Post-Injury Fear

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/

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A Dark Cloud

An announcement was made yesterday by one of the two powerlifting organizations I compete with. A lifter had tested positive on a drug-test and was suspended for four years. I read the notice with dismay that someone had attempted to cheat. While the number of people involved in powerlifting within Canada continues to grow, we are still a relatively small group. Unless you live and compete inside of a bubble, as a lifter you become familiar with the names of successful lifters. I don’t know this lifter. I don’t know much about him as a person off the platform, but I know his name and the respect he had earned on the platform. I love my sport, and it is always sad to see its’ reputation tarnished due to situations like this.

Then the lifter himself shared his story, and I found my thoughts and emotions becoming even more disgruntled. I respect the fact that he is owning his decisions and his transparency once the violation was discovered. I recognize the shame and upset this has created around him and the outward ripples created by his actions. But I’m shaking my head.

A couple of years ago, he slipped a disc during competition. Healed up a little but competed again a few months later. When things got worse with his body to the point that he wasn’t training and worried he might never compete again, he knowingly took a banned substance in an effort to prevent muscle wasting. He then competed five more times before competing at Nationals in February of this year. Somewhere in there was the drug test which ultimately was his downfall, and now he has been banned for four years.

Strip away the fact that this lifter is stronger and more experienced than I am, and you’re left with two powerlifters in somewhat similar situations.

  1. We both experienced a disc injury in competition.
  2. We have both experienced disruptions to our regular training due to our injuries.
  3. We both have struggled with fears about losing our strength.
  4. We both have questioned our being able to compete again.

Similar situations but different outcomes.

  1. He chose to take a substance that is banned completely and is not even legal for human consumption anywhere. I took medications which are banned only in competition but are allowed outside of competition.
  2. He chose to compete within a few months of his injury, likely before his body was actually healed. I chose to take at least an entire year off of competing in order to allow my body the time and space to heal.

Herniating my disc last November was a major blow for me. I have been in constant pain ever since. I am not sure if the numbness in my left foot will ever go away. I lost 8 months of work. Two years of hard work and checking off prerequisites in order to go to Nationals were wiped out. Not only was I unable to compete at Nationals this year, but I will also need to start from the beginning in order to qualify for a future Nationals, which means I’m looking at least two years from now. I have had many fears and questions about the long-term prognosis for my health and ability to compete. My day-to-day life has been greatly impacted by my injury and the ongoing symptoms. I may not be the same caliber of lifter as this individual, but my experiences with my herniated disc are not all that different from his. I just let go of my ego in order to heal.

I don’t know which cheating scenario is worse: just wanting an edge over everyone else or the unwillingness to accept the repercussions of an injury. The cheaters who feel they need the advantage are easily viewed as ignorant jerks. But this lifter has a young family and appears to be a genuinely nice guy. While I don’t think he was looking for an edge, he still made the conscious choice to put something illegal into his body. When I look back over the past ten months of my own pain and suffering, it is difficult to feel sorry for him and the punishment he’s received. Anyone who competes in a drug-tested sport knows their responsibilities to be clean and the risks that come with failing a test.

When You Fail

These are interesting days, and I’m sure my mind is working overtime trying to make sense of the snarl of thought threads spinning inside my head. This post is likely going to be nothing more than a mind dump.

Good news is that the stiffness and achiness in the low back has settled down from yesterday’s injection, as I figured it would. While it is still too early to discern the effectiveness of the injection, I have not noticed a difference in my pains yet. It’s only been one day though.

This morning’s training session was not what I was expecting or hoping for. I was supposed to do one bench rep at 135 pounds, which would have been a PR of sorts. I haven’t benched that much weight since herniating my disc, and I’ve never benched that weight using a close grip or without an arch in my back and feet on the ground. Last week, I benched two singles at 130 pounds, so I went into this morning’s session knowing that a five pound increase was within my capabilities. But I failed. I walked around and tried to psych myself up for one more attempt. I failed again.

As much as I have enough experience to know that every training session is not going to be strong and glorious, these two failures were disheartening and frustrating. As I was going through my warm up sets, I could tell the goal was going to be tough to achieve. The same weights I had done with ease last week felt heavy and slow. My last two warm up singles at 115 and 125 pounds were both slow and almost grindy. I’m pretty sure that the 125 pounds was slower than last week’s 130. My husband came with me this morning, because I wanted a spotter and that alone was probably an indicator that I wasn’t feeling up to the task. Right before I set up for my first attempt, I instructed my husband to be aware that the bar might move slowly, because I expected it to be grindy. The weight felt reasonable as I slowly brought the bar to my chest, but there was nothing there when I went to push it back up. He told me to walk it off and try again. The end result was the same. Over the past year, I have learned how to grind through a tough bench rep, but I couldn’t even press the bar high enough to be able to grind through it.

My thoughts and emotions are playing tug-of- war over this failure. It has been a very long time since I have failed anything at the gym so significantly. Sure, I’ve had to drop reps or weights or sets because of my injury and the ongoing symptoms associated with it, but that isn’t quite the same as attempting a heavy weight on a main lift and falling short. Every athlete experiences failure, loss, and difficult training sessions; it is a fact of life and part of the journey. I understand it. I accept it. It still sucks to fail, especially when you know that you are completely capable. However, I cannot get sucked into dwelling on the failure for too long. It happened, and there are likely many reasons why: fatigue and the extremely smoky skies and poor air quality being big ones. The fact it happened doesn’t take away from the progress I have made, nor does it indicate an inability to progress further.

While still feeling disheartened with my failure, my husband and I walked around the Farmers Market, picking up fresh local produce and kombucha. I chatted briefly with a fellow powerlifter there and found my perspective changing through our conversation. It wasn’t earth-shattering conversation, but it revolved around competing, taking time to heal or build up, and being determined. Volunteering at last week’s powerlifting competition really stirred up my desire to get back on the platform, but I am committed to taking the time I need to heal and build up before stepping on a platform again. And perhaps that is a factor in my disappointment over today’s bench misses! While I still have pain, tingling, and numbness in my legs, my ability to move and function has improved significantly over the past couple of months and that has me feeling hopeful and excited. My chiropractor’s excitement over my progress and allowing me to re-introduce some exercises into my training also has me feeling excited and hopeful. It’s like I can see light at the end of the tunnel now, even if I still do not have a timeline for healing. So, I think I should be getting stronger. I feel like I should be more capable. I think I am becoming unstoppable. Then I miss a heavy bench rep and momentarily doubt myself.

Sometimes you attempt to lift a weight that you really have no business trying to lift. Well, I don’t think I ever do that, because I have a good coach and listen to what he tells me to do. However, there are ego lifters out there who think they need to ‘go big’ regardless of their capabilities. That is not what happened to me this morning. Bench pressing 135 pounds may not be something I do often, but I have done it a few times over the past two years. I know it is within my ability to achieve. Today was just an off day, and I was reminded of just how insidious the smoke blanketing our province is. Since I work indoors and have limited my time outdoors lately, I didn’t think that I was being affected by the smoke, but maybe I am wrong in that assumption. Maybe that has contributed to the fatigue I have been feeling this week, and that fatigue could very well have sapped my strength today. I haven’t lost my strength, and my physical progress hasn’t gone backwards. That’s good news!

Powerlifter Not Competing

What do broken powerlifters do when a competition comes to town? They volunteer their time to help out!

Since 2014 when I first got involved with powerlifting, I do not think that the British Columbia Powerlifting Association has held a competition here in Kelowna where I live. Earlier this year when a local competition was announced, I was excited and dismayed at the same time. Happy to see a local BCPA meet but disappointed that I would not be healthy enough to enter the competition myself. My disappointment didn’t last too long though, because not competing allowed me the opportunity to take part in another way. I have taken part in 9 powerlifting competitions as a competitor, but today I was a volunteer for the first time and I’m glad to have had that chance to give back.

It wasn’t wise for me to volunteer with spotting or loading the weight due to the back injury, so I helped out at the score table which involved a lot of sitting. Although I took the opportunity to stand throughout the day, there was still far too much sitting for my herniated disc. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed helping out today, I am also very glad to be back home, reclining and able to do some stretching and foam rolling.

I have been to many sporting events over the span of my years, but seldom, if ever, have I witnessed and experienced the caliber of sportsmanship and excitement that seems to be the norm in powerlifting. It is incredibly exciting to hear the crowd cheer on every lifter, from the first-timer to the experienced, regardless of whether the weight lifted is 100 pounds or 600. And all ages of lifters! The sub-juniors, 14 to 18 years old all the way to the masters, of which today included a woman in her 50’s. First time lifters and those who have competed many times before. New Provincial records. New personal bests.

I am simply excited about powerlifting! Hopefully I will be able to step back onto the platform at some point next year, but the lemonade in the here and now is being free to help out this year instead. And if you ever get the chance to watch a powerlifting competition, do it!

A Thousand Mile Walk

“A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, ‘Today I’m going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep.”            ~Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

When I realized that I had herniated my disc last November, I had to come to terms with the disruption to my goals that came with the injury. I had planned on competing at Nationals in February, but there was no way that I was in any shape to compete. In fact, I couldn’t even hold onto any sort of timetable for resuming training like a powerlifter. That was a bitter pill to swallow at first, and watching my Nationals dream crumble into dust was just as painful as the injury. I allowed myself to feel the disappointment and frustration. I cried a few tears, and then I accepted the truth of my situation. I took that acceptance a step further by acknowledging the wisdom of allowing my healing and recovery to be open-ended. Many months ago already, I had accepted that I would not be competing at all this year, regardless of what was going on in my body. I was at peace with the decision, knowing it was the best one.

As I am still connected with the powerlifting communities, I have noticed the competitions on the calendar, the opening of registrations, and the results. There has been a touch of sadness in knowing that each one competition would pass me by, and yet, that sadness was fleeting. Mostly. It wasn’t as easy to shrug off the disappointment of not being able to enter a competition in my hometown; however, not competing means that I can actually volunteer my time and help out, and I’m excited to do just that this weekend. Still, I got over that disappointment quickly, because how can I even think about entering a competition this year when my left foot is still numb, there is still more than enough pain in my legs 24/7, I’m still not permitted to deadlift, and a barbell hasn’t touched my back in 9 months!

Then another competition was announced just the other day, and with that announcement a thin shawl of sadness has settled on my shoulders. This competition is practically local and has a special place in my heart, because this organization is where my competitive powerlifting journey began. It is where I first set National records, where I broke a World record, and where I was competing when I herniated my disc! This organization has only held one competition a year here locally in the years that I have been competing, and this will be the first time I won’t be on the platform.

For a split second when I saw the announcement, I contemplated my current state with my potential state by late October. Could I possibly enter and go through the motions without any thought of breaking records or personal bests? The thought left my mind as quickly as it entered. A little more than two months is not enough time for me to be ready for the platform, even without any expectations of doing well, and I truly would rather stick to my plan of not competing this year in order to heal. I accept it. I know that this is for the best, but it still makes me feel somewhat sad and I didn’t expect that at all. While I had no reason to think that this particular competition wouldn’t take place again this year, I also had no foreknowledge of if or when it might be, and so, I think, I hadn’t really considered the impact of the loss of this competition. It’s easier to let go of competitions which require the extra expense of hotels and travel, so a reluctance to let go of a local competition makes perfect sense. And yet, I was able to let go of the local one this weekend. Being able to volunteer helped make that easier, but it still wasn’t nearly as disappointing as this October competition is turning out to be for me.

There isn’t really anything to stop me from being involved with this competition in other ways, but not being on the platform will be disappointing. It’s still the right decision though. I’m still healing, and there’s always next year!

One Year!

It is Monday morning, and I am not going to the gym. While I certainly have the flexibility to train when I want to, I generally keep to a regular pattern. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. The decision to switch it up this week was thoughtfully made due to my work schedule. For the first time since returning to work, I am working three days in a row, last night along with midday shifts today and tomorrow. Although I had time to train this morning or after work, I am extending grace to my body. In this moment, my body is thankful for it.

My training program for the week included a little celebratory message, because I have now been working with my coach for a year. My coaching is done online which is something that I had never done before, but it has been a better experience than I ever could have imagined. Before my injury, I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and that was a powerful thing. The focus of training has changed significantly since the injury, and yet I still feel supported, encouraged, and protected. Of course, I hadn’t planned on getting hurt and watching my powerlifting plans and goals derail. A great part of the past year has been spent recovering and dealing with this injury instead of gaining new strength and lifting heavier things, but I know I have an excellent coach to help me get to the other side of this.

Since it is the one year anniversary of working with my online coach, it is also the one year anniversary of going to a commercial gym! There have been many times over the past year, when I have mentally groaned and rolled my eyes or wondered what the heck. There are likely always going to be people at gyms doing weird stuff, using horrible technique, using too much or too little weight, excessively grunting or strutting, watching the mirrors, and chatting more than moving. I notice these things, because I tend to notice and people watch; however, at the gym, I also tend to focus more on doing my own thing. So I notice. My internal sarcasm meter rises a bit and I move on. For all the flaws of a commercial gym, the past year hasn’t been too bad. Some of the staff have made an effort to know my name and I theirs, and sometimes we chat. Most of the equipment is not new, but I generally am able to use what I need when I need it and it works. It is close to home and meets my needs.

So happy anniversary to me, my coach, my gym! It’s been an interesting year. May the next one be even more interesting!

Reflections of Lemonade

As I was reflecting on a few things early this morning, I found myself scanning through some old notes and blog posts. In doing so, I realized that we are more than halfway through 2018, which made me pause to consider my theme and goals for the year. It is common for me to perform a little check up around the middle of each year, but it almost got lost in the shuffle of a year in disarray. My theme for this year is Making Lemonade, which is all about accepting the struggles and challenges placed in my path and making something positive out of them.

Over the years, my goals have been a combination of relational, physical, spiritual, and mental. Some of them have had specific numbers, like dates or weights, while other goals have been more open-ended. A few goals carry over from year to year, because not every goal can or needs to be achieved by December 31. And yet for all the fluidity in the way I set goals for myself, I found it a challenge to create goals for this year due to my state of injury and the massive cloud of uncertainty hovering over me as a result, but I managed to come up with a few. If you want to see the list in its’ entirety, you can read it here; otherwise, here is a quick recap:

  1. Use lemons to my advantage.
  2. Heal my disc.
  3. Get back on the powerlifting platform.
  4. Walk on the wild side.
  5. Simplify.
  6. Expand.

Looking at that list in all its brevity could be completely nonsensical. What kind of goals are those? I guess that’s why it is a good thing to review the first half of the year and see where I’m at! So how am I doing with my challenges?

  1. Using lemons to my advantage is intentionally vague and broad, because you cannot always plan out how you will respond or react to a lemon in your life. Life’s lemons take us by surprise, and I think it is okay to be surprised, to feel upset or angry or confused or whatever emotion the situation evokes in us. What is of greater importance is how we deal with those emotions and the situation after that initial response. I have been embracing lemons as often as I think about them. I’ve enjoyed some really delicious lemon treats, and the bright yellow of a lemon will always catch my eye now. In terms of the more symbolic lemons in my life, I think I’m doing okay. Maybe not perfectly or to the same degree another might in my situation, yet I am looking at life with different eyes and finding reasons to be filled with joy and thankfulness.
  2. Healing my disc. Hmmm. I don’t know how to qualify that goal. I was quickly shown the CT scan of my disc earlier this week, so I know that the disc is still bulging and looking quite similar to how it looked in the MRI from last December. The image would suggest it isn’t healing. The ongoing pain and numbness would suggest it isn’t healing. And yet, I am not in the same place that I was at the end of last year, and that would indicate to me that healing is taking place. After a seven month leave of absence, I am now back to work. Unless I’ve been on my feet for an extended time, I can walk without limping once again. Although I still have constant pain and numbness, the intensity of it is not always as strong as it used to be. This is a goal that is not entirely within my control, because I cannot just do this or that for X number of days and all will be well again. I can control a great deal of things by doing my rehab and exercises and being mindful of my restrictions/limitations, but even my 100% compliance will not guarantee a healed disc in a specific timeline.
  3. Powerlifting! Oh, how I miss thee! But I am at peace with leaving that goal up on a shelf until the time is right to pull it down and dust it off. I won’t be competing this year at all. At this point in time, I’m not even looking ahead to next year.
  4. Walking on the wild side has been one goal that I have not thought of much over the past number of months, at least not purposefully. It’s a goal about being open to trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone. I did my own little Polar Bear Dip to start the year. I tried tempeh for the first time and purchased three packages, which have been in my freezer for a couple of weeks now, waiting for me to have the courage to do something with. To be honest, I cannot recall if I’ve done much stepping out of the comfort zone, because I barely stepped out of the house for much of the first half of the year!
  5. Simplifying is something I strive for on a regular basis, and I successfully removed a ton of stuff from the house in the early months of the year. Due to my injury and symptoms, my life has been rather simple by necessity more than choice. I have been able to enjoy cooking more, because the demands on my time and energy have been less. I enjoyed simple activities and a simple schedule. I have been simplifying by making smarter environmental choices, like remembering to use my cloth shopping bags and reusable straws and cups.
  6. Expanding is a complicated goal that might not make sense to anyone but me. It is also, in many ways, an invisible and silent goal that may not be seen in the moment and is easily overlooked in retrospect. I’m not certain I have done much with this one yet, but there is still plenty of time. And with the brain fog gone and the pain/symptoms being mostly tolerable, I have been opening myself up like a slow blooming flower.

Now that I’ve examined the past seven months, I think I’m doing okay, although I really wish I could do something more #2!