friend to say that there was no way I could go with her on Saturday.

So, I was in a lot of pain by the time I got to the gym. Putting on my gym shoes resulted in more pain. I feel like my husband did prior to his hip replacement surgery…unable to put on a sock or a shoe or trim my toenails without great difficulty and pain.

The exercises my coach programmed for me this week are not overly difficult, but the purpose isn’t really to challenge me physically. As easy and basic as the exercises were, I did experience some pain from the positioning of my left leg, even when the leg wasn’t doing any work. It seems that just having that leg passively bent is enough to cause pain to flare up, which is something I have noticed at home already. The left leg also fatigued quite quickly during the standing lunges when it was doing the work. I should point out that pretty much all of the exercises were to be done quite slowly and methodically for a small number of reps. The lunges were 3 reps per side with a 5 second descent, 3 second hold, and 5 second ascent. The right leg had no trouble at all doing the work, but that left leg was burning by the second rep. My only other struggle was getting in and out of position for some of the exercises, like the breathing drill and the floor presses. Getting down onto the floor and back up off of the floor were tricky to do without sending shards of pain through my left hip and butt.

Waves of self-pity are battering against the shoreline of my confidence and self-control. I have no regrets and wouldn’t change anything about my performance at the competition. I had no reason to suspect that this might happen, and chances are that it would have happened sooner or later even if I was doing something seemingly innocuous. My other back issues had been doing very well leading up to competition, and my training had also been going well. No, I do not regret a single thing about the competition, at least not the things that I could control. It would have been nice not to have herniated a disc, but that wasn’t exactly in my control.

But seriously, who enjoys being in constant pain? I know I don’t. Pain clouds your judgement and colours your perception. It wears you down physically and emotionally, and it can paralyze you. This is true of any type of pain.

“Pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place.” ~William P. Young, The Shack 

I was at the gym for an hour doing my rehab exercises. For the first half hour, I struggled. My body felt a bit shaky and weak, as if the 10 days of idleness had stolen all of my strength and flexibility, and my thoughts, as few as they were, castigated me for struggling. The work wasn’t difficult, but 10 days ago I was breaking all the records and now I couldn’t even get myself onto the floor without whimpering.  I had tucked myself into a corner to do my exercises, out of the way and out of anyone’s notice, as if I should be ashamed or embarrassed. My attitude wasn’t much improved by the time I finished my exercises, although I wasn’t even aware of having an attitude until now.

But there is an attitude. It is an attitude of frustration, of despair, and maybe even resignation. I feel stuck. It’s been 10 days of intense pain and a leg almost entirely numb from butt to toes. I am not having fun. I cannot even see fun on the horizon. But despite all the negatives, I am still determined to hold my head up (because I can’t imagine that drowning would be very pleasant) and rise above this injury (because I don’t think I can sink any lower).

There is one positive for today. I slept quite well last night. In fact, it was the best sleep I’ve had since before the competition. It was also the first night I spent the entire night in my own bed since the competition! Of course, I still woke several times with pain raging, but at least I got some sleep.

The Girl With All The Goals

“When a woman feels her own strength, it’s empowering. She believes in herself and knows she can do more. It changes everything.” ~Kathrine Switzer

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” ~Bethany Hamilton

It is always a challenge to recap a competition with the experience still fresh and raw in my mind and body. There are so many emotions and thoughts swirling within that I am liable to miss a detail, but waiting too long to put thoughts into written form can also result in missing details.

The day started early. I was mostly awake around 5:00 but managed to stay in bed until 6. The next hour was a flurry of getting dressed, making myself a doppio espresso, making sure I had everything I needed, and gagging down a bit of breakfast. My appetite disappears during a competition, but I know it is important to have fuel in the tank. We left the house around 7:00 and arrived at the venue before 8:00, which left some time to chill (literally because it was cold in the crossfit gym), stretch, change into my singlet, listen to the lifters’ meeting, and get my warm-ups in before lifting started around 9:15.

Yesterday the back felt a little creaky but generally okay. This morning it felt pretty darn good, better than it has felt for a few days. I was feeling good, too. Naturally I was feeling some nervous energy as I warmed up for squats and waited for my first attempt…even for my second attempt. I was mostly confident and optimistic with slivers of fear and uncertainty. My opening squat attempt was 100kg (220.5 lbs), which was the same weight that I re-tweaked my back on at Provincials in June. In recent weeks I have surpassed that weight in the gym, so I knew that I was more than capable but doubt is pernicious and persistent. Feeling nervous prior to the first attempt is completely normal, and it usually settles down once that first squat has been successfully completed. Although it did abate slightly this time, it didn’t completely settle until after my second squat at 110kg (242 lbs). I guess I should mention that my first squat attempt broke both the Provincial and National record!

I had several goals for this competition, big and small. The first of my two biggest goals was my third squat attempt at 115kg (253.5 lbs), because it was an attempt to break a World record. This weight wasn’t a complete stranger to me; it was the same weight that I did for a PR at Western Canadians last year. But this is a different powerlifting federation with different records…and I’ve struggled with back problems all year. As much as I believed I could do it today, I felt nervous and under pressure (self-inflicted). Succeeding on my second squat completely settled the nerves though, and I suddenly knew that I could, would succeed. Besides, I’ve never failed on a squat in competition except for once on a technicality. So how did I do on that final squat? I nailed it!

Excitement coursed through my veins as I walked off the platform into the warm-up area, accepting congratulations from a judge, my coach, my handler, and some fellow competitors. I chatted briefly with my coach and my handler about the lift and how my back was holding up (perfectly fine), then I said I was going to go see my family and friends until it was time to warm-up for the bench. No sooner had those words left my mouth than I was overcome by intense emotions that had me heaving and struggling to choke back tears. The emotion was so strong that I had to actually pause for a minute before resuming my walk to my family, and even then I was practically an emotional mess when I saw the smiles on their faces. It’s no secret that my eyes leak quite easily at the best of times, but I will not apologize for the tears or the emotion. I just broke a freaking World record! I have visualized this moment for a long time, through dark and hazy days filled with back pain and frustration and self-doubt, and today I achieved my goal.

The back was still feeling great at this point in time, and we were on to the bench press. My opening attempt was 55kg (121 lbs). I knew this should be an easy weight for me, since I’ve been smoking 125 pounds in the gym for a while now. It was respectable. My second attempt was 60kg (132.3 lbs), and I wasn’t supremely confident about it. I have been doing well with 130 pounds in the gym lately, so I did know that I could; however, this weight has been the proverbial monkey on my back for more than 2 years now. It was at a competition in October of 2015 that I was first successful in benching 60kg in competition, and that has been my best competition bench ever since, despite a couple of gym PRs at 135 lbs. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to better 132.3 pounds in competition until today! It might not have been the fastest press, but I made it. Of course, that meant my third attempt was yet another try at a bench press PR, and I had to fight against the doubt and mental block surrounding it.

My final bench attempt was 62.5kg (137.8 lbs). Thankfully, I had the unanticipated occasion to grind out a single rep at 130 pounds last week. I am not accustomed to being successful in grinding out a bench press and, for a moment, I didn’t think I would make that lift, but I stuck it out and made it. I think that grind was beneficial for me, because it gave me the opportunity to experience a tough, slow grind and to realize that I was now capable of pushing through it. It is my opinion that this recent experience was instrumental in my successful final bench press today. It was slow. It was a grind. Some might have doubted my ability to finish the lift, but I don’t recall ever feeling that way in the moment. I knew it was grinding and slow. I could hear the cheers. I could hear my coach’s voice shouting instruction. I just kept going, and once I reached a certain point I knew I had it. The monkey was off my back. Not only did I have a new Provincial record but also a PR!

With the bench press completed, my back felt slightly achy, probably from the arching, but it was still rather mild and normal. There was a bit of a wait until the deadlifts, and I no longer felt any doubts about my abilities. I had been perfect so far, and I knew that I was going to go 9/9.

My first deadlift attempt was 125kg (270 lbs). Once again, I was breaking a Provincial record on my first attempt. It was easy. The second attempt was 132.5kg (292 lbs). I probably used my back a little on this attempt. While it was still relatively easy, my back felt a little more achy immediately following this lift, but it still felt okay enough. My third and final attempt was 138.5kg (305.3 lbs). Although it was a bit tougher, I was successful in my attempt and secured myself another Provincial and National record. Unfortunately, I walked off the platform with a world of hurt in my left lower back and glute. The pain didn’t put a damper on my joy in having reached every single one of my goals for this competition. This was my ninth competition, and I have only ever had a completely perfect 9/9 with 27 white lights once before…two years ago. Today’s competition was perfect, 9 attempts with 9 successful lifts and not a single red light in the bunch. I achieved 8 records today: 4 Provincial, 3 National, and 1 World. (My total also broke Provincial and National records!) About the only thing that didn’t go as hoped for was hurting myself again!

Thankfully my chiropractor’s office was onsite to provide treatment to the athletes. Although there weren’t any chiropractors available by the time I finished competing, I was able to get some massage treatment which helped to reduce some of the pain. I will need to see my chiropractor though, which will be on Tuesday. (Gosh, I love being able to book an appointment online during non-office hours!) In the meantime, the RMT gave me some things to do at home. I also have other exercises at my disposal and Ibuprofen. But you know, I’m not overly frustrated by this unexpected twist. It’s slightly familiar but slightly different. The RMT said it was a disc, SI joint and piriformis issue. She could help a bit with the piriformis, but she can’t do any adjustments…hence my need to see my chiropractor. Although I did have some strong pain in my pelvis immediately after, right now, hours later, the most pain is in my left butt. It’s not ideal, but it could be worse. And I’m still riding the wave of euphoria of a successful competition, so I have no regrets. Okay, I have no regrets at all! While I may have only had two personal bests today (my bench and my total), I would say that this was my best competition to date.

I also have to mention just how much I love the sport of powerlifting. Since my first competition in 2014 and 8 more competitions including today’s, I have never had a bad experience beyond my own disappointment in a personal result. I have competed in two different federations, and each one feels like family. I only compete in 100% RAW once a year when they have a somewhat local meet. There is always a couple of people who make the trip from Calgary to here to bring equipment and act as organizers and judges, and they never fail to remember my name and welcome me as part of the family. Most of my competitive focus is within the realm of the British Columbia Powerlifting Assocation in great part for the simple fact that there are more opportunities to compete. RAW was where I did my very first competition. It was where I fell in love with powerlifting and competing. RAW is primarily based in Alberta, which is why I only compete once a year with them, but I love my RAW family. I liken the two federations to the Canadian Football League and the National Football League. They are the same sport with slight differences in rules, their own records and championships, and a vast difference in scope on the international stage.

Despite the pain, which likely came from using too much back on that final deadlift, today was a grand success. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the day. I achieved every goal that I set for myself, even the ones that I was hesitant to say out loud. After what has been a most problematic and frustrating year so far, today felt highly redemptive. I didn’t hit personal bests across the board, but this showing was the essence of what I had hoped to achieve at Provincials earlier this year. It’s been a long, tough year, but now I can celebrate my success. And heal again. Then start back at the beginning, gearing up for the next competition in February at Nationals.

Wonder Woman vs Deadlifts

What do I do when it is deadlift day and my program calls for 5 sets of 2-3 reps at 255 pounds, and the heaviest I have EVER deadlifted for reps was 250 pounds for a single set of 2 reps? I put on my Wonder Woman tank top, Wonder Woman socks, and Wonder Woman earrings. I fill my Wonder Woman shaker bottle with my recovery drink and put it in my Wonder Woman gym bag. Then I go to the gym and do what I know how to do.

PRs can come in all shapes and sizes. There are competition PRs and gym PRs. PR for reps. Pr for sets. With or without belt or knee sleeves. Low bar or high bar. Mix grip or double overhand or straps. PRs set in the gym are nice, but I think they should be looked at like the markings parents put on the wall to track the growth of their children. You want to see improvement and growth in the gym; however, for competitors, the platform is where you take all that training, mix in the adrenaline that comes from competition, and strive to taste the fruits of your labour.

I do get a little thrill out of hitting gym PRs, because it shows me that I am getting stronger, better. My eyes are still firmly focused on the ultimate PRs though. These past few months have been challenging, exciting, scary, and educational. This is part of the journey of becoming…taking the skills I’ve learned in one environment and learning to apply them and improve on them in a completely different environment. I am walking along unfamiliar terrain in some ways, and I think that has been a good thing.

I wasn’t afraid of today’s deadlifts, but I was cautious and hopeful and determined. Cautious because the back injury lingers in the shadows of my mind. Hopeful because it is exciting to see my progression into uncharted territory. Determined because I want it and I’m willing to work hard for it.

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 2-3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, with belt 195 x 3, 225 x 2

main event: 255 lbs x 2, 255 x 2, 255 x 2, 255 x 1, 255 x 2

The warm ups moved well and felt good. The first working set was okay. Maybe even more than just okay. The bar moved well, I think, but I could tell that completing five sets would require almost every ounce of energy and willpower. I have never done very well with multiple reps at heavyish weights, hence my previous PR of 2 reps at 250 pounds! The first two sets this morning were good. The third set was still quite decent, but it was more difficult for me to create enough tension in my body to initiate the lift. The fourth set was some kind of mess from the beginning. The chalk box was completely empty, like so empty that I had to resort to scraping my hands along the bottom of the box in an effort to get any residual bits of chalk on my hands. There wasn’t really any! Then, as I was setting up my position and creating tension, I could feel my belt buckle against my arm, so I had to adjust the belt and start again. By this point, my brain was subtly telling me that I wouldn’t be able to get any tension. I managed one rep. Barely. I stood up for a moment to try to refocus before attempting the second rep. I managed to get the bar off the floor by maybe an inch or two, but I had to drop it. I know my body well enough to know when it is best to say no, but I was determined not to have such a mental lapse for the final set.

So I had two PRs of sorts today. The very first working set was a PR, and the entire volume at the working weight was a PR. If all this hard work translates into a PR on the platform on November 4th, then it will be worth it.

2. bench press (2-1×0) 3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 3, 100 x 3

main event: 110 lbs x 3, 110 x 3, 110 x 3, 110 x 3

My warm up sets prior to 100 pounds were done without feet and arch. The reps all felt solid and good. I’m not sure if my perception was reality or merely a sensation, but it felt like my arch was slightly bigger and better for my working sets today. Probably not really.

Since I bench every training day, I am not always wearing the same shoes. On the days that I squat, I wear my Olympic weightlifting shoes which have an elevated heel. These are also the shoes that I have always worn for benching at competitions. However, on my deadlift days, like today, I wear a flat shoe (Nike Free) and I don’t bother to change shoes when I move over to the bench. Over the course of training for the past 4 years, I have practiced my bench press with both pairs of shoes. But I have been noticing a small difference over the past few weeks when I am wearing my flat shoes to bench. It’s barely perceptible, but I have noticed that I feel more connection with the floor and my leg drive with the flat shoes. I suppose it kind of makes sense since the Nike Frees are very light and thin-soled. I’m not sure what I am going to do with that information yet, but it is intriguing and worth more observation.

3. planks

x 35 seconds, x 30 seconds, x 30 seconds

The planks felt tough today, which I think is the result of the deadlifts. My core was quivering throughout each plank.

 

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!