Moguls

Last week was mostly a write-off for me. Two weeks ago I was given an unexpected deload in my training program, which was deloaded even more in an attempt to facilitate some healing in my left shoulder. So I had fewer sets and reps for everything, and the weight for any upper body accessories was cut in half. Then last week, I was given a 2-day training program to allow me an extra couple of days to “recover.” I also started a new medication last week, and I am still trying to determine whether or not some of my new-ish symptoms are related to the medication. I have been hurting a lot, dizzy, and more tired than I’ve been through 4.5 months of poor sleep, so I didn’t do the second day of training last week. This morning, I did that day of training.

In some ways, this morning’s training felt better; and yet, I still felt utterly fatigued through the entire thing. And it was, at times, tough. I couldn’t help thinking about just how tough some exercises felt compared to what I was capable of before injuring my back. Last October, I was squatting more than 200 pounds for 2-3 reps for multiple sets, while today I used 30 pounds for goblet squats for three challenging sets. That’s one of the hard parts of recovering from an injury…knowing you have taken massive steps backwards in what you used to be able to do. Even though I know that healing from this injury can take a long time, it’s almost impossible to maintain a Pollyanna attitude day after day after day for months at a time. And so, sometimes I mentally chafe against my limitations, even as I go through the motions of rehab and self-care.

As I was benching this morning, my thoughts sifted through the memory banks and settled upon one particular memory from roughly 28 years ago. Although the memory is fuzzy around the edges, I believe that was my first downhill skiing experience here in British Columbia. I may have been born here, but I grew up in Saskatchewan, where mountains are non-existent. While there may not be real mountains on the prairies, I did actually get to go downhill skiing once in Saskatchewan at Fort Qu’appelle, and it wasn’t exactly my favourite activity. A few years later we moved to BC where the mountains are real and skiing is an activity enjoyed by many. The memory that came to mind today was during my youth group’s outing to a local ski hill.

I fell a lot that day, and I definitely felt out of my element. Most of my friends had been skiing for years and a natural grace that eluded me. But I kept going. At some point, I found myself down a run that was extremely bumpy. I didn’t even know what moguls were until that point, but I quickly learned that moguls and I were not destined to be friends. I’d hit a mogul and fall down. I’d get back up, hit a mogul, and I’d fall down again. Over and over again. One friend laughed as he watched me struggle and made a comment about how I don’t give up, or something along that line. I cannot recall what I said in response, but I honestly had few choices available to me. This was a lengthy section of moguls, and there was no going around it. I had to go through it either on skis or walking. I chose to continue to ski a few feet before wiping out and getting back up.

It’s interesting that this memory popped into my head today, but I think it was also a timely reminder of who I am and what I am made of. I also think the visual is quite timely after yesterday’s sermon, and that is something I will need to chew over for a while. In the meantime, I will just keep getting up again.

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Shadowlands

Wasn’t it just the other day that I was commenting on the gift of struggle? So why am I currently mired in my struggles and feeling defeated? Why? The answer at its most basic level is that I am human. There are limits on what my own strength and determination can do to keep doubts, insecurities, and low mood from striking, and being a person of faith doesn’t insulate me from all of those negatives either. I think my faith allows me to recognize the gift of struggle and to maintain a hopeful perspective through the darkest hours, but sometimes you still need to walk through the shadows.

There might be some blue sky outside my window today, but I’ve been on the cusp of grumpiness all week. As I laid awake in bed last night, I realized that I was carrying a lot of tension in my body. In my efforts to find a comfortable position in which to (hopefully) fall asleep, I had to force myself to relax my muscles on several occasions. Lying awake in the darkness of my bedroom often releases my brain to trip its way down rabbit holes and hallways it seldom has access to in the light of day. Such thoughts are seldom productive or beneficial. Some thoughts are more benign but still pointless.

  • What if my return to work is denied again?
  • When will I be able to lie down without pain/discomfort/the sensation of things moving in my legs?
  • There have been so many changes at work since I was last there. How am I going to adapt?
  • In that situation that occurred months ago, I should have said this. I should have done that.

I am beginning to wake up a bit earlier these days, which perhaps sounds better than the reality of the situation. With little on my schedule over the past several months and great difficulties with sleeping, I have been waking up without an alarm most days with anywhere between 7:30 and 8:30 being the time my body would begin to stir enough to suggest waking up. Waking up though has still been a struggle. So, lately I have begun to wake up between 7:00 and 7:30…not a great difference but enough for now. Unfortunately, when you’re not sleeping well, waking up earlier doesn’t help you get enough restful sleep!

This morning I woke up, stayed snuggled in my warm cocoon, silently debating the merits of getting up until I was at least sufficiently awake enough for the task. I ate breakfast. I dressed. I left for the gym. Once in the car, I felt the internal resistance and wondered why. I like going to the gym, but the act of leaving the house to go there has often been more of a struggle over these recent months. The herniated disc, of course. It’s not that I no longer enjoy going to the gym…it is the fact that I am injured, healing, feeling pain, lacking sleep, off work, off-kilter, and out-of-sorts.

I acknowledged the source of that struggle and arrived at the gym believing that the training session would be okay, all things considered. It would be a bit much to say that the training session was horrible, but it definitely felt tough. Physically and mentally. The first thing on my agenda was bench press, and I was barely into it before realizing that I wasn’t feeling it at all today. The left shoulder continues to be a problem, and it felt pinched through every rep. The right wrist sometimes didn’t feel seated well under the bar. An ankle randomly felt out of place…go figure! The back. The weight felt easy enough, but everything that goes into moving the weight seemed determined to make it feel heavy. My head wasn’t there, or rather it was but in all the wrong ways.

  • I know it’s going to take time to heal, but seriously how much?
  • When will the numbness in my foot and calf go away?
  • When will I stop feeling as if my legs are infested with living, squirming things?
  • Why do some of these little exercises never seem to get any easier?

I’m not feeling the gift today, but I’ve been reminded that my experience is not unique nor insurmountable. Even if it doesn’t chase away the shadows, it is a reminder that there is still light to be found and enjoyed. For today, I accept the shadows. Tomorrow is a new day, and I have determined that I shall go for a long walk, barring extreme cold or snowfall. I’ve walked on a treadmill or indoors during my recovery, but I haven’t done any walking outside and that is a much more delightful prospect than a treadmill or the mall. Of course, I wholly expect to encounter resistance by the time tomorrow rolls around, but maybe I can use a cup of coffee as a carrot on a stick.

Here I Go Again?

Something happened in the midst of my deadlift sets this morning, and my back has been cranky ever since. Only this is the right side of my lower back, while the left side has bothered me most over the course of the year. <sigh> Just yesterday my coach had asked how the SI was feeling, and I said everything was feeling good. <sigh> About 5 weeks out from competition and this is not what I want to be feeling right now. Fatigue? Yes. Minor aches and pains? Okay. This? No. But I know what to do and I am motivated to do what it takes to get this back under control again.

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 4-5 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 95 x 7, 135 x 4, 165 x 4, with belt 195 x 3, 205 x 2

main event, with belt: 220 lbs x 5, 220 x 5, 220 x 4, 220 x 4, 220 x 2

Deadlifts were feeling good up until midway through the third working set when I felt a mild ache on the right side of my lower back. It could be felt throughout my final sets, too. In fact, the final set was cut short, because I lost my tension while trying to stretch my back a bit between reps.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 6-8 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 4, 100 x 3

The mild back ache gained some intensity during my bench sets thanks to the arch. I put my feet up on the bench to keep my back flat for my final two warm up sets.

main event: 110 lbs x 5, 110 x 6, 110 x 4, 110 x 3

Feet down and as much arch as I could tolerate which seemed to get less and less each set. These felt tough today, and I certainly had better numbers with the same weight last week. Thankfully my shoulder wasn’t an issue, but the back certainly was.

3. pause deadlifts (3-1×0) 4-6 reps

145 lbs x 5, 145 x 5, 145 x 4

With the way my back was feeling, I expected that these would be problematic and hard; however, they actually felt pretty good. I was definitely fatigued by the final set though, and there was a lovely burn in my glutes by the time I’d finish a set.

4. pull downs

70 lbs x 8, 80 lbs x 6

My coach programmed 90 pounds for these today, but I could barely get the bar to my chest. I dropped the weight and then added a bit on the second set. Again, I had better numbers for these last week.

5. plank

x 50 seconds, x 35 seconds, x 30 seconds

I came into the gym expecting a tough but good session, so what I experienced was a bit frustrating. Tough is acceptable, but I am so done with the back issues! And right now, I’m in a bit of pain. I’ve got some stretches and rolling to do at home, and I’ve been instructed to take an extra rest day. I will. That will mean making adjustments to next week’s training days, but I need to keep this back issue from becoming a major thing again.

Week 10 Begins

I almost feel my age today. You’d think that having an extra rest day would make this morning’s training session feel easier, better, but no. That’s not how it felt at all. I felt random aches and pains in multiple spots, although none were of great concern. As I felt the life being sucked out of me while squatting, I reflected on my training over the past year or even two. Without a doubt, my training is significantly harder and heavier these past couple of months than it has been all year. Of course, I was also dealing with an injury for most of the year, and that had a huge impact on my training. Still, without looking back through old training logs, I think my current training is still tougher than what I have done before, even when healthy. That doesn’t mean I’ve never had heavy or tough training sessions before. I certainly have! Just not in the same way all the time. If I wasn’t feeling so drained it might be interesting to compare my current training with previous competition prep. This will be my first competition under a different coach, so I expect that there will be differences in programming and philosophy.

1. competition squats (2-0x0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 5, 165 x 4

main event, with belt: 180 lbs x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4, 180 x 4

The squats felt tough and ugly. My final warm up set felt brutal. The third and fourth working sets probably felt the best out of the bunch.

2. competition bench (2-1×0) 4-6 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 4, 85 x 4, 105 x 3

main event: 115 lbs x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4, 115 x 4

Warm ups felt fine. The working sets felt tough. The ache in the right shoulder that started during last Friday’s bench session continued, although it was not as much of a factor today. At least I don’t think it was. But maybe. Even getting those fourth reps was a bit of a grind.

3. pause squats (3-2×0) 5-7 reps

135 lbs x 5, 135 x 5, 135 x 5

4. glute bridges

135 lbs x 10, 135 x 10, 135 x 10

These were the easiest thing I did this morning…and I could have done so much more!

5. chest supported rows

55 lbs x 12, 55 x 10, 55 x 8

So glad it is my Friday. What are the odds of fitting in a nap before I go to work today?

The Sleep Equation

It is Monday morning and I should be at the gym finishing off my first training session of the week. Instead I am lounging in my living room in my pajamas, where the heaviest thing I’ve lifted was my coffee mug. My intention was to go to the gym this morning. Last night, I prepped my training log, filled my water bottle, and made sure my gym bag was ready to go. What I didn’t count on was laying in bed for hours with a mind that would tiptoe right up to the edge of sleep only to dash down a rabbit hole of thought instead of welcoming the darkness. That process repeated itself for hours…almost asleep and then thoughts racing off in a completely different and random direction.

Even my trusty go-to method of quieting my mind for sleep failed me last night. I shall explain this method if you promise not to laugh. Scratch that. I’m certain that you will laugh, and that’s okay. I am not ashamed of being a huge Star Wars geek.

When I have trouble sleeping, I begin to create Star Wars stories in my mind as I lay in bed. Sometimes my ideas come from previous dreams (yes, I do occasionally dream Star Wars), while some ideas come years of reading about and imaging the Star Wars universe post-original movies. I begin by setting the scene and characters and usually fall asleep well before I can get around to enlarging the scene with action. Night after night, I repeat the process, setting the scene from the beginning and fall asleep shortly after. My stories seldom progress very far and almost never reach a conclusion. The goal isn’t the story but sleep, and this activity somehow takes all my mental threads of thought and twists them into a solitary rope that I can follow into dreamland.

But not last night. At the first sign of difficulty in falling asleep, I began setting my scene. In the usual fashion, my mind would shortly begin to drift towards darkness, but then darkness would shatter as my thoughts would veer in a different direction. Instead of my Star Wars lullaby, I’d be thinking about work or training or Nationals or my son’s dead fish or the mild throb in my shoulder or dinner for the next week or the bills I have to pay or the hip pain from 3 years ago or how odd it is to be in a pitch black room with eyes closed yet ‘seeing’ bright light inside my head. No matter how many times I would set the scene all over again, the result was the same. Tiptoe up to the edge of sleep. Retreat at full speed.

When my bladder woke me a couple of minutes before my alarm was set to blare, I debated with myself. Get up and go to the gym as planned or delay the gym until tomorrow and get a bit more sleep today. In the past I didn’t have the ability to even make such a last minute change to my training, because my training time was coordinated with my coach’s availability. Now that I train by myself, I do have more flexibility, but I still need to make sure that I get my training done, especially with a competition on the horizon. In the span of a minute or two, while still half-asleep, I mentally looked at my schedule and shuffled things around. Yes. It would work. So, I opted to stumble to the bathroom quickly and then crawl back into bed for another 40 minutes or so. Although I still would have had time to get to the gym this morning, I think the best decision is to wait until tomorrow. My shoulder is mildly achy. I did not get much sleep at all and what I got was not of great quality. I can tackle Week 10, Day 1 tomorrow.

End of Week 9

I am glad that this training week is finished. It’s felt like a long, tough week, and I suppose I shouldn’t expect much to change over the next few weeks. There’s a competition to prep for, after all!

1. competition bench (2-1×0)

warm up: 45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6 + 5, 85 x 5

main event: 100 lbs for 10 sets of 3 reps with 90 seconds of rest between

Although I felt fine enough when I arrived at the gym, my right shoulder felt a little funky from the very first warm up set. It still feels a bit off almost two hours later. I don’t think it is anything to get excited about yet, but I should make sure I’m doing some band pull-aparts on a daily basis and try to minimize how much I sleep on my right side. As I continued warming up, I made sure to do some stretching and also felt a few more reps at 65 pounds would be beneficial. I was able to perform all 10 working sets without too much difficulty, but I could foresee difficulty coming my way in a short while with close grip bench also on the agenda.

2. competition squat (3-0x0) 5-7 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 7, 95 x 5, 135 x 3

main event: 155 lbs x 6, 155 x 5, 155 x 5

These squats felt decent. They even looked decent when I watched the videos I took, but they did feel a little tough. Not tough in a “that’s too heavy or difficult for me” kind of way, but rather in a “my body feels drained of it’s life force” kind of way.

3. close grip bench press (3-1×0) 6-8 reps

105 lbs x 6, 105 x 4, 105 x 4

Just as I predicted, the close grip bench sets were super tough and not at all fun. I managed to get the minimal number of reps on the first set but barely. The RPE for that set was 9.5 and stayed that way for the next two sets. I don’t like dropping reps, particularly when I’m not even achieving the lowest number in the rep range; however, I’d rather drop reps than put myself into a potentially bad situation, like complete and utterly catastrophic failure. Even though I always have safeties when I bench, I am not a fan of my gym’s benches and safeties. Quite frankly, they suck. There are times when it appears as if the safeties would be too short compared to my bar path. Since I could barely finish the fourth rep each of those final two sets, I figured I should stop there.

4a. back extensions

20 lbs x 12, 20 lbs x 12

4b. side planks

x 30 seconds each side, x 25 seconds each side

Now I am looking forward to a couple of rest days and hoping to feel fresh for Monday’s training session…whatever it may look like. I have a feeling it’s going to be another long, tough, sweat-filled session.

Pushing a PR

When I walked into the gym this morning, my coach said I’d be starting off with block pulls and push presses. Since front squats have been on the agenda for the past several Wednesdays and they’ve been feeling tough, I was so happy about the block pulls that I almost forgot what the push presses were and how much I do not like them. It wasn’t until I was tying my shoes that I finally realized that my coach had actually said push presses. <sigh> What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

1a. push press

45 lbs x 5, 55 x 6, 65 x 6, 75 x 5 PR?, 75 x 5, 75 x 5

I am reasonably confident that I hit a PR today. Last September I did two sets of 4 at 75 pounds. PRs are always a confidence boost, especially when doing an exercise that always seems to be a struggle.

35 lbs x 11 behind the neck presses

1b. block pulls

95 lbs x 8, 135 x 8, 165 x 8, 185 x 8, 195 x 8, 195 x 8

All of my sets were touch and go except for the final set. The first set at 195 found me moving my hips a bit more than normal, so my coach had me stop each rep for the final set. I think I did a better job keeping my hips from dropping on that final set.

2a. glute ham raises

x 11, x 12, x 10

2b. pull ups-wide, pronated grip

3 or 4 reps with just the small green band which wasn’t going to assist me enough to hit the target rep range, so added a blue band with the green and did another 8 reps for the first set

then x 9, x 9

2c. side laterals

10 lbs x 12, 15 lbs x 4 + 10 lbs x 8, 10 lbs x 11

Laterals are not a favourite, but using the 10 pound dumbbells seems to be okay. Sadly, the jump to the 15 pound dumbbells always seems to feel super heavy. The left shoulder had some clunking going on, so I was trying to minimize that by controlling my shoulder and arm positioning. The left shoulder also fatigued more quickly than the right, so my face would contort towards the end of each set in an effort to keep that left arm moving.