Can You Feel It?

I was asked today if I am excited about my upcoming competition. Am I? You’d better believe it!

Heading into Provincials this past June had me feeling cautiously hopeful but tempered by the reality of dealing with my back issues since late January. Although my back was greatly improved by June, it wasn’t quite normal and my ability to properly peak for competition was hampered. Knowing that I would not have my best performance was frustrating, and I had to mentally prepare myself for the personal disappointment. The tweak of my back during Provincials was unexpected and demoralizing. These weeks and months since have crept by painfully slow at times, and now the days are passing by at the speed of light.

I am excited for this competition. Training has been going well, and I have been pushed further, harder than ever before. It’s been a good thing, I think. My back has mostly held up quite well. My anxiety about inflicting more harm on myself has settled into the realm of reasonable expectations. I have successfully moved weights that I have not used for a long time, and I’m doing it without pain. Although my current program has me doing more volume at heavy weights than I’ve ever done before, the fact that I am keeping pace with the volume inspires confidence and hope. While I do have two little goals for this competition, I honestly have no idea what numbers my coach has in mind.

I have this tendency to look at my previous best lifts and feel as if those were the best I could ever do. With almost all of this year being consumed by the back problems, it has been a very long time since I’ve achieved those best lifts! It is likely quite normal to feel that my strength has stagnated or that injury has hammered nails into the coffin containing my goals. Recent training successes have been prying those nails off, and I know that my strength is growing, although I cannot say with certainty if that growth has surpassed my pre-injury state or merely brought me back close to it. But I feel optimistic!

Yes, I am excited for this competition! I am always eager to step onto the platform to compete. There is something amazing about being part of a powerlifting competition. I am hopeful that this one will be redemptive. Even if my numbers end up being less. Even if I am not successful in my own goals. Okay, so I won’t be happy if I fail in one of my goals, because I have been stuck there for two years! But even if I should fail that one, too, I know I will be okay. I am excited just to compete again. I am hopeful that this competition will be a little springboard for Nationals in February. Am I excited? More than you could possibly know to look at me!

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18 Days

Competition is 18 days away! That time feels both so distant and so close. Somehow the week or two before a competition is always crazy busy. Last night after I entered my work schedule into my calendar, I paused for a moment, feeling a tangle in my mind that I hadn’t expected. In unraveling it, I realized that I will be working 7 days in a row leading up to the competition. That’s not exactly how I had envisioned spending the bulk of those days, but I can get through it. Training should be minimal that week for a deload, but for now I’m still increasing the weights.

1. squats (2-0x0) 1-2 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 5, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 2, 205 x 2, 215 x 1

main event: 225 x 2, 225 x 2, 225 x 2, 225 x 2

Warm ups felt really good and moved well, I think. My bladder wasn’t playing nicely with me this morning. When you need to create tension by filling your belly with air and pushing it out against your belt, a full (or partially full) bladder can really interfere with that process. There are mornings when I can train without making a trek to the washroom…today was not such a day! In fact, I had to make two treks between sets. As annoying as it is to disrupt my training for a bathroom break, I’d rather do that and be able to fully create tension and use my belt effectively.

Yesterday I blogged about the fact that I haven’t had 225 pounds on my back since before Provincials in June. During Provincials, a 221 pound squat tweaked my back and set back my competition and training. My confidence has been growing over these recent weeks as I’ve found myself doing more reps and sets at heavy weights than I’ve ever done before. Once upon a time, I did 225 pounds for 2 reps but only one set. As I set myself up for the first set at 225 this morning, I wasn’t apprehensive or nervous. I knew I could do it. I knew I was going to do it. The reps didn’t all feel light or easy, but they still felt decent. Perception is funny. Some of the sets felt ugly, as if the bar was manhandling me, but what I saw on the video wasn’t nearly as bad as it felt. Regardless, I definitely felt my legs working. I am sure that I was missing a few cues here and there. Did I take a big enough breath each rep? Did I keep my chest up each rep? Was the bar over my midfoot each rep? I could watch the videos over and over and pick them apart to the best of my ability or wait for my coach to comment with his feedback. Today was another PR of sorts…my first time squatting 225 pounds for doubles for multiple sets!

2. bench press (2-1×0) 1 rep

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 4, 100 x 2, 115 x 1

main event: 125 x 1, 125 x 1, 125 x 1

These felt solid.

3. chest supported rows 10-12 reps

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

Although the first set is never what I’d call easy, I always feel like it was easy enough that I will be able to get more reps on subsequent sets. Yeah, no.

Respect for 225

I opened up the week’s training plan this morning. This might have been the first time in recent weeks that my eyebrows didn’t pop up and my jaw didn’t drop while reading what my coach had programmed for me. I actually find that fact quite interesting. With competition less than 3 weeks away now, the volume is dropping. Hallelujah! Of course, the weights are still increasing, although not beyond anything I’ve done in the past. I will be doing more reps at those weights than I’ve done before, but I think multiple single reps shouldn’t be a problem. Having had a couple of weeks with strong results recently, I feel very optimistic about the week ahead.

And yet, there is that teensy sliver of apprehension with tomorrow’s squats. 225 pounds for 1-2 reps. It is only 10 pounds more than I did last week for triples. I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I haven’t had that much weight on my back for a long time! I keep saying that because it is true. It’s been more than 4 months. The last time I squatted 225 pounds was leading up to Provincials in June. Hitting that weight in training then was fine; however, my second squat attempt at Provincials was 220 pounds. Although I was successful in the lift, something tweaked in my back in the process and the squat was painful and ugly. What should have been an easy second squat wasn’t and the back issues continued.

I think my back is generally doing quite well now. There was a little flare up a few weeks ago while deadlifting, but I’ve been aggressive in rehab and it seems to be doing fine. Squats have been feeling good the past couple of weeks, so I honestly have no reason to expect anything drastically different tomorrow. They could feel a bit heavy or tough and still be good. The first set will be important as it is where my confidence can be made or broken. My first set isn’t always the best, but being able to push through to finish well can fill me with the confidence needed to regroup and improve the next set. Alternatively, a really tough first set can make me feel weak and incapable. I am not either of those things.

225 pounds should be a relatively easy weight for me, but I also know that you need to respect the weight on the bar. That is a decent amount of weight! There are grown men who weigh that much…and I’m figuratively about to throw one of them on my back and squat once, twice, and over again.

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…

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.

 

Aches, Pains & Injury

It’s no secret that this year hasn’t gone as well as I might have planned or hoped in terms of my training and powerlifting. The “little” SI joint problem that began all the way back at the end of January has been an ongoing presence in my life. Although it has greatly improved, especially over the past couple of months, there remains an ache, a discomfort that is just there more than it is actually an issue. Midway through Monday’s training session, I began to feel little aches in other parts of my body. A bunching up sensation behind my right knee when I’d squat. An entirely different sensation behind the left knee as if I had hyper-extended it. There was a general sense that something was out of sorts in my pelvis. Some of my disc issue symptoms are subtly shifting into my perception again…a bit of tingling/numbness in the big toe of my right leg and a heavy, achy feeling at the bottom of my hip. Everything combined truly is not all that much to complain about…it is just there and I can feel it. Maybe I’m just acutely aware of what is going on with my body, and I suppose that makes sense considering the nature of my training over the past few years. But let me just say that coming back from an injury sucks! I hesitate to call my SI joint issue an injury, but I suppose there really is no other way to look at it.

With only two competitions this year and the first one being less than what I would have liked, I am hoping for a much better performance in November. Of course, I have a goal in mind for that competition. It isn’t out of line with my capabilities, at least my capabilities pre-SI joint problem! As much as I believe that I am still entirely capable of achieving this goal, I’m hesitant and cautious, knowing that this has not been my best year. Over the past few weeks of training with a new program written by a new coach, I’ve had moments where I felt as if I was so far removed from what I know I can do, moments when the weights felt so much heavier than they actually were and I wasn’t completely confident that I could regain my strength. Yet, there have also been moments when I have felt strong and confident and could envision being capable of more. The line between those opposing feelings is paper thin. Today’s deadlifts made me feel strong and confident and capable, but then my incline bench left me feeling weak and frustrated. The feedback from my coach was that my incline sets were looking perfect, that struggling is expected at this point. Hallelujah!

1. deadlifts (2-2×1)

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

main event, with belt: 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 6, 190 x 5

2. incline bench (3-1×0)

warm up: 45 lbs x 8

main event: 65 lbs x 8, 65 x 8, 65 x 5

These were definitely tougher today. The rep range was 8-15, but I stopped each set with maybe, maybe one rep left in the tank.

3. stiff legged deadlifts (3-1×0)

115 lbs x 15, 115 x 13

4a. side plank

x 25 seconds, x 25s, x 25s

4b. barbell row

75 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 75 x 10

4c. glute bridge

60 lbs x 15, 60 x 15, 60 x 15

The weight for the glute bridges is not a struggle at all; however, that weight is becoming uncomfortable and awkward when it comes to getting into position and having the weight across my abdomen.

 

 

Dippity-Do

For a while now Mondays had been the end of my weekend, but that has now changed. This is my first Monday which is actually my Thursday. It was odd working yesterday, and I frequently found myself thinking it was Saturday rather than Sunday. I am not used to working on a Sunday, but I will adapt.

1a. tempo squats-high bar, flat shoes, closer grip

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 6, 115 x 8, 135 x 6, 145 x 6, 145 x 6

My hand position when I squat usually has the outside of my hands touching the outer rings. Of course, I have often noticed that many powerlifters squat with their hands in much closer to their shoulders, so last week I started using a slightly closer hand position with my tempo squats and continued with that today. My hands were roughly a thumbs length from the inner edge of the knurling. The position certainly helps keep my elbows from flaring back, but it is also harder on the shoulders. So far the shoulders are doing okay.

The tempo squats were somewhat easier today compared to last week, although I did a few sets of single leg box step downs prior to last week’s squats. Today my coach let me do the squats before any single leg work. Maybe that made the difference or maybe I was just more familiar with the movement. Really, the breathing is the hardest part of the tempo squats. They were done with a 4 second eccentric, a 1 second pause, and a 2 second rise.

1b. incline bench press, grip about a thumbs length from inner knurling

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 8, 70 x 6, 70 x 6, 75 x 6, 75 x 5 + 1

The second set at 70 pounds was faster and easier than the first set at the same weight. That could be because my coach told me to blast through my sticking point as I was setting up for the set. Sometimes the little cues will help me. Sometimes they won’t. I ran into a positioning problem on the fifth rep of the final set. I had to rack the bar, take a couple seconds to regroup, and then finish the final rep.

2a. barbell split squats-high bar, same closer grip

75 lbs x 10 each, 85 x 10 each, 85 x 10 each

After the tempo squats, I had expected the single leg work to suck. These did not suck. Sure, I was breathing hard, dripping sweat, and shaking like jelly after each set, but the actual work wasn’t too difficult.

2b. hip thrusts with hip circle

with circle below knees x 30, with circle above knees x 30

2c. barbell rows-wider grip comparable to my bench press, trying to keep the elbows out

65 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 75 x 10

2d. dips

with blue band x 7, with orange band x 7, with orange x 6

Dips are one of those things that always intimidate me a bit, because I imagine that they are too difficult for me to do. The set with the blue band was easy enough. As I was setting up for the second set and felt how little resistance there was with the orange band, I imagined that I would not be able to do many reps. That first set of orange band reps actually surprised me. It wasn’t super easy, but it wasn’t as tough as I had expected. The final set was tougher, but my entire body was mostly jelly by this point.

There is still lots of time ahead me, but I have begun to allow trickles of competition thoughts to seep through my protective barriers. My next competition is 4 months away minus a few days. But what took me by surprise was realizing that Nationals will be about 3.5 months following that! It’s still plenty of time, more time than I had between competitions last year. In fact, last year I did 3 competitions within a 3 month span! That was just a little crazy and definitely not ideal. This year is certainly moving at a different pace than the previous year, but I’m okay with it.