It Is Well

“It’s okay if you’re scared about endings and new beginnings. But remember, you do it every single day. All will be well.” ~Nanea Hoffman

Four years ago today I walked into a private gym to meet with a personal trainer for the very first time. I was absolutely scared that day. Stepping into a gym was like landing in a foreign country where nobody speaks English and the food is unrecognizable. I felt awkward and out of place. So far outside of my comfort zone. My only real hope was that I might finally lose some of my excess weight, but even then I was doubtful.

The journey of the past four years has been incredible and life-changing. I am not the same person today as I was then. The road has not always been easy or free from potholes and roadblocks. There have been ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments. I have reached goals that far surpass my original goal to lose 20-25 pounds, goals that I could never have even anticipated setting for myself. I went from someone who was finally beginning to consider herself a runner to a competitive powerlifter. Four years ago, I hadn’t even heard of powerlifting. I changed jobs. I found myself.

As I reflect on the past four years and where I am today, I can see the road before me disappearing into a shimmer on the horizon. It is very true that every day is a new beginning and you cannot always see what is coming your way. The path of my journey veered slightly this summer with a change in training venue and coaching. Dealing with injury made the road bumpy for most of the year. My husband had major surgery and an ongoing heart issue. Changes at work. Relationship trials. The day-to-day stuff of life. I’ve continued to do it every single day.

 

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6 Minutes of Torture

It was so good to be back at the gym this morning, and I can still say that after a training session that left me dripping in sweat and gasping for breath. I knew my training would look different and would not focus on powerlifting, but I did not know exactly what to expect. By the time I finished my last rep, I could only collapse on the floor, breathing hard and muscles rubbery. My coach told me that he hadn’t intended to kill me, but I think he kind of did, at least subconsciously. Somehow I’m okay with it. The true intent is not to slaughter me but to make me better and stronger. Variation is good. Conditioning is good. Working weak spots is good. Moving is good.

warm-up:

Turkish get-ups with 8kg kettlebell x 2 each side

single leg box step downs x 10 each side

1a. single arm kettlebell presses + carry

10kg x 10 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 8 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 6 each + 4 lengths

1b. single leg box step downs with the box on top of 15 lb bumper plates

3 sets of 10 each leg

I was actually surprised with how “easy” these were. Single leg stuff can often be problematic for me. My balance isn’t always very good, and single leg stuff is just tougher. The warm up set with the box on the floor was rather easy, still I was skeptical when Michael increased the height with the bumper plates. Indeed it felt like I was lowering my leg a very long way, but I powered through my reps with much more balance and ease than I had expected.

2a. trap bar deadlifts-touch and go

75 lbs x 6, 115 x 8, 135 x 10

2b. barbell push-ups

x 12, x 12, x 8

2c. hanging leg raises, keeping a posterior pelvic tilt

2 sets of 8

Hanging leg raises and toes to bar have been more challenging for me since the problems with my SI joints began. Actually anything requiring a posterior pelvic tilt has been more challenging, because my back feels like it doesn’t want to move that way. It’s not so much pain, at least not anymore, so much as a sensation of the muscles being tight and not wanting to move that way. I’ve been working on making the back happier with that position, so there has been improvement…it’s just not completely there yet. The hanging leg raises today were definitely tougher to do with maintaining that pelvic position, but I will get better.

For the last portion of my training session, Michael had me do some conditioning work. He gave me 3 exercises. 30 seconds for each one followed by a 30 second rest. Repeat 3 times. You can call it whatever you like…I think I’m going to call it ‘6 minutes of torture’.

a) double clean & presses with 10kg kettlebells

I didn’t get more than 4 or 5 reps the first round, because I’m not so great at the clean & press. I think I got at least 6 reps on the second round, but the final round dropped back to 4 or 5 from sheer fatigue. I also anticipate seeing some bruises on my upper arms/shoulders over the next couple of days!

b) bear crawl

I think I managed to crawl a little bit further and with better form each round.

c) ab wheel

My brain can no longer recall how many reps I got each round. As Michael noted, my roll-outs were not very far either. Seriously, by the time I got to the ab wheel, my body and brain was rebelling against me. Every muscle was shaking. I needed oxygen in the worst way, and, on the final round, I probably came the closest I have ever come to feeling as if I might puke while training. I am glad to report that I did not.

This conditioning torture is going to be a common occurrence for a while, I think. As much as I am not looking forward to it, I am also oddly saying, “Bring it on!”

4 Days & Openers

Competition is in 4 days, and today was my first day back in my own gym with my coach. Today’s training was simple and essentially easy. I did squats, bench and deadlifts, working up to my potential openers…so not too heavy. It felt good to be in a familiar gym with familiar equipment with my coach who knows me so well. My back, though not 100% yet, has been feeling very good for the past few days. Like really good.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 5

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 2, 185 x 1, 205 x 1

With the exception of the first rep at 165, my squats were all good. The only issue with that one rep was that I dropped a little too quickly which pitched me forward on my ascent, but the second rep was much better. It’s so nice to have my squat back! These past few months have seen me looking like a different squatter almost every training session. Up until a few weeks ago, I’ve not been able to hit proper depth, which was so not like me at all. Everything is feeling good with my squat now.

1b. bench press-with legs and full arch

43 lbs x ? I wasn’t really counting! 73 x 5, 93 x 3, 115 x 1, x 1, 120 x 0, 120 x 1

Today’s bench started out well. The first rep at 115 was a little slow for Michael’s liking, so he had me do another. I don’t know what happened that first attempt at 120, but it was turning into a grinder, so Michael grabbed the bar. I expected it even before he took it, knowing that he wouldn’t want a grinder at this point in the game. I don’t know what happened. Did I bring the bar down to the wrong spot on my chest? I don’t know. Was the bar heavy? I don’t think so. Was it all in my head? Most likely. Michael asked if I wanted to try again or drop down. He didn’t know what happened either, because I am capable of doing several reps at that weight. Of course, I wanted to try again, and it was much better.

2. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 5, 145 x 3, 195 x 1

with belt: 215 x 1

The deadlifts were all good and easy today! Maybe my opener will be higher than 205 after all!

9

Another not so great sleep. Another early start to the day. My body feels somewhat achy…a combination of the back, the shoulders, the neck, and mild muscle soreness. I am tired. Sounds like a broken record, I know. Do young people these days even know what a broken record sounds like?

My coach is still away, but I was blessed to be able to train at a friend’s house this morning. She has a lovely squat rack, one with reasonably spaced holes so I didn’t have to worry about awkward rack heights. It was a little odd to train in someone’s home, but it was also kind of nice. And I was glad to have someone “spot” my heavy squat attempts. Although a squat fail is rare for me, heavy weights can be scary and intimidating, so having someone there is comforting.

1. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 215 x 1, 225 x 1, 225 x 1, 225 x 1, 205 x 2

I am reasonably confident that my coach isn’t going to read this blog post, which may be a good thing, because I kind of did a little more than he probably would have liked. In my defense though, he had only given me the vaguest of instructions…on Thursday you could work up to 225 for singles…did he say single or singles? I don’t remember, but I don’t always do well with vague instructions, depending on the situation. I’m a details kind of person.

Ironically, my coach texted me as I finished the first rep at 225; however, his feedback was a little too slow to prevent me from going ahead with two more singles at that weight. By the time he texted that the first single was enough, I had already done two more! The first one was alright. The second one was more of a grinder than it should have been, which means I should have stopped. Sometimes I am stupid. The last one was okay, better than the second. The reason I went ahead with the third single was that the second one had issues. As I was stepping out with the bar, I hit the racks significantly. I should have racked the bar and refocused, but I didn’t. Then I was focusing on making sure I hit depth. I survived, but I know that my coach would have shut me down there based on bar speed.

2. bench press-competition grip, with legs and arch

45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 3, 110 x 3

These were easy and solid today. I just had to keep the bar moving well and with good speed. The heavy bench single will be Saturday.

My Provincials count down is now in single digits at 9 days! It feels so incredibly close but still so far away.

The Undiscovered Country

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

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

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

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 3

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

195 x 3, 195 x 3

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

1b. bench press-competition grip

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

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

105 x 3, 110 x 3, 115 x 3

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

2. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 8

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

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

215 x 1, 215 x 1

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

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

135 x 7

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

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

Not Enough Time in the Day

My morning didn’t go quite as I had planned or expected. I had a training session first thing in the morning, followed by taking my husband to a doctor’s appointment. Mentally, I allowed for 45 minutes at the doctor’s office, because I know that making people wait is what the office excels at. After the appointment, I expected to have roughly two hours to get stuff done before going to work. The stuff I had to do wasn’t super important, just writing this blog post and making preparations for tomorrow’s early start and busy day, because sometimes I am smart enough to plan ahead. Unfortunately instead of rushing off to bed now that I’m finished work, I am rushing around trying to get this blog post written and my preparations for tomorrow finished. My generous allowance for the doctor’s appointment wasn’t quite generous enough. We were there for just over an hour, and then we had to go get a prescription filled. By the time we did get back home, the two hours I had hoped to have was reduced to about half an hour. That only gave me enough time to eat and change my clothes.

1a. deadlifts-conventional

double overhand grip: 95 lbs x 8, 135 x 5, 165 x 5

mixed grip/with belt: 185 x 2, 205 x 1, 225 x 0, 225 x 1, 205 x 1, 205 x 1, 185 x 3

Deadlifts were a mixed bag today. Last week I only worked up to 205 pounds, and there was some discomfort in the back beginning with 165 pounds. Today those same weights felt much better and without any back discomfort. Unfortunately, 225 pounds didn’t feel so great. I gave up on the first attempt, because it seemed like my back was rounding and it felt uncomfortable. Apparently I was lacking in tightness. Tried again, managed to lift the weight, but it still seemed as if my back was rounding horribly and it felt uncomfortable, though maybe not quite as bad as the first attempt. The back down sets were better.

The missed rep was disappointing and frustrating. Michael said I was allowed to feel disappointed, but I couldn’t let it get to me. I’m trying not to let that happen. There is no way that I am going to squat more than I can deadlift at Provincials!

1b. rope face pulls

30 lbs x 15, x 15, x 15, x 15, x 12

orange band pull-aparts x 15, x 15

1c. bench press-competition grip, flat shoes

feet on bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 5, 83 x 5, 103 x 3

with legs & arch: 115 x 3, 115 x 3, 115 x 3

My bench was generally all good, but the final set at 115 was the best.

I will be back at the gym early tomorrow morning, like 8:00 in the morning. My coach is leaving for holidays on Friday and I start work at 10 tomorrow, so early it is! I’m pretty much okay to train at any time of the day, but I’m a little less keen on an early start after a later night. I’m eyeing the clock, knowing I need to get to bed but also knowing that the night owl is awake and won’t be easily settled. That’s what happens when I work a close shift. Unfortunately, I worked until 9:30 pm. Being at the gym for 8:00 am means I need to wake up around 6:00 am, which means I am not getting enough sleep tonight! While I can function quite well on short sleep, I know the value of a good, proper night’s sleep. Guess I’ll sleep tomorrow night!

Super-powered Singlet

Yesterday afternoon I pulled my singlet out of the drawer and put it on to make sure it still fit. It fit just as I expected it to. My little weight cut is going well. There is just nothing flattering about a singlet. Still, I chose to wear the singlet at the gym this morning. I knew I’d be doing some heavy squat singles, so the singlet would make it easier for my coach to judge my depth. Next week my coach will be away, so I will have my few pre-competition training sessions in a strange gym surrounded by strangers. Since I like to wear the singlet at the gym at least once before a competition in order to re-familiarize myself with it, I would much rather wear it at my coach’s private gym than out in public.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves, in a singlet, almost pausing

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 5

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 2, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 215 x 1, 215 x 1

I don’t know what it was, but I felt strong today. I’m losing weight and feeling hungry fairly often, but the bar felt light this morning and moved fast and smoothly. And all to legal depth! Maybe it was the singlet! Maybe I’m finally getting my groove back. Maybe by the time I get to Provincials I will be close to where I was last competition…

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on bench: 43 lbs x 8, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 5…paused last reps

with legs and arch: 110 lbs x 4, 110 x 3, 110 x 3…paused each rep for last two sets

2. hanging leg raises

x 12

I kept these quite strict with no back swing, so I couldn’t lift the legs too high, but that is also due in part to the back issues. Mostly this was about decompressing the spine a bit without aggravating the back problems.

3a. rope face pulls

20 lbs x 15, 30 lbs x 15

3b. dumbbell curls

20 lbs x 10 x 2 sets

3c. TRX rows

2 sets of 20