6 Minutes of Torture

It was so good to be back at the gym this morning, and I can still say that after a training session that left me dripping in sweat and gasping for breath. I knew my training would look different and would not focus on powerlifting, but I did not know exactly what to expect. By the time I finished my last rep, I could only collapse on the floor, breathing hard and muscles rubbery. My coach told me that he hadn’t intended to kill me, but I think he kind of did, at least subconsciously. Somehow I’m okay with it. The true intent is not to slaughter me but to make me better and stronger. Variation is good. Conditioning is good. Working weak spots is good. Moving is good.

warm-up:

Turkish get-ups with 8kg kettlebell x 2 each side

single leg box step downs x 10 each side

1a. single arm kettlebell presses + carry

10kg x 10 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 8 each + 4 lengths, 12kg x 6 each + 4 lengths

1b. single leg box step downs with the box on top of 15 lb bumper plates

3 sets of 10 each leg

I was actually surprised with how “easy” these were. Single leg stuff can often be problematic for me. My balance isn’t always very good, and single leg stuff is just tougher. The warm up set with the box on the floor was rather easy, still I was skeptical when Michael increased the height with the bumper plates. Indeed it felt like I was lowering my leg a very long way, but I powered through my reps with much more balance and ease than I had expected.

2a. trap bar deadlifts-touch and go

75 lbs x 6, 115 x 8, 135 x 10

2b. barbell push-ups

x 12, x 12, x 8

2c. hanging leg raises, keeping a posterior pelvic tilt

2 sets of 8

Hanging leg raises and toes to bar have been more challenging for me since the problems with my SI joints began. Actually anything requiring a posterior pelvic tilt has been more challenging, because my back feels like it doesn’t want to move that way. It’s not so much pain, at least not anymore, so much as a sensation of the muscles being tight and not wanting to move that way. I’ve been working on making the back happier with that position, so there has been improvement…it’s just not completely¬†there yet. The hanging leg raises today were definitely tougher to do with maintaining that pelvic position, but I will get better.

For the last portion of my training session, Michael had me do some conditioning work. He gave me 3 exercises. 30 seconds for each one followed by a 30 second rest. Repeat 3 times. You can call it whatever you like…I think I’m going to call it ‘6 minutes of torture’.

a) double clean & presses with 10kg kettlebells

I didn’t get more than 4 or 5 reps the first round, because I’m not so great at the clean & press. I think I got at least 6 reps on the second round, but the final round dropped back to 4 or 5 from sheer fatigue. I also anticipate seeing some bruises on my upper arms/shoulders over the next couple of days!

b) bear crawl

I think I managed to crawl a little bit further and with better form each round.

c) ab wheel

My brain can no longer recall how many reps I got each round. As Michael noted, my roll-outs were not very far either. Seriously, by the time I got to the ab wheel, my body and brain was rebelling against me. Every muscle was shaking. I needed oxygen in the worst way, and, on the final round, I probably came the closest I have ever come to feeling as if I might puke while training. I am glad to report that I did not.

This conditioning torture is going to be a common occurrence for a while, I think. As much as I am not looking forward to it, I am also oddly saying, “Bring it on!”

The Week’s Post-Mortem

Exactly one week ago, I was roughly halfway home after a long day of frustration and disappointment at my Provincials competition, and yet, I didn’t hit the depths of despair until the next day. By Monday afternoon, I was pretty much back to normal.

Not only was I required to take this week off from training, my Precision Nutrition course, quite ironically, also had a week off of sorts. Although I have been okay with not going to my training sessions, I am looking forward to resuming my training on Monday. This week has been nice, but it has also felt quite long. I’ve enjoyed my down time. I’ve gone for some walks. I’ve enjoyed just having extra time to relax, hang out, do whatever. I have eaten whatever I have wanted, and I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of wine and a couple of sugary drinks that I typically avoid. My eating habits have been mostly controlled for the past month or so as I had some weight to cut to make my class for competition. I cut roughly 10 pounds without too much effort; in fact, I had to relax my self-control in order to not lose too much weight. Even then I likely lost too much, since I weighed in more than an entire kilogram under the limit. This week I’ve enjoyed burgers and fries, poutine, pastries, wine, Frappucinos, and ice cream. I stepped on the scale this morning and weighed in at virtually the same weight as I did for my competition! That won’t last for too long though. My next competition is with a different federation with slightly different weight classes, and I’ll be competing in the 75 kilogram class, which means I can add a few pounds to my frame.

One thing I have noticed with this week “off” has been that I am finally starting to sleep better again. I haven’t taken my ZMA for at least a week, but I’ve been falling asleep fairly quickly. While I still wake up at least once or twice a night (and toss a fair bit throughout), I am falling back asleep more quickly. It is a rare occurrence for me to actually be woken by my alarms. Yes, I have two alarms. One is through my sleep app, and the other is your typical alarm clock. My sleep app alarm is set to go off within a 10 minute window, which I always set so my real alarm would go off in the middle of that 10 minutes. For someone who is never late and never sleeps through her alarm, I go to a lot of trouble to make sure that either situation never happens! One day this week, my real alarm did actually wake me up! It had been a long time since I’d heard that annoying beep.

Despite the way the back felt during my second squat a week ago and the pain I experienced on the long drive home that night, my back actually feels pretty good this week. Sure, it’s still not perfect, but I am back to how things felt prior to the competition. For reasons unknown to me, my back feels the worst when I am sleeping. There is a great deal of achiness in my back whenever I need to change position in the night, but it feels basically okay once I’m up for the day. Go figure! I’m still doing my stretches, and I am determined that this will get better!

So, a week post-competition and I’m sleeping better, feeling better, and chomping at the bit to get back to training. I think those are all good things. My head is screwed on properly. My attitude has been re-adjusted. Tomorrow will be one more day of rest. I shall drink coffee, especially since I am staying up late tonight. I might go for a walk. I will do some laundry and housework and make dinner for the family. And, I will prep my gym bag for Monday morning.

Future Me

“There’s a future version of me who’s proud I was strong enough.” ~Khanos

Five days post-competition finds me emotionally balanced and rational, maybe even beginning to resemble the future version of me who can be proud of what I did do on that day. I haven’t been spending a great deal of time actively thinking about Provincials, but my brain is always ticking and grinding away even when I am busy with other thoughts and tasks.

A few months ago, I began to prepare myself mentally for a lesser performance at this competition. I am the sort of person who always wants to improve and do more, which can be both a positive and a negative trait. Positively, I am not content with stagnation. I want to learn and grow and push myself. However, when failure comes, and it always does at some point, the desire to always improve can blow even the smallest failure into an apocalyptic event. All my efforts to prepare myself seemed to crumble into dust at the moment I felt my back give on my second squat. I was prepared for lesser numbers, but I wasn’t prepared for that unexpected happening.

I still cannot explain what happened in that squat. I cannot explain why I failed on my final bench attempt. Watching the videos a dozen or more times hasn’t helped me to figure out either situation. Does it even matter? Something wasn’t right in my back on that squat. I failed that bench press. I know what I am capable of, what I have done before and will do again.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~Winston Churchill

I have something else going for me…the ability to pick myself up, shake off the dust, and continue on. I am not afraid of starting over or hard work. Emotions might choke me up for a moment, but I have the ability to re-group and re-focus. There is no point in wallowing in my Provincials disappointment. Instead, I am choosing to enjoy this week of rest and casting my gaze forward to November when I will compete again. A lot can happen between now and then, but I’ve got my eyes set on a few goals. These past several months have been dark and gloomy, but I’m growing through it.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.” ~Christine Caine

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” ~Bethany Hamilton

Numb

I don’t know where to begin this blog post, or if I even want to write it now or at all. Okay, so I do want to write it, but I’m not sure I am ready. Yet, I feel like I can’t wait too much longer lest I lose thoughts and emotions along the way. My current state of mind is exhausted, frustrated, disappointed, angry, a blink from dissolving into tears, pained and numb. The numbness is comforting in a way, because it helps keep the tears from pouring down my face and softens the sting of the negative emotions, at least for a time.

Yesterday was my Provincials powerlifting competition. Even though I wasn’t expecting to have my best performance, I was hoping to go 9 for 9 and break my Provincial bench press record. I didn’t achieve either goal yesterday.

My first squat was 92.5kg and moved well. Michael opted to be conservative with my second attempt, and that turned out to be a wise decision. My second squat was 100kg, which should have still been an easy 220 pounds. I did more than that last week in training. It felt fine when I unracked the bar. I believe that I did everything that I usually do. The eccentric felt fine. I began to rise out of the squat and felt a kind of pop and something giving in my lower back, which then caused my back to round in a way that is not typical for me. It hurt. I managed to finish the squat, barely remembering to hold until the command to rack. I walked off the platform feeling pain, fear, and crushing sadness. Michael instantly decided that we’d pass on my third attempt, then we headed to the warm-up area for some chiropractic treatment. As the chiropractor poked, prodded, bent and told me to push here and there, I fought to maintain some composure. By the time I got up from the table, the pain had dropped a couple of notches, but it was still there.

As we waited for my flight and the next to finish squats, I did the things the chiropractor told me to do and I gingerly tested my ability to set up for the bench press. Arching wasn’t too bothersome on the back, so we felt okay to stick with our plan there. My first two bench attempts, 55kg and 57.5kg, were decent. I am the current Provincial record holder with 60kg, which is the weight I have been stuck at since October 2015. Although I had some options, I chose to make a third attempt at 60.5kg in an effort to break my Provincial record. I was so close but failed. Words cannot express how I felt and still feel. Even as I lay on that bench, desperately trying to finish pressing the bar and realizing that it wasn’t going to happen, I felt so utterly crushed by disappointment and frustration. I know I am strong enough. I know I can do it. I have lifted that weight in the gym, including just last week, and it was easy. I came into this competition knowing that my squats and deadlifts would be sub-par, but the bench press record was something I knew was within my ability and I wanted, WANTED it!

My deadlifts weren’t going to be super heavy, but, with the fresh back injury, we opted to drop my opening attempt even more. An opening deadlift of 85kg wasn’t anything I could fake pride in, but I just needed to get a number on the board. It was embarrassingly easy. My next attempt was 102.5…again easy. My final attempt was 112.5kg or 248 pounds. Still easy. That final deadlift was 60 pounds less than my best deadlift. I think it would have been easier to feel some peace about low deadlift numbers if the rest of my competition had turned out differently. If I hadn’t hurt my back. If I had broken the bench record. If only. But, the last thing we wanted to do was inflict more harm to my back. Thankfully, I was able to deadlift without any added discomfort or pain to the back, which is something I wasn’t sure would happen after that squat.

At some point in the competition, Michael pointed out that there was another woman in my age/weight class after all. She hadn’t made her weight class and was bumped up into mine. Being the competitive person that I am, as soon as I realized that I could potentially lose, I wanted to win! However, I was no longer operating in a position where we could give any thought to making sure my attempts put me in a position to win. I still kept an eye on her numbers, chafing inside with the desire to win and re-familiarizing myself with a positive mindset in the event that I lost. Both my squat and deadlift were far from my actual ability and potential, but I still managed to come away with the win.

This was my 8th competition, and, in my opinion, my worst one. I had my third lowest total. The two lower totals came from my first two competitions. My Wilks score was my second lowest. The only one lower was my first competition. This was my second 7 for 9 meet. Not a single personal best. The first time I’ve ever passed on an attempt. The first time I’ve hurt myself in competition. The only goal I achieved yesterday was checking off the final requirement for competing at Nationals next year.

As much as words cannot express how I am feeling, there is so much more yet to say, but it will have to wait for another day. I left my house at 7:50 yesterday morning, and I didn’t get home until 12:30 this morning. I was in bed by 1:00 this morning but woke up before 6:30. My back is sore and achy, and I am exhausted. I need to decompress and process. I need to go hang out with some friends in a couple of hours, feel loved and celebrated, even though I don’t feel worth celebrating. Then I need sleep. Precious sleep. Tomorrow I will walk into my gym and begin the process of rehabbing (again) and rebuilding.

4 Days & Openers

Competition is in 4 days, and today was my first day back in¬†my own gym with my coach. Today’s training was simple and essentially easy. I did squats, bench and deadlifts, working up to my potential openers…so not too heavy. It felt good to be in a familiar gym with familiar equipment with my coach who knows me so well. My back, though not 100% yet, has been feeling very good for the past few days. Like really good.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 5

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 2, 185 x 1, 205 x 1

With the exception of the first rep at 165, my squats were all good. The only issue with that one rep was that I dropped a little too quickly which pitched me forward on my ascent, but the second rep was much better. It’s so nice to have my squat back! These past few months have seen me looking like a different squatter almost every training session. Up until a few weeks ago, I’ve not been able to hit proper depth, which was so not like me at all. Everything is feeling good with my squat now.

1b. bench press-with legs and full arch

43 lbs x ? I wasn’t really counting! 73 x 5, 93 x 3, 115 x 1, x 1, 120 x 0, 120 x 1

Today’s bench started out well. The first rep at 115 was a little slow for Michael’s liking, so he had me do another. I don’t know what happened that first attempt at 120, but it was turning into a grinder, so Michael grabbed the bar. I expected it even before he took it, knowing that he wouldn’t want a grinder at this point in the game. I don’t know what happened. Did I bring the bar down to the wrong spot on my chest? I don’t know. Was the bar heavy? I don’t think so. Was it all in my head? Most likely. Michael asked if I wanted to try again or drop down. He didn’t know what happened either, because I am capable of doing several reps at that weight. Of course, I wanted to try again, and it was much better.

2. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 5, 145 x 3, 195 x 1

with belt: 215 x 1

The deadlifts were all good and easy today! Maybe my opener will be higher than 205 after all!

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.