I did a thing yesterday. Rack pulls. It’s no big deal really, as I have been doing rack pulls since my chiropractor gave the okay a couple of weeks ago. The weight started low with a 20-25 pounds jump each week. The weights and reps leading up to yesterday had felt good, but yesterday’s program had me pulling 205 pounds for five sets of three. Being given the green light to add more exercises to my training makes me happy and excited, makes me feel as if I am stepping closer to being a powerlifter once more, but that’s still a ways off yet. Permission to do rack pulls feels like finding the golden ticket. This is the first time I’ve been allowed to do any lifting resembling a deadlift since herniating a disc ten months ago!
Pulling 200 pounds yesterday was exciting, but I also approached the bar with some trepidation. Feeling the heaviness of the loaded bar during the first set did little to calm the flutters in my stomach or stop the doubts from invading my head. Still, I plugged away at my reps until the fourth set, when I started to feel soreness in my low back and my rhythm broke after the second rep. I tried to refocus to do the final rep, but it didn’t feel right and I stopped, rested, and then completed the final set.
It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up that much weight and doing it yesterday was so exciting, but getting the work done didn’t stop the doubts and fears. The low back felt a bit achy during the rack pulls, and the discomfort I felt increased for a while after and then held. My first instinct was that this was the normal post-deadlift muscle soreness, but lurking in the corners of my thoughts was the possibility of having hurt my back again. This ache didn’t feel quite the same as how the back feels after a day of bending at work, but it’s been so long since I have deadlifted that I wasn’t confident in my ability to discern the difference. What if I had aggravated the disc? What if I had pissed off my SI joints? The pain doctor suspects a joint problem…what if? Did I use too much back and not enough legs to pull the weight? Was I going to have to drop the weight? Would I have to stop the rack pulls completely?
As much as I tend to say that my training has been light and easy in these months since herniating my disc, that is true only in comparison to what my training looked like prior to the injury. Before the injury I would squat and deadlift weights heavy enough to impress my non-powerlifter friends. Some training days would see me moving more than 10, 000 pounds of weight over the course of a work out. With the injury came drastic changes to every aspect of my life. I went from squatting and deadlifting to performing breathing exercises and basic body-weight movements, gradually adding in some upper body work and light weights as healing slowly progressed. Those have been basically simple exercises, and yet, they haven’t always been easy to perform and I have worked very hard to progress as much (or seemingly as little) as I have. Yesterday’s rack pulls seemed like a milestone, or perhaps an important test I had to pass. And while I think I did ultimately pass the test, the taking of it also revealed a weakness.
This weakness is not physical, although I am certainly still healing, still struggling with constant pain and other symptoms in my legs. No, this weakness is mental. It is the fear of re-injury and all that would come with that…more pain, more suffering, more set-backs.
The opportunity to add exercises and weight back into my training is exciting. This is part of the progress I want to see, but I really don’t want to regress. The fact that I am still dealing with pain and a partially numb foot means I’m not keen to make things worse, but I also have to accept that some discomfort and aches will come from taking those forward steps. The stiffness I’m feeling in my low back is most likely simple muscle soreness, because that has been normal for me after pulling and I haven’t used those muscles like this for a long time! There is a measure of comfort in realizing this is probably normal, but that won’t stop the fears from surfacing again.
For anyone involved in a sport, the mental game is just as important as the conditioning and physical training, even more so when coming back from injury, I think. I experienced this on a smaller scale last year when I had issues with my SI joints for the first half of 2017. Recovering from that issue was an up and down affair, and things didn’t always go the way I wanted. I did get through that issue though and was stronger as a result, both physically and mentally. Then I broke a World record and had an excellent competition. I also herniated a disc. I will get through this stronger…again.
Here is an article I saved a few months ago which talks about this same thing: https://www.girlsgonestrong.com/blog/mindset/overcoming-fear-injury/