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!

Feeling Progress

Last night I went to a theatre production of Anne of Green Gables with my daughter. The show was amazing, and we were thrilled to be there. A couple of weeks ago I suddenly realized that I might have a painful problem with taking in the performance, namely the pain in my back and my inability to sit. Since the back pain issues began late in January, I have severely restricted the time that I sit to what has been absolutely necessary, like in the car, if we were out to eat somewhere without tall tables, or for the few minutes required to do some computer stuff at work. The longest I could sit with minimal pain was 10-15 minutes. How was I going to survive nearly 3 hours of sitting? But then last week was drastically improved from the previous several weeks, giving me hope that I might make it, at least without tears of pain. I think I managed to sit comfortably until about midway through the first act and then the squirming began. Intermission was an opportunity to stand up and walk before squirming uncomfortably through the final act. While I did manage to stay seated for the performance, I was definitely in a hurry to stand up and walk outside as soon as the show was over. I take last night as a small victory in this battle with my back! Sitting is still something that I should and will keep to the bare minimum as much as I am able, but it feels good to discover all of the things that reveal healing and progress. It makes me feel even more hopeful that this disc issue with resolve itself, that I will be able to compete at Provincials in June, and maybe even that I will be able to do more at Provincials than I have allowed myself to hope for considering the past few months.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 115 x 5, 135 x 5

with belt: 155 x 5, 170 x 5, 170 x 5, 175 x 5, 175 x 5

Last Friday’s squats were a hot mess. The bar felt heavy, and my bar path was all over the place. Today’s squats were sweet and steady. The bar felt light. My bar path was consistently over my mid-foot. No forward pitching. Good speed from the first rep to the last. The only thing not ideal with my squats is the depth, but since the back is resistant to hitting proper depth I’m not trying to fight it. Yet. When it is time to compete, I will need to be deeper. Right now, we just need to peak my strength without hurting my back.

1b. bench press-competition grip, last rep paused

feet on bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5

Because of the back, I’ve been doing most of my benching these past couple of months with my feet on the bench. This has allowed me to bench without too much arch in my back in an attempt to prevent too much aggravation to the original SI joint problem and the current disc problem. I am capable of benching without a full arch and leg drive, but it is certainly more difficult. Difficult isn’t necessarily bad; it’s kind of like deadlifting from a deficit. It’s harder but will benefit you down the road. With all this benching without leg drive, Michael has noticed that my lockout has suddenly become a bit slower, as if my triceps are weaker. I’m sure my triceps are somewhat weak, but it also stands to reason that part of the problem is the lack of leg drive and the lack of arch which helps keep my shoulders in position. So, Michael suggested trying to bench with my feet on plates on the floor. The plates would reduce the distance slightly and hopefully allow me to arch without causing more pain in the back.

with feet on 45 lb plates: 105 lbs x 5, 110 x 5, 115 x 5, 115 x 5

The back felt okay. There was some mild discomfort in getting into position, but everything felt fine once the bar was unracked and I went about pressing. There’s really no reason why I shouldn’t be able to arch. Flexion is where my back really feels restricted. The sets done without leg drive weren’t bad, but these sets with leg drive were so much better! The final set was probably the fastest and smoothest of them all.

2a. pause squats-slow, controlled eccentric, with belt, roughly 2-3 second pauses

115 lbs x 5, 135 x 5

Michael wanted these slow and controlled so that I could find where my comfortable depth was. The bar was super light, but we decided to stay at the same weight for the second set. Right before I was ready for the final set, I decided to add more weight to the bar. The first set was like nothing on my back, and I know I am capable of pause squatting more weight. Even 135 pounds was still super easy. Depth was close to parallel, but not where I need it to be.

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

x 5 + 5, x 5 + 5

Supine rows suck, but I do the sucky things when I am told, knowing they are for a purpose and will make me better. Honestly, these still sucked but didn’t feel as bad as I expected. I’m pretty sure that doing these bothered my back the last time I had to do them! Just another little step forward!

Attack of the Back and Other Sad Tales

Now is the time to begin a season of high volume training. As we get closer to competition, then the weight will continue to climb while the volume will drop. High volume generally sucks, but I’m still excited for the hard work ahead. I do reserve the right to whine a little now and then, because high volume does suck. Competition thrills me, and I’ve been restlessly waiting for the chance to get back to competition mode; however, I am also feeling something else, which is quite different from anything I’ve felt heading into competition before.

A bit of fear and uncertainty? I’m trying to think of the most accurate word to describe this feeling, and I’m drawing blanks. Tentative? Pessimism? Insecurity? Perhaps if you take all of those feelings…fear, uncertainty, unsettled, doubtful, doom & gloom…and swirl them all together, then that might reflect what I’m feeling. There is usually some measure of fear and uncertainty leading up to any competition, but this goes beyond the normal and revolves around my lower back. As much as the back is improving, I worry and fret and stew that it won’t improve enough or quickly enough or ever. It can feel okay in so many ways, and yet, the simplest things can also feel uncomfortable and tough. Sitting on the toilet or in the car hurts. Bending forward, lifting my right leg to put on pants is not always easy…often feels like my back just won’t bend enough that way. I can stand and walk without any issue. The back can feel generally fine, but then, like this morning, I can wake up with a cranky back from whatever position I managed to sleep in. The back felt decent yesterday, but I woke up with it feeling stiff and sore, which meant that it bothered me more in training. And that only fuels this mad swirl of emotions, because how am I going to be ready for competition when the back continues to be an issue…

I can literally feel my mood descending into the pit of despair. I want to cry. I want to have a little, or big, pity party, yet I don’t. I want to pull myself up and shake off the negative thoughts, but after the pity party. Maybe I’ll finish this blog post and go for a walk.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

warm-up: 45 x 8, 95 x 7, 125 x 7 with belt

The lower back didn’t feel so great during the first two sets.

with belt: 145 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7, 155 x 7

total volume: 6170 pounds

I have no idea what my depth was like, and Michael wasn’t always watching that. But I think the bar path was generally good. The weight definitely wasn’t maximal, but there’s no need to increase it too quickly, especially with the ongoing back issue.

1b. bench press-competition grip

warm-up: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 7, 83 x 7 with belt

I do not bench with a belt, but Michael suggested trying it. The back wasn’t too happy with getting into my bench position for the first two sets (and pretty much every set after), but this first set with a belt didn’t feel too bad.

103 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7, 105 x 7

total volume: 4378 pounds

I wore a belt for the first three working sets but opted to go beltless for the final set. I’m not certain if the belt truly helped at all, but I could feel a weird sensation in my abdominal muscles while benching with the belt. Maybe that is due to the fact that I’m used to pushing out against the belt for squatting and deadlifts. In benching without a belt, I think I just tighten or lock down my abs rather than pushing outward with them.

Bench was decent today, despite the back discomfort. Michael would smirk as I’d finish each set, because my last rep would be faster than the previous ones.

3c. band pull-aparts

5 sets of 15, 1 set of 10-orange band and these were actually done before my bench press

2a. pause squats-high bar, 2 second pause

115 lbs x 5 x 3 sets

In a way, these felt easier and more comfortable than the previous squats, even though it felt strange to do high bar. I love pause squats, although I think I am currently a little afraid of them since it was a super-extended (and stupid) pause squat that caused my back issue. These felt good. They felt super easy. They were easy.

2b. dumbbell bench press

25 lbs x 12, 34 lbs x 9, 34 x 8

Unlike the barbell bench presses, my final rep was not faster than the previous ones!

Now I’m off to enjoy my pity party…


Happy Monday

I woke up this morning feeling as if all was right in my world again, or at least mostly. My car needs a new fuel pump, but at least I know what day of the week it is today. Yesterday I wasn’t so sure. With the exception of this most recent New Year’s Day, I worked a Sunday shift for the first time in years, and I wholly believed it was Saturday until 3/4 of the way through my night. I was supposed to have today and tomorrow off; however, tomorrow’s day off has been sacrificed by the need to help out another store in need of a key-holder. (insert internal freak out here) So, today is my only day off until Sunday. I can do it, but gosh darn it does it ever mess up my internal calendar. But Mondays are gym days. Mondays are for squats and bench press. I know Mondays! Yet, I had to borrow my son’s car to get to the gym, as mine is sitting in my driveway unable to go anywhere. My neighbour is a mechanic and will get it working soon, I hope. Driving my son’s car felt weird, like I’m dragging my butt along the road, but his car does have better sight lines than mine. But I couldn’t plug my iphone into his car to listen to my theme songs on the way to the gym. I tried the radio…so not the same. Still, I think my training session was a good one.

Michael started off by challenging me and my gym buddy to hang out in a bodyweight squat for a minute. I have no idea how long I was squatting, but it was easily well more than a minute. At home I can try to do 3 minutes each day. Pretty sure I could do 5, although I wonder if it would be more difficult without my knee sleeves on. I’ve been wearing them on squat days at the gym, because I can and it makes my problematic right knee feel a bit better. That knee isn’t too happy with deep squats without the sleeves, not even just kneeling, so my 5 minute goal might not be as easy as I thought.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 10, 95 x 8 with a pause on last rep

Michael changed the positioning of the safeties after that second set.

125 x 6

I hit the right safety on the first rep! Michael teased about squatting deeper as he returned the safeties back to the previous position, while I held the bar. With safeties no longer a peril, I finished the set.

155 x 6, 185 x 6, 195 x 5

195 felt a little tough, and there was a rep in the middle in which my right knee felt funky but not in the usual spot. The back of that knee is typically what bothers me while squatting, but this time I felt something in the front spot that only bothers me while standing or walking. Whatever was going on there during the set wasn’t severe, but it still bounced around like negative energy inside my head enough to make me fearful of being able to finish the set. The final two reps were tough but fine on the knee. There was some throbbing for about a minute after the set. Predictably, Michael dropped the weight for the next set.

175 x 6

This was much better, and the knee was fine.

At one point I asked Michael if he could tell if my low bar position was even lower than normal for me, and he agreed that it was. I had been feeling as if that was the case for the past couple of weeks. It’s not a bad thing.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 8, 83 x 6, 100 x 6, 100 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6

Michael wanted me to keep the reps fast. Sometimes my first rep is a bit slower, as if I need to realize the need to put some effort into it. Can’t really deny that!

Just like I’ve been feeling the lower bar position in my squats, I’ve been feeling as if my arch is improving for the bench press. Michael agreed. My set up is feeling and looking good, and my pressing is feeling consistent and strong.

2a. pause squats-low bar, 2 second pause

135 lbs x 5, 160 x 5

These were good. I love pause squats…I say it all the time! When I do pause squats, my technique dials in almost perfectly, and I’m fairly certain this is due to the fact that I control my eccentric, slow and steady, knowing that I’m going to be stopping at the bottom. With my regular squat sets, I pretty much dive bomb, which gives me a bit of spring out of the hole but can also throw off my bar positioning and get me into all sorts of trouble. You know what that realization means? Some slower eccentric work is going to come my way…

2b. Spoto presses-2 second pause about 3″ off chest

95 lbs x 6 x 2 sets

And in appreciation of my son allowing me to use his car, I replaced the battery in his key fob today!

Focus Forward

I have been wearing a necklace for a couple of years, one of those trendy ones with a locket you can personalize with various tiny charms. Mine has a background plate with the word ‘Passion’, a running shoe, and a dumbbell. Well, that’s what was in my locket up until yesterday when I removed the running shoe. It has been 15 months since I last went for a run, and I had been considering the removal of the shoe charm for the past several months. Despite my chiropractor’s statements that, for me, running again is a not now thing rather than a never thing, he subtly ignores any reference that I might make about running, which leads me to believe that he isn’t so inclined to ever give me the green light. Others tell me that I can do what I want to, including running, and I suppose there is truth to that. I am certainly no stranger to being stubborn in doing what I want rather than what is best for me at times, yet I am oddly reluctant to be rebellious in this area. Heck, I feel like a rebel just breaking into a bit of a jog to cross the street!

I have been a good girl in following the advice of my chiropractor, but it hasn’t been easy to let go of the desire to get out there and run. My goals have changed to powerlifting, so I have no desire to run long distances. It would just be nice to be able to go for a short run from time to time…because I could. I probably could, but I don’t want to risk aggravating the areas which were the cause of the “no running” ban in the first place. Still, I’ve been taking incredibly small baby steps towards letting go of running. Last July, I finally unsubscribed to The Running Room emails and stopped following their Facebook page. Yesterday I removed the running shoe charm from my necklace, and I didn’t know how to feel. It felt like I was giving up on the prospect of running again. My chiropractor said that I am focusing my intentions.

I’ve been thinking about his response, and this morning I realized that he was correct. My goals are big enough to crush most people, and pounding pavement for 20-30 minutes really isn’t going to help me much in achieving those goals. Even though running hasn’t even been on the back burner for a long time, I’ve been clinging to it, afraid to let go because it felt like giving up, like failure, and I hate to fail. My chiropractor’s comment chafed a bit, because I think I’ve been fairly good at staying focused over the past few years. It felt like a sassy response at a time when I was feeling emotional and low. But I appreciate it now. I am thankful for his response. He’s right. I am focusing my intentions. Is it the end of the world if I never run again? No. I’d much rather stay healthy and keep lifting weights. I do have big powerlifting goals, and I will need to stay focused in order to make them happen.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 10, 95 x 8, 125 x 6, 155 x 6, 185 x 6, 195 x 6, 195 x 5, 185 x 6

These weren’t quite as fast or as easy as last week, but that’s okay. 195 pounds felt slightly heavy on my back today, and the second set was a bit challenging. The backdown set was much better, and I was able to find my groove again. I did have some wrist discomfort on the heavier sets which was likely part of why everything felt heavier. A couple of days ago I rolled my right wrist awkwardly at home, and it’s felt slightly uncomfortable off and on ever since.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 8, 85 x 8, 105 x 6, 110 x 6, 110 x 6 pause the last rep, 105 x 6

These were solid, smooth, and moving well.

2a. pause squats-low bar, with sleeves

135 lbs x 5, 155 x 6

2b. Spoto presses-competition grip, 2 second pause

85 lbs x 5, 85 x 6


The Numbers Game

I was excited about going to the gym this morning. Okay, so I am always excited to go to the gym, but I could have easily felt apprehension, knowing that my measurements would be taken today. Since my measurements were last taken on May 30, 2014, I knew that the numbers would probably be different and not necessarily in the best way (from a certain point of view); however, I am pleasantly surprised by how laid back I felt about being measured once again. It would be so easy to stress out over gained inches in all the wrong places (and trust me when I say that I sometimes still do!), yet I understand that I am pursuing gains in strength and those gains aren’t so easy to attain. Quite honestly, I think I am in a comfortable place with my weight and body composition, even if there are moments when my vanity freaks out. My measurements today weren’t nearly as bad as I had thought they might be. I think I’m mostly relieved that the numbers weren’t where they were when I first started training! I am quite excited to see that my upper arm is bigger than it was, and the skinfold measurement on my triceps was less than before. My arms may not look like big guns, but I’ll take any progress that I can get there! The only regular measurement that was less than before was my calf. I lost a quarter inch from my calf compared to May 2014. All that to say that the measurements are fine. It’s interesting to see what they are, even if my current goals don’t involve losing a bunch of weight and changing my body composition. 🙂

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 10, 95 x 6, 125 x 6, 155 x 5, 175 x 5, 185 x 5, 195 x 5

Squats felt great today! The bar is moving fairly quickly. My sticking point has been greatly minimized, and I am able to push through it with increasing speed. It’s amazing how something as simple as widening my stance just a little can have such a profound impact.

Towards the end of my squats I began to feel some discomfort in my right knee, which was more of an issue with standing and walking than it was with squatting. My pesky right knee sure does like to play games with me. When it comes to that knee, there seems to be two distinct areas which present pain and/or discomfort at random intervals: the back, outer area and the front inner area. The back area has been a frequent complainer over the past couple of months, but it seems to be more of an issue when I am in a deep squat. The front area of the knee has been more bothersome over-all but not so much lately. This area tends to complain only when standing or walking but is perfectly fine to squat. This is the area that began to ache in the middle of my session.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 8, 88 x 6, 100 x 6, 100 x 6, 105 x 6, 105 x 6

My bench press felt solid today, too. Generally, I just had a really good training session. Well, at least 99% of today’s training was awesome!

1c. ab wheel (and this is the 1% part)

x 8, x 10 ,x 10, x 9, x 9

My abdominal muscles have been sore since last Wednesday, when Michael began including ab work into all of my training sessions. I know that these muscles will settle down and adjust to the frequent training, but I also know that the adjustment isn’t going to happen overnight. When the ab muscles are already sore, the act of doing more ab work becomes a form of torture. While I don’t have the greatest range on the ab wheel, I know that I cut my rolling out in order to make it through each rep.

2a. pause squats-low bar, with sleeves, 2 second pause

145 lbs x 5, 160 x 5, 160 x 5

These were awesome and a reminder of why I love pause squats! Last week, I found myself anticipating the command to come up, because the effort to hold the pause was strong. Today, I wasn’t twitching to rise out of the hole at all and felt like I could have hung out at the bottom for a while.

2b. TRX rows

x 12, x 10, x 10

2c. Spoto presses-competition grip, 2 second pause about 2 inches off the chest

85 lbs x 6, 85 x 6, 85 x 5

I’m glad that Michael had me use my competition grip for these this week. Last week he had me use a close grip, which is fine but more challenging on the triceps, especially after all the benching with a competition grip.

Back to the measurements…

I bought a new pair of jeans at Costco yesterday, which always presents a measure of stress due to the fact that you are buying clothing without first trying it on. I haven’t bought a new pair of jeans for quite a while, like probably at least a year, and the variability of clothing sizes drives me crazy. My only other jeans are a size 8 and a size 9, because they came from different stores. The number on the tag doesn’t bother me, doesn’t necessarily make me feel fat, but it does make me leery of buying new clothing without the ability to try it on first. What if I don’t fit that size 8? What if I have gained enough weight or inches that I actually need to go up a size? But I was needing a new pair of jeans and we were at Costco and I grabbed the first pair of size 8 that I saw, held it up against my body to judge leg length, because nothing is worse than pant legs that aren’t long enough. I didn’t even think much about it. Leg length acceptable? Yes. Size 8? Yes. Into the cart. If they don’t fit when I get home…I can cry, see if they’ll fit Abby, or eventually return them.

Once home, I went into my room, stripped off the jeans I was wearing and, with breath half held, slipped into the new jeans. They fit perfectly! It is in such a moment that I realize the weight of my subconscious insecurities and, even if only for that moment, I recognize how silly those negative thoughts and insecurities can be. Knowing that you are about 10 pounds heavier than you were two years ago can make you feel fat and chunky. Knowing that you are still comfortably wearing the same size and even the same clothing that you were two years ago makes you realize that self-perception isn’t the most accurate way to judge your body.