Nationals, Fallen Records & Pain

Yesterday, instead of competing at my first Nationals, I watched my fellow competitors from the comfort of my zero-grav chair in my living room. I wasn’t sure what I would actually feel in the watching, but I think I made it through the hours in a good mental space. My heart sank a little when I saw the opening attempts put up by my group, because I knew that all of my BCPA Provincial records were about to be smashed to pieces. And they were. Every single one of them!

I am competitive. I don’t like to lose, but I am gracious in losing. The woman who broke my records is very strong, and she made her attempts look easy. Congratulations to her! I’ve always known that there were stronger women than me, and I knew that my records wouldn’t last forever. It is hard to be disappointed in the loss, when you can see the bigger picture. There is almost always someone better than you. Had I been able to take part in Nationals as I had hoped, I expect that I would have placed either 4th or 5th out of 5 competitors. The four women who were actually there ARE strong!

Even if I didn’t have a realistic chance of winning Nationals, I really wish I could have been healthy enough to compete just to have the experience of not winning. I have never been in a competition with that many direct competitors, so that would have been an amazing learning opportunity. Of course, I’d love to challenge for those records again, but that might not be realistic for me for a long time, if ever. She set the bar high! Without this injury, I’d be hard pressed to reach those heights. With this injury so much is in doubt. I don’t know when I’ll be able to squat with a bar or deadlift. I don’t know when I’ll be able to compete, but I am about 95% certain that it won’t be this year. I am still healing. Will I even be able to get back to where I was? I don’t know. So yeah, I am a competitor who wants to strive for new goals, but right now I need to just focus on being cleared to return to work.

Last night was not a good one for sleep. Maybe 3 hours and finally out of bed at 2:30. Thank goodness the Olympics are on TV at that time of the morning these days! Leg pain was the culprit that kept me awake most of the night. I almost put off going to the gym until tomorrow, but I changed my mind and went early in the afternoon. It wasn’t super great. The back seems to be handling the return to having legs down and an arch for my benching sets, and the shoulders are loving being in a proper position once again; however, almost everything else was less than stellar.

The shoulders, despite feeling fine on the bench press, are still sore and feel unstable. As much as I’m not a fan of laterals, I shouldn’t feel like I need to scrap the second and third sets. The left shoulder felt especially unstable throughout several exercises, like dumbbell curls and dumbbell floor press. The back felt fine all morning and through the bench press sets, but it did not like the single arm triceps pushdowns. The left hamstrings are still feeling the effects of IMS treatment from Monday, but the bigger leg problem today (and last night) has been throbbing and shooting pain down both legs between the hips and knees. This pain is quite familiar…I’ve only lived with it in varying degrees of severity since herniating my disc, but the level of pain in the legs had settled down substantially over the past few weeks.

I’m not thrilled with the way my body seems to be fighting me on multiple fronts right now, but I need to respect the fact that healing isn’t always a straight line. It’s often bumpy, especially with some types of injuries. Here now at the end of the day, the back is feeling okayish again. The shoulders aren’t throbbing, but I can feel the instability depending on how I move my arms. Honestly, the shoulders are the least of my worries, because I know they are just over-used and annoyed. They will get better. What feels the worst right now are my legs. I’m still experiencing throbbing and shooting pain in both legs, and there isn’t much I can do about it. I can increase my pain medication dose tonight, and I will, even though the medication has never erased the pain. But, if I’m really, really lucky, maybe it will help me sleep tonight.

 

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Squeezing Lemons in My Eyes

You know that whole lemon theme thing I have going on this year? Something about making lemonade and learning to appreciate the lemons? About that…

I am tired of being tired. While I am not going to bother attempting to calculate the lost hours of sleep since herniating my disc, I am quite certain I have lost more hours of sleep these past three months than I have over the past few years. Sleep has always been important to me, but weight training made adequate rest all the more valuable. Consistently missing out on sleep will mess you up in multiple ways.

Up until three months ago, sleep and I got along well more often than not. I have sometimes struggled to fall asleep early in the evening in order to get in enough hours of sleep before an early morning start to my day, but I have long made a point of positioning myself for at least 8 hours of sleep a night. There would be many nights where I would get 9 or 10 hours of sleep. Despite years of waking up before the rest of the city, I seldom found myself flagging in the afternoons. I could start work at 5AM, go to the gym at 4PM, and still be energetic and alert into the evening.

When I herniated my disc, everything changed. At first, it was the intense pain and physical discomfort that kept me awake. Those first days were brutal, and I would often end up in the living room for most of the night. The pain was too strong to stay in any one position for more than a few minutes, which meant that sleep was limited to only a few minutes at a time, if I was lucky. Prescription pain medication was supposed to make it easier to sleep but never quite lived up to that promise. As time has passed, the intensity of pain has ebbed and flowed. Once, twice, maybe even three times I have had a solid night’s sleep. Mostly not.

The pain is not gone. It has greatly diminished, but it is still there. The numbness in my left leg has likewise greatly diminished without being completely gone. When I lay down, I feel the most pain. I’m not even certain I can always call it ‘pain’ these days, because most of the time it is something less sinister. Less sinister so long as the description of something crawling or wigging beneath the skin doesn’t bother you! That sensation can be uncomfortable and it varies in its intensity, but it is a far cry from the pain I felt a couple of months ago. There are still occasional bouts of shooting or stabbing pain, mostly in my hip or deep within the buttock. And then there is the back itself. The back, despite being the source of all of my problems, has generally felt the least amount of pain over the course of these three months; however, there are still moments and days where the back does actually hurt. There is one spot in particular that has been feeling achy and sore for the past several days. Just enough to be a nuisance.

Where am I going with this? Sleep. I am not sleeping well. Despite frequently being in bed for anywhere from 8 to more than 10 hours a night, I am not getting adequate rest. Time in bed does not equally translate into time asleep. Like last night. I was in bed for 9 hours and 42 minutes, but I feel as if I barely slept. I laid awake for nearly 3 hours after going to bed, tossing and turning in a futile attempt to find a physically comfortable position. Once I did finally manage to “fall” asleep, I was awake every hour, almost on the hour, which would then result in more tossing and turning before gradually returning to what passed for sleep. I wake up sluggish and tired. I remain sluggish and tired throughout the day. My body tells me it could use afternoon naps, but my body also has this odd inability to nap in the afternoon. An early afternoon cup of coffee can’t stop the yawns at bay. This has been typical for me since moving past the stage of the physical pain keeping me awake.

Most of the time, I have nothing on my mind. No worries or stress. No flurry of thoughts. Sometimes the crawling sensation in my leg is strong enough to keep me awake for a while; sometimes it might be shards of real pain. Lately physical comfort seems to be a major factor. My shoulders are feeling cranky with sleeping on my sides, but any other sleep position presents other feelings of discomfort. I wonder if this is why I have an achy spot in my back lately, because I’ve been propping myself up a bit to keep the shoulders happy, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel the greatest for my back or neck. Taking forever to fall asleep wouldn’t be quite so bad if I was at least able to stay asleep through the rest of the night, but I can’t.

So where is the lemonade in three months of not sleeping?

Well, I wear daily contact lenses and my last purchase should have been used up by mid-December; however, I still have at least a month and a half worth of contacts sitting in my bathroom. With constantly waking up groggy and tired, I have been wearing my glasses almost exclusively. Even if I want to pry open my eyelids to pop contacts in, my eyes are so tired that the contacts irritate my eyes more quickly than normal. So, sleepless nights are saving me money on contact lenses! But I’d still rather sleep.

Sleep vs. Shoulders

Sleep was elusive last night, so I am sipping a quad grande Americano as I am reclining on my heating pad. I had a physiotherapy appointment this morning, and the IMS (some with electricity) always leaves my body feeling bruised and battered. Today should be a gym day, but my resolve dissolved with my sleep-deprived fumbles to shut off my alarm this morning. Even if I had slept better, I don’t know why I thought I might be capable of training immediately after physio. I can go to the gym later today or, more likely, tomorrow morning.

My brain feels full to overflowing, yet that is not what kept me awake. Last night was all about the body rather than the brain. My shoulders were the main culprits, but their crankiness affected the rest of my body as I struggled to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. The shoulders act up every once in a while, but last night seemed to come out of nowhere. The low back was a bit tender and achy, and there was the ever present uncomfortable sensations in my legs. Honestly though, I blame it all on the shoulders. I am a side sleeper.

Despite the post-physio aches, my appointment went well. It was pointed out to me that, although I may not see it day in and day out, from my physiotherapist’s perspective, he is seeing good progress. He asked how I was feeling about returning to work soon. I get asked about returning to work a lot, but his question somehow seemed different, more probing maybe, and I was able to be more reflective and honest in my response. Mentally I am more than ready to get back to work! Physically, I am a little nervous. I know I am much improved and moving better, but I also know that I will still need to be careful, to ask for help and modify some of my tasks. I am nervous about being on my feet for hours and hours at a time. Since sitting is uncomfortable and often painful, even my breaks will be spent on my feet. Although I’ve been trying to mimic some of my work movements at home, I haven’t attempted staying on my feet for several hours at a time. So I am eager to get back to work but cautiously nervous. My physiotherapist feels that I will be fine, so long as I do use appropriate caution and ask for help. He did also warn me that it would be completely normal to experience an increase in pain and soreness during the first few weeks back to work, which I think I knew subconsciously but it was good to have it pointed out.

I need a nap. Or more coffee. Probably more coffee. Naps never seem to work for me, no matter how tired I am.

 

Fatigue Week

This morning’s training session was a good one, I think. Even though my coach is wanting to incur fatigue this week, I felt pretty good throughout my session. The only instances where I didn’t feel so fine were my final deadlift set and during the glute bridges. The back felt achy and uncomfortable during that final deadlift set, and it also felt uncomfortable the moment I settled the weight across my abdomen for the glute bridges. Still, the back is feeling better every session, every week, so I just hope to continue to increase my weights without further set-backs.

1. deficit deadlifts (2-2×1)

warm up: 95 lbs x 8, 135 x 4, 165 x 4, 195 x 2

main event: 205 x 5, 205 x 5, 205 x 4, 205 x 2

As I mentioned already, the back felt fine until the final set here, which is why I only managed 2 reps. Although I most likely could have pushed through to complete another rep or two, I do not want to inflict further harm. Know your limit, play within it!

2. incline bench press (3-1×0)

warm up: 45 lbs x 10

main event: 60 lbs x 12, 60 x 10, 60 x 8

My incline bench is definitely weaker than my regular bench. My shoulders were burning with fatigue by the third set.

3. stiff legged deadlifts (3-1×0)

110 lbs x 15, 110 x 10

4a. side plank

x 30 seconds, x 22 seconds, x 25 seconds

4b. barbell rows

70 lbs x 12, 70 x 12, 70 x 12

4c. glute bridge

40 lbs x 15, 40 x 15, 40 x 15

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.

Shoulder Selfies

shoulders

I do not enjoy having my picture taken, and I take terrible selfies. So why am I sharing a compilation of selfies showing off my pathetic looking arms? To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure. I know I have had this blog post percolating in my head since last night, but sometimes the idea splits into multiple ideas and I get a little lost trying to navigate my way to completion. I cringed while taking these photos, and I cringe every time I look at them now. Although my theme for this year is Powerfully Beautiful, I still struggle to see the beautiful when I look at a picture of myself.¬†Perhaps that is why I felt the need to take these pictures and post them here…to remind myself of truth I am not comfortable believing and to reject the inner voice which says that there is something wrong with the image reflected back to me.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

I have never believed that phrase, because I have been hurt far more often and more deeply by words than I have ever been hurt physically. My body bears scars from injuries I’ve sustained over the years, but they pale in comparison to the scars inside that no one can ever see. Maybe some people can brush away hurtful words like crumbs on a lap. As someone who savours and values words, I tend to soak them all in, good or bad. Over the past few years, I have grown more capable of rejecting words that are false or harmful to my well-being. As I have grown more comfortable in my own skin and in self-confidence, I have found strength in knowing and being exactly who I am. The opinion of others began to matter less, but I realize now that I have also been sheltered in a way. I have changed and grown a lot over the past few years, and that has been amazing and wonderful and good; however, the people surrounding me have been supportive and encouraging and wonderful, too. That’s a good thing! But, aside from the odd comment from a complete stranger, I haven’t experienced much, if any, criticism or negativity in these recent years towards my nature, my character, or what I do. Until quite recently.

To be fair, my recent experience was actually quite mild. It’s not like the comments were spiteful or intentionally meant to be hurtful. I’m sure they weren’t even meant to be directed at me personally. In the grand scheme of things, the comments should have slid off my back like water off a duck, because I know it wasn’t personal or mean-spirited. Actually, I was caught off guard by how much I was bothered by the comments. I had some mopey time, cried a few tears, shared my feelings with a couple of trusted friends, and then shrugged it off.

I know who I am, and I like who I am becoming.

Lots of people comment on the fact that I do not look like I lift weights. I get it…I mean, look at my biceps! They aren’t bulging. But you know what? I’m not a bodybuilder. I am not training to achieve a specific physique. I am a powerlifter, and we come in all shapes and sizes. My shoulders are not as big as a swimmer’s, but I still have trouble finding shirts and jackets that aren’t too tight in the shoulder. Some might find that unattractive or unappealing. Again, I get it. I’m not too keen on the look of women with extremely massive bodybuilding figures, but I can accept that their perspective is different from my own. Sometimes I look at my shoulders and feel unsightly. Other times I look at my shoulders and feel strong and powerful. I suppose that explains, in part, why the recent words stung like they did. Those words latched onto the dark side of my psyche, the side that is critical of self and vulnerable to attack. No matter how strong and confident I become, I cannot completely eliminate that dark side. It is a part of who I am.

So, I suppose I am sharing these awful photos, because that is also a part of who I am. I am learning to laugh at myself, to step outside of my comfort zone now and then, and to see myself as beautiful. (Even here I want to make a sarcastic comment to downplay the ‘beautiful’ comment! Must resist!) I cannot isolate myself from people who might say hurtful things, intentional or not, but I can continue to surround myself with people who love, support, encourage and know me. Who knows? Maybe one day I will even look like I lift weights!