Week 12, Day 1

Today was the start of week 12 of my new training program. The entire program has pushed me ever so slightly out of my training comfort zone, but the last couple of weeks have pushed just a bit harder. I thought that I was already well acquainted with putting in hard work in the gym! In some ways, this program is simply different, while in other ways it is definitely tougher. It is a good thing that I had already established good work habits and mental toughness, because I have needed to draw from those skills quite heavily. With competition now less than 4 weeks away, the work load is only getting heavier and further beyond anything I have ever done before; however, I am discovering that it is okay. I am capable. All of the hard work leading up to now has laid the foundation. Hopefully that will translate into a positive competition, but a day on the platform can be dramatically different than a day in the gym.

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, 200 x 2

main event, with belt: 215 lbs x 3, 215 x 3, 215 x 3, 215 x 2, 215 x 3

From a couple of the videos from my working sets, my coach determined that I wasn’t taking in enough air for bracing. I guess that would explain why I did feel like I had some bracing issues. Aside from that detail, these squats generally felt decent. Again, I am not used to doing so many sets at such a weight, but I was more than capable.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 2 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 75 x 6, 95 x 3, 110 x 2

main event: 120 x 2, 120 x 2, 120 x 2

No feet or arch for the first two warm up sets. The back had some mild ache to it, but I think it was okay. The one problem with benching without an arch is that the bar would sometimes hit the safeties, because my chest position is slightly different. The working sets felt a tad heavy and slow, yet they felt solid and decent. I experienced the same thing last week.

3. pause squats (3-2×0) 3 reps

155 lbs x 3, 155 x 3, 155 x 3

The first set felt tough, and my hips protested the pause. I put my belt on for the final two sets. The second set felt better, but the final set was the best. I eased into that pause position with no trouble at all.

4. chest supported rows 10-12 reps

55 lbs x 12, 55 x 10, 55 x 6

Maybe one day I will be able to make all of these reps…

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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!

Week 10 Begins

I almost feel my age today. You’d think that having an extra rest day would make this morning’s training session feel easier, better, but no. That’s not how it felt at all. I felt random aches and pains in multiple spots, although none were of great concern. As I felt the life being sucked out of me while squatting, I reflected on my training over the past year or even two. Without a doubt, my training is significantly harder and heavier these past couple of months than it has been all year. Of course, I was also dealing with an injury for most of the year, and that had a huge impact on my training. Still, without looking back through old training logs, I think my current training is still tougher than what I have done before, even when healthy. That doesn’t mean I’ve never had heavy or tough training sessions before. I certainly have! Just not in the same way all the time. If I wasn’t feeling so drained it might be interesting to compare my current training with previous competition prep. This will be my first competition under a different coach, so I expect that there will be differences in programming and philosophy.

1. competition squats (2-0x0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 5, 165 x 4

main event, with belt: 180 lbs x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4

The squats felt tough and ugly. My final warm up set felt brutal. The third and fourth working sets probably felt the best out of the bunch.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 4, 85 x 4, 105 x 3

main event: 115 lbs x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4

Warm ups felt fine. The working sets felt tough. The ache in the right shoulder that started during last Friday’s bench session continued, although it was not as much of a factor today. At least I don’t think it was. But maybe. Even getting those fourth reps was a bit of a grind.

3. pause squats (3-2×0) 5-7 reps

135 lbs x 5, 135 x 5, 135 x 5

4. glute bridges

135 lbs x 10, 135 x 10, 135 x 10

These were the easiest thing I did this morning…and I could have done so much more!

5. chest supported rows

55 lbs x 12, 55 x 10, 55 x 8

So glad it is my Friday. What are the odds of fitting in a nap before I go to work today?

Deadlifts on the Rise

My ability to perform deadlifts was significantly hampered for a great deal of this year because of my lower back injury that occurred at the end of January. I might have attempted a couple deadlift sessions in the first few weeks after the injury and another short session a couple months later, but mostly I couldn’t deadlift until May when I needed to prepare for Provincials in June. I think I worked up to a single rep at 225 pounds, and even that didn’t feel very good. At Provincials, my deadlifts felt really good and easy…because they were easy weights for me. Tweaking my back during one of my squats meant I had to be even more conservative with my deadlift attempts than originally planned. My three deadlift attempts were: 187 pounds, 226 pounds, and 248 pounds. That was the end of deadlifting for a little more than a month or late July.

Deadlifts returned to my training when I got my new coach and program. Even though I had provided him with all of the pertinent information as it related to my injury/recovery and previous training and competitions, the first deadlift session, as programmed, was a little too much. Those first deadlift sessions were from a deficit, but the original working weight was 220 pounds. I never even bothered attempting to use that weight, because my warm up set at 195 pounds felt heavy, tough, and hard on my back. My coach scaled back my deadlift numbers. After a few weeks of deficits with back aches, he took away the deficit. Since then I’ve been feeling the deadlift love once again. Today’s deadlift session saw my working sets at 220 pounds…that same weight I couldn’t do 9 weeks ago!

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 6, 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 195 x 3, 205 x 2

main event, with belt: 220 lbs x 6, 220 x 4, 220 x 3, 220 x 4, 220 x 3

The first set felt like it was flying. So good and honestly surprising. The second set still felt decent, but I knew I’d have difficulty maxing out reps for each set. The third and fifth sets were not as good as I’d like, since I didn’t even get the four reps I was shooting for. It was a case of the loss of tension, loss of rhythm in both sets. On the third set, I tried to regroup. I stood up and reset my position, inhaled and tried to lock my body into tension…nope. When it comes to deadlifts, I listen to my body when it tells me to stop. I also know that as the weight on the bar gets heavier, my ability to perform multiple deadlift reps drops significantly. I’ve never been someone who can use 80% of my max for reps. But aside from those two glitches, I think my deadlifts were decent today. It was good to feel progress, to know that I am indeed coming back from injury and getting stronger all the time.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 6-8 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 6, 65 x 4, 85 x 3, 100 x 3

main event: 110 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6

These felt a little tough today. I’d say each set was an RPE of 9. The fact that my calluses were now tender and sore from the deadlifts probably didn’t help, but mostly I just feel a little fatigued this week.

3. pause deadlifts (3-1×0) 4-6 reps

145 lbs x 4, 145 x 4, 145 x 4

Legs felt done like dinner. Grip felt done like dinner. I’d rather pause squat.

4. pull downs 8-12 reps

70 lbs x 12, 80 lbs x 12

This is the first time pull downs have been in my new training program, which also means that I haven’t done pull downs for a few months now. My coach left the weight up to me. I did a couple of reps at 50 pounds before deciding that 70 would be a better place to begin. That was relatively easy, so I increased the weight on the second set.

5. planks

x 45 seconds, x 40 seconds, x 30 seconds

The first plank felt almost easy. On the last plank, I could hear my abs screaming in misery.

And now, after two training days which saw increases in weight along with lots of sets, I’m almost looking forward to Friday’s 10 working sets of bench. When I first saw this week’s program, I thought all those sets might do me in, but now I think they might be the easiest part of the strength portion of this week’s program!

Week 9, Day 1

I know I am prepping for a competition that is only a little more than 6 weeks away. I know that I should expect my training to get tougher and the weights to get heavier.  I do expect it, and yet I found myself feeling both shocked and slightly frightened last night when I opened up my training program for this week. The truth is that this week’s training does have increases in weight and such, but it actually isn’t anything extreme. I just feel the fear and try to do it anyway.

1. competition squats (2-0x0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 8, 135 x 6, 165 x 4

main event, with belt: 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4

My squats felt all over the place today. The first set was tough and ugly feeling. The second was so-so, while the third felt significantly better. Then the fourth and fifth felt just okay. Some reps felt good. Some reps felt like a battle. I was dripping in sweat and trying to ignore the tiny bodied, big attitude girl doing some weird, off balance squats on the Smith machine beside me, the tattooed punk doing micro curls in a squat rack, and the girl squatting 235 pounds for doubles without breaking a sweat.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 100 x 3

main event: 115 lbs x 5, 115 x 5, 115 x 4, 115 x 4

I was worried about my ability to bench 115 pounds without having someone assist me with a hand off. The good news is that I was able to unrack the bar all by myself! I just wonder how much that effort took out of each set. Perhaps I could have managed another rep or two each set…

3. pause squats (3-1×0) 5-7 reps

125 lbs x 7, 125 x 7, 125 x 5

Now I have always liked pause squats, but I want to make a clarification to my love for them. I like pause squats when the eccentric is controlled but not necessarily as slow as this tempo!

4. glute bridges 8-10 reps

135 lbs x 12 x 3 sets

Yeah. I did 12 reps each set instead of the 8-10. They are super easy, even with the jump in weight.

5. chest supported rows 10-12 reps

55 lbs x 11, 55 x 10. 55 x 7

Not surprising to see the drop off on the final set.

Just a Squat That I Used to Know

Provincials are 25 days away according to my countdown app…just under 4 weeks, which means I really only have 3 weeks of real training. The final week will be for deloading.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves, slower eccentric

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 185 x 2, 200 x 1, 210 x 1

The set at 135 pounds actually felt really good. Michael even said that he might pass most of the reps. The slower eccentric helped a bit, but I’m still mostly hitting parallel for depth. We took video of the 185 and 200 sets to assess. It’s difficult to judge the depth with certainty. Maybe I’ll have to start wearing my singlet. One thing that was quite obvious in the videos was my ankle mobility and extreme angle of my shins! My body is doing all sorts of things in the effort to squat safely, to protect my back, and to try to hit depth. Unfortunately, that also means that my squat looks different almost every time I go to the gym! But my final single did move better than my heavy single last week. Hopefully my body is getting used to the feel of heavy weight on my back again.

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on the bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 5

with feet on floor and arch: 113 lbs x 5, 118 x 3, 118 x 3

My back is still not 100%. I’m hesitant to even attempt to rate the state of my back at this time. It is definitely improving and has improved significantly compared to a few weeks ago, but I can still feel a degree of pain or discomfort through most of the day. There may be a reasonable chunk of time with almost no pain, but then the simplest thing, like taking a step up a stair, can jostle the back uncomfortably. Although my back generally feels okay at the gym, I want to keep it feeling that way through my training session and beyond, and this is why I elect to do as much of my benching with my feet up on the bench. Having my feet on the bench enables me to have less of an arch…or no arch, if necessary. It’s not my favourite way to bench, but sometimes you do what you gotta do. Benching was all solid and smooth today.

2a. pause squats-low bar, with belt, 2 second pauses

155 lbs x 3, 175 x 3

I love pause squats! There is something about doing a pause squat that allows me to nail my technique. Michael was hoping that having a slower eccentric on my regular squats would have the same result, but it didn’t. I’m not sure why, except for maybe the difference in knowing that I will be staying in the bottom for a bit when doing pauses. Pause squats have always been a good tool for me, but we mostly avoided using them over the past few months because of my back and not wanting to put more strain there. That was likely a good decision, but I’m glad that I am able to use the pause again.

2b. hanging leg/knee raises

x 12

I started off raising my legs and switched to knees at some point. There was some minor back discomfort doing these, particularly with the legs straight…the feeling of muscles being pulled or stretched more than they want to. That same sensation has been present at the bottom of my squats since the back problems started. It’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve been able to squat without feeling it, so I’d say that’s progress. Several weeks ago, I couldn’t even do hanging knee raises without significant discomfort. More improvement!

Ups & Downs

The ongoing disc issue affects so many aspects of my life and often with little in the way of consistency. I had one day of pain-free sneezes, but I’m back to feeling my back blow out with every sneeze. Of course, allergies are probably hitting me now, because I was sneezing all day. My low back/pelvic area has felt out-of-sorts all day, bothering me enough to make me feel doubts about how well my training session would go later in the day; however, my training session felt quite good! I don’t understand my back, but as long as it continues to improve…

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 155 x 3, 175 x 3, 185 x 3, 195 x 3, 195 x 3, 195 x 3

The final set was a wee bit slower but still quite decent. The rest of the sets were good. Bar path and speed were good. The bar felt light, even though this is the first time I’ve had 195 pounds on my back since the end of January! I’m happy with that.

1b. bench press-competition grip, with arch and feet on the floor!

43 lbs x 8, 75 x 5, 95 x 5, 110 x 3, 110 x 3, 115 x 3, 120 x 3, 120 x 3

100 x 12 touch and go

The bench sets felt decent and smooth. It was nice to bench with my feet on the floor without plates and to have almost my full arch. Getting into position wasn’t too bothersome, but I did need to get out of position carefully. The back doesn’t feel any worse for arching though!

2a. pause squats-with belt, low bar, 2 second pauses, slow/controlled eccentric

135 lbs x 5, 145 x 5

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

x 5 + 10, x 5 + 10

Provincials are 6 weeks away!