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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Numb

I don’t know where to begin this blog post, or if I even want to write it now or at all. Okay, so I do want to write it, but I’m not sure I am ready. Yet, I feel like I can’t wait too much longer lest I lose thoughts and emotions along the way. My current state of mind is exhausted, frustrated, disappointed, angry, a blink from dissolving into tears, pained and numb. The numbness is comforting in a way, because it helps keep the tears from pouring down my face and softens the sting of the negative emotions, at least for a time.

Yesterday was my Provincials powerlifting competition. Even though I wasn’t expecting to have my best performance, I was hoping to go 9 for 9 and break my Provincial bench press record. I didn’t achieve either goal yesterday.

My first squat was 92.5kg and moved well. Michael opted to be conservative with my second attempt, and that turned out to be a wise decision. My second squat was 100kg, which should have still been an easy 220 pounds. I did more than that last week in training. It felt fine when I unracked the bar. I believe that I did everything that I usually do. The eccentric felt fine. I began to rise out of the squat and felt a kind of pop and something giving in my lower back, which then caused my back to round in a way that is not typical for me. It hurt. I managed to finish the squat, barely remembering to hold until the command to rack. I walked off the platform feeling pain, fear, and crushing sadness. Michael instantly decided that we’d pass on my third attempt, then we headed to the warm-up area for some chiropractic treatment. As the chiropractor poked, prodded, bent and told me to push here and there, I fought to maintain some composure. By the time I got up from the table, the pain had dropped a couple of notches, but it was still there.

As we waited for my flight and the next to finish squats, I did the things the chiropractor told me to do and I gingerly tested my ability to set up for the bench press. Arching wasn’t too bothersome on the back, so we felt okay to stick with our plan there. My first two bench attempts, 55kg and 57.5kg, were decent. I am the current Provincial record holder with 60kg, which is the weight I have been stuck at since October 2015. Although I had some options, I chose to make a third attempt at 60.5kg in an effort to break my Provincial record. I was so close but failed. Words cannot express how I felt and still feel. Even as I lay on that bench, desperately trying to finish pressing the bar and realizing that it wasn’t going to happen, I felt so utterly crushed by disappointment and frustration. I know I am strong enough. I know I can do it. I have lifted that weight in the gym, including just last week, and it was easy. I came into this competition knowing that my squats and deadlifts would be sub-par, but the bench press record was something I knew was within my ability and I wanted, WANTED it!

My deadlifts weren’t going to be super heavy, but, with the fresh back injury, we opted to drop my opening attempt even more. An opening deadlift of 85kg wasn’t anything I could fake pride in, but I just needed to get a number on the board. It was embarrassingly easy. My next attempt was 102.5…again easy. My final attempt was 112.5kg or 248 pounds. Still easy. That final deadlift was 60 pounds less than my best deadlift. I think it would have been easier to feel some peace about low deadlift numbers if the rest of my competition had turned out differently. If I hadn’t hurt my back. If I had broken the bench record. If only. But, the last thing we wanted to do was inflict more harm to my back. Thankfully, I was able to deadlift without any added discomfort or pain to the back, which is something I wasn’t sure would happen after that squat.

At some point in the competition, Michael pointed out that there was another woman in my age/weight class after all. She hadn’t made her weight class and was bumped up into mine. Being the competitive person that I am, as soon as I realized that I could potentially lose, I wanted to win! However, I was no longer operating in a position where we could give any thought to making sure my attempts put me in a position to win. I still kept an eye on her numbers, chafing inside with the desire to win and re-familiarizing myself with a positive mindset in the event that I lost. Both my squat and deadlift were far from my actual ability and potential, but I still managed to come away with the win.

This was my 8th competition, and, in my opinion, my worst one. I had my third lowest total. The two lower totals came from my first two competitions. My Wilks score was my second lowest. The only one lower was my first competition. This was my second 7 for 9 meet. Not a single personal best. The first time I’ve ever passed on an attempt. The first time I’ve hurt myself in competition. The only goal I achieved yesterday was checking off the final requirement for competing at Nationals next year.

As much as words cannot express how I am feeling, there is so much more yet to say, but it will have to wait for another day. I left my house at 7:50 yesterday morning, and I didn’t get home until 12:30 this morning. I was in bed by 1:00 this morning but woke up before 6:30. My back is sore and achy, and I am exhausted. I need to decompress and process. I need to go hang out with some friends in a couple of hours, feel loved and celebrated, even though I don’t feel worth celebrating. Then I need sleep. Precious sleep. Tomorrow I will walk into my gym and begin the process of rehabbing (again) and rebuilding.

Discs & Disappointment

Normally I prefer to blog about my training session as soon after training as possible, because I don’t want my impressions and thoughts to fade from memory before I am able to put them into writing. Even though I trained at 8 this morning, I was rather intentional about not blogging as soon as I got home. It is now 1:30 in the afternoon, and I think I have delayed long enough. My training session was not what I had hoped it would be. In fact, it was mostly an exercise in frustration and pain. The back wasn’t too bad yesterday, but today is an entirely different story.

Yesterday I left my chiropractor’s clinic feeling more optimistic than I have felt for several weeks. There was a measure of relief in knowing that the SI is fine and that this is all disc-related. I’ve been through the disc thing before, although there was no pain in my back then and it didn’t really affect my training. This round of disc issue is different from the pain in my back to the way it affects my training and daily life. I like to think I am fairly independent and self-sufficient. I don’t always like to ask for help, especially not for something I feel should be easy enough for me to do on my own, but even the most simple of tasks presents significant challenge and pain lately. I’m weary of it all.

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 5, with belt 113 x 5

The front squats didn’t feel very good from the start, although the later reps in each set were somewhat easier than the first couple. Just not good enough to continue.

1b. dips

with small green band x 8

unassisted: x 6, x 5, x 5

It’s been a while since I’ve done dips, so I wasn’t very confident in my ability to do any unassisted. I’m always glad to be wrong when it comes to self-doubts. These didn’t hurt the back really, but there was some mild unpleasant sensations in having my lower half hanging.

1c. seated cable rows

70 lbs x 12, 80 lbs x 12, 80 x 4, 80 x 12, 100 x 10

I’m not sure what happened during the second set at 80 pounds, except to say that the back hurt enough that I just stopped.

2a. front foot elevated split squats

x 12 each

with 10kg kettlebell x 12 each

These actually felt kind of good. No stress on my back which was already in a ton of pain.

2b. double kettlebell curls

8kg x 7, 8kg x 12

That’s quite a discrepancy between the first and second set, and I cannot explain why the second was so much better. Sometimes my second sets just are better, because I needed to prime the movement or simply remember how much effort I need to exert.

2c. standing triceps extensions

10kg kettlebell x 15, 12kg x 12

My chiropractor says it is important for me to continue training, and I would be miserable if I had to give it up. But I’m desperately looking forward to the day I can train without pain once again.

Embracing Disappointment

I think I could walk a little easier this morning than I could last night. There is such joy in the littlest of things.

I was interested to see what my training program would look like this morning, because I knew it would certainly look different from what I’ve been doing lately. Despite some silent and some not-so-silent groans, I kind of liked the change. It definitely wasn’t easy, but then again my body is sore and I’m coming down from my competition high.

1a. close grip bench press-touch and go

45 x 10, 65 x 12, 75 x 10, 85 x 12

This was the easiest thing I did all morning!

1b. hip thrusts

95 x 12, 145 x 12, 165 x 12, 185 x 12

It has been a long time since I have done hip thrusts. Even with a pad on the bar, I usually end up with bruises on my hips, but what’s the big deal about a few bruises, right? If I ever was completely without bruises, I would think there was something wrong with me!

But seriously, for not having done these in a long time and considering how sore my glutes were already, these felt rather good. The final set was a bit more of a challenge, but it wasn’t maximal. I would say that these were the second easiest thing I did all morning!

1c. inverted rows

Now I have done these with a barbell and I’ve done them using the TRX, but Michael thought it might be a good idea to do them today using the battling rope. It really works your grip, he said! Great. This might possibly have been where I groaned out-loud. Inverted rows suck when I have something decent to hold onto…

5 without legs + 5 with legs; 4 without legs + 6 with legs; 4 + 5; 4 + 4

Inverted rows still suck. Using the ropes definitely works the grip. There is nothing quite like the feeling of trying to pull your body up while your hands are sliding down the rope.

2a. military press

I’m pretty sure that I kept this groan hidden away in the depths of my soul. I didn’t even realize how much of a mental block I had towards the military press until Michael said that was what I was doing next. I tried to shrug it off, knowing that this was just training and an opportunity to work on technique and improve.

45 x 8 seemed not too bad

50 x 5  This was not a fun set. I felt little twinges all over…in my shoulder, my bicep, my oblique. Nothing was serious or real pain. I think it was just a whole lot of fatigue. I thought I was doing a decent job of keeping my elbows in the right position, but maybe I wasn’t. Michael had me do another 2 reps with better elbow position.

50 x 6 The final rep was a little tough, but the entire set felt better with my elbows in the right position.

Obviously I do have a mental block here. Michael commented on it after my second set. Something to work on…

2b. chin-ups with green band and underhand grip

x 8 was a little surprised with that

x 6

x 4 + 2 more reps with Michael giving me a little push to get all the way up

After that final set, he wanted me to do a 30 second eccentric rep. Ha! Let’s just say that my arms were toast by this point. I think I might have lasted 5-10 seconds. Now if he had me do this at the start of my session…

2c. GHD sit-ups, arms overhead on the descent

x 12 Apparently that was easy enough, because Michael gave me a 4 pound medicine ball to use for the following sets.

4 lbs x 10

4 lbs x 5 Yeah, my capacity absolutely tanked. I even dropped the ball, thinking that I might be able to do some more reps without it, but that didn’t happen. I was done.

Now that I am home, I have to admit that I am feeling sad and disappointed. My total from last weekend’s competition was enough to allow me to qualify for Nationals in February. I hadn’t expected to go, but then the seed was planted and hope began to grow. Even though I still really didn’t know if I would or could go, the possibility was exciting. I was half-way home from the gym when Michael texted to tell me that he had forgotten about the one other requirement to attend Nationals…competing or volunteering at Provincials. I haven’t done that, so I can’t go to Nationals.

Before I left the gym, Michael and I had been talking about Nationals. I had even said that if I couldn’t go that I’d be okay with it, but I sat in my driveway, reading Michael’s text over and over again, and felt the increasing weight of disappointment. Almost two hours later, I’m still feeling it. I want to drown my sorrows in something sinfully delicious and devoid of nutrition, and I might do that a bit later when I need to take my daughter to Starbucks to meet someone. I might just have a venti salted caramel mocha (half sweet because that’s just what I do) and I might actually say “YES!” when the barista asks if I want something to eat with it. If not, I still have salted caramel gelato locked away in my freezer. Or I can go to the grocery store and find something appropriate. The options are endless.

I’m not sure if I’m more upset by the fact that I can’t go or the fact that I allowed myself to think it was a possibility, because I’m fairly certain that I had previous knowledge of the requirements. It is not the end of the world that I can’t go. There are other competitions on small stages and big ones. I have much more potential, and I am not done yet. Forgive me if I can’t stop a tear or two from falling today. I’ll be okay. I will get over it. Provincials are definitely on the agenda for next year!