Remember the Deadlift

When I walked into the gym this morning, my coach said that we’d do some deadlifts if my back was feeling okay. I’m sure he was hoping that my back was feeling okay, because, aside from wanting me to be healthy again, being able to deadlift is kind of important heading into a competition! Last week I was allowed to do one super light set of deadlifts at 65 pounds, and those felt good. I did have a couple of deadlift sessions in March, but the second one was cut short because of the back. Really, I have hardly deadlifted at all since the beginning of my back problems at the end of January. As excited as I was to be allowed to deadlift this morning, I was also tentative and nervous. What if the back screamed in pain? What if deadlifting set me back again? Only one way to find out…

1a. deadlifts!

but first a set of Romanian deadlifts 45 lbs x 10

95 lbs x 5, 135 x 5, 165 x 3

with belt: 185 x 2, 205 x 1, 205 x 1, 205 x 1

Although I haven’t deadlifted for a while, we kept my reps low, because why run the risk of aggravating the back for the sake of more reps! The first couple of sets felt pretty good. I think I first “felt” my back during the set at 165 pounds. It was fine as I set up and even as I created tension, but I could feel some discomfort and pressure in the low back as I lifted. I think that first “heavy” set was the worst in terms of how the back felt, but there was a measure of discomfort, maybe even pain for the rest of the sets. As a result, I was probably more tentative than I should be. The second rep at 185 was too far from my body from the start, but I was using a double overhand grip beyond what I would normally be able to manage. An alternated mixed grip for the heavy singles worked well, and each single improved on the previous. The deadlifts weren’t all perfect, but I was able to deadlift. The best part is that there was no pain or discomfort in the back beyond each rep. After my training I went to work and still felt no change or increase in back pain or discomfort! Hopefully the back will still feel as good tomorrow!

1b. bench press-close grip

feet on bench, small arch: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 5, 93 x 5

with legs and arch: 103 x 3, 115 x 3, 115 x 3, 115 x 3, 120 x 3

With how much benching I’ve done over the past five months, I am beginning to dislike the close grip. The range of motion is just so huge, and I always seem to have more issues with bringing the bar down to the same place on my chest consistently. My last set at 115 was the best and fastest. The set at 120 was kind of slow, and I’m pretty sure the second rep’s bar path was a mess.

2a. reverse hypers with long strap

60 lbs x 20

2b. single arm kettlebell rows

16kg x 15 each

 

Return of the RDL

There will be lots of squatting and pressing in my training over the course of the next 6 weeks leading up to Provincials. By the sounds of it, I’ll be squatting and pressing three times a week. I don’t mind at all, but I really need my back to agree with my mind. Since this back saga began at the end of January, I have hardly done any deadlifting. My back just couldn’t do it. So when Michael said he’d like me to do some Romanian deadlifts this morning, I was both excited and nervous. I so desperately want this back/disc issue to heal up and go away. I desperately want to be able to go about living and training without the pain and physical limitations I’ve had for three months now. Although the back is finally improving, I recognize that there are still restrictions in my movement and there is still pain.

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 6, 113 x 6

with belt: 133 x 6, 143 x 6, 160 x 1, 143 x 6

I think the first several sets were okay. The set at 143 was a bit tougher, but my RPE was probably 7-8. I no longer remember if that was the set where my back started feeling cranky or if it was already achy the set before. The pain wasn’t sharp or intense, just an all-over achy, sore feeling, which really isn’t a very helpful description but the best I can do. Michael thought about having me do a wave, so he bumped up to 160 and wanted 3 reps but called it after one. The bar was heavy from the moment I unracked it, and I know I felt tentative and doubtful. I think a second rep might have been a bit better, but I wasn’t too disappointed in having that set cut short. I am also second-guessing the final set now that I’m blogging about it. I had written in my book that I did 133 lbs x 6, but I think we actually added 10 pounds more to the bar.

1b. bench press-close grip, with feet on 45 lb plates

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 6, 115 x 5, 115 x 5

The first set at 115 pounds was tough. I had some bar positioning problems. I’m not sure that I was gripping as hard as I could, and I was likely thinking too much about the ache in my back. With the crankiness going on in the back, the act of getting into position and arching was not the most comfortable thing to do.

Early on as I was doing my squats and pressing, I experienced a tightness or sensation of something pressing/squeezing between my shoulder blades. I did a bit of foam rolling and then used a lacrosse ball before a couple of my squat sets. The sensation wasn’t painful, but it did make me feel a bit winded more than normal for what I was doing and simply felt off. The rolling seemed to help.

2a. Romanian deadlifts

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 3

These first ones were done with squat shoes on. Then I took the shoes off and did them in my socks.

95 x 8, 95 x 9

I would like to know how these would have felt if my back wasn’t already feeling achy and cranky. Despite how the back was feeling, I think these felt okay. We had the bar set up in the rack, so I didn’t have to bend over to pick it up. Probably a good idea! The initial act of pushing the hips back to lower the bar was not super comfortable, and I could feel some pressure in the back; however, the discomfort wasn’t too much. The pain wasn’t sharp, shooting, radiating, throbbing, or worse. It was certainly no worse than the feeling during squats and bench. Now, an hour later, my back is definitely achy and cranky, but I think I’ll be okay. Time will tell, I guess, but I’m going to operate on the assumption that soreness is to be expected when you begin using muscles for movements that you haven’t really done in 3 months!

2b. single arm kettlebell rows

16kg x 12 each, 20kg x 12 each

 

Three Days

Earlier this afternoon I saw a meme which stated, “I feel like I’m already tired tomorrow.” That is exactly how I feel! I did sleep mostly better last night; there just weren’t enough hours of sleep. Exhaustion is oozing out of my pores, and I cannot even begin to imagine feeling well-rested when I wake up tomorrow. It would be nice to be wrong though.

I trained first thing this morning, which means that I was at the gym for three consecutive days. That is not typical for me, but it is how it had to be this week. I’m okay with it. But it is tiring. Thankfully, I’m not in the midst of a heavy, pre-competition training block, but then again…do I ever really have easy training sessions? I keep wanting to say that the past two weeks of training almost feels like a deload, because I haven’t deadlifted or done real squat. There is some truth to that. It does feel like a bit of a deload, and yet, I’ve still been pushed and challenged and worked hard in different ways.

1a. front rack alternating reverse lunges

43 lbs x 12, 73 x 12, 93 x 12, 93 x 12

I just knew that lunges would show up today! Since my chiropractor wants me to do lots of single leg work to help my SI joints and I’ve already done Bulgarians and split squats this week, predicting the arrival of lunges wasn’t all that amazing.

The first few sets were okay. The final set was tough, not due to the weight but simply fatigue. Michael pushed me to finish the final half of the set, and that was okay, too. Sometimes I need that little push, the reminder that I am capable of a little bit more. My coach is pretty good at recognizing when I can keep going or when I should stop.

1b. flat dumbbell presses-without legs

25 lbs x 12, 34 lbs x 9, 39 x 8, 39 x 8

Michael almost had me do military press here, but then he decided against it in order to avoid putting my back into a potentially bothersome position. I’ve got to say that I am loving the flat dumbbell presses lately, even without using my legs. While pressing a 25 pound dumbbell for reps while standing presents a challenge for me, I am no longer intimidated by the bigger dumbbells when I’m on my back.

1c. single arm, single leg plank

x 10-15 seconds each side

x 10-15 seconds each side

x 15 seconds (actually timed for this set) each side

2a. back extensions with 25 lb dumbbell

x 15

x 18 with an 8 second hold on last rep

2b. TRX supine rows (legs straight + knees bent)

x 5 + 6

x 5 + 5

2c. triceps cable pulldowns

40 lbs x 11

40 lbs x 8

I don’t want to get too excited prematurely, but I can’t help but notice that my back feels better than it has for the past 11 days. It isn’t pain-free yet, but it will get there. At one point this morning, we joked about the list of ailments I am either currently experiencing or have recently experienced: hip, knee, back, etc. I pointed out that I am 45 years old! Then I tacked on that I also feel great. It’s true! Despite the current back pain, despite the off and on again knee pain, despite all of the little tweaks, twists, and boxes dropped on my head, I do feel great. I almost never get sick. Current fatigue level aside, I have more energy than I did in my thirties. I am in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I am strong and getting stronger, and I do things many, if not most, women my age cannot.

SI, Sleep & Squats

Yesterday’s visit with my chiropractor wasn’t as gloomy as I dreaded. I think my disc is fine. The issue seems to be that the SI joints do not take kindly to hanging out in a squat for an extended length of time. They weren’t designed to do that. So, I learned my lesson, and now I have a couple of exercises to do at home and lots of single leg stuff to do at the gym. The home exercises are super easy…probably the easiest homework my chiropractor has ever given me! Still, I spent most of the rest of the day flat on my back and in pain, and I had yet another less than stellar sleep. Well, I slept okay from 10pm until 2am, but four hours is not nearly enough. I went to the gym this morning and did better than expected considering my morning cup of coffee failed to perk me up.

1a. single arm bottoms up kettlebell presses

8kg x 8 each, 10kg x 4 each, 10kg x 3 + 3 each

29 lb dumbbell x 3 each

The left shoulder sucketh. The right arm was completely capable of doing a few more reps, but the left arm just wouldn’t, not even if I tried to give some assistance with a push from the legs.

1b. decline single arm kettlebell rows

12kg x 10 each, 16kg x 10 each, 16kg x 10, 16kg x 10

2a. incline barbell push ups

x 10, x 8

with 30 lb sandbag on back x 6 + 8 bodyweight

I think the sandbag is 30 pounds. Those six reps felt really tough, so I’m kind of amazed that I could finish off with eight more reps once Michael removed the sandbag.

2b. chin ups

with barbell + incline bench x 8

with red + small green band, neutral grip x 9

with both bands, wide pronated grip x 8, x 8 with a 6-8 second hold on last rep

2c. elevated split squats, both feet on 4″ boxes

x 16 each side, x 15 each

x 15 each with hands behind head and shoulders tight

Oh how the legs burned by the end of each set of split squats! Yesterday’s 20 rep belt squats and Bulgarians combined with these split squats means that my legs are going to be a little sore and rubbery. At this moment in time, I don’t know if my final training session of the week will be early tomorrow morning or later Friday afternoon. I could end up training three days in a row, which wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened and would not be the end of the world. I just need sleep.

 

Belts, Squats & One-armed Planks

My lower back has been bothering me since Monday. Well technically, there has been some discomfort there for more than two weeks, ever since I hung out in a body weight squat for 5 minutes. Perhaps that wasn’t my smartest move…but that was only a very mild ache. This Monday when I squatted, the lower back quickly became an intense pain affecting almost every aspect of my life. Sitting, putting on shoes, bending forward, bending forward and lifting an object, sneezing, getting into a reclining position…all inflicted varying degrees of pain and discomfort. After the gym on Monday, I spent the rest of the day flat on my back, because I was in too much pain to do anything else. Every day since then has seen improvement, slow and gradual. As of today, I can sit with only mild discomfort, although I still seldom sit. Bending forward and lifting is still kind of an issue, but I did notice that I can bend over to put my boots on without nearly as much pain and struggle as the task required even yesterday. The fact that there is progress reassures me and illuminates my mood more than it has been all week.

Still, I headed to today’s training session with doubts in my ability to deadlift with the way that my back has been feeling. I wasn’t surprised when Michael said that I wouldn’t be deadlifting today, but what was surprising was how that news didn’t make me cranky. I suppose I am just resigned, or accepting, to the fact that adaptations and changes are sometimes necessary to stay healthy and prolong my powerlifting life. Or maybe I just see a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel!

1a. belt squats

I’m not even completely sure what all we used, except that we used almost all of the bumper plates to create two towers for me to stand on for these belt squats. This is something I have never done before. They weren’t horrible, but they are definitely challenging. It’s amazing the difference with the back taken out of the equation, along with the addition of the wobble from the hanging weight and the threat of a big fall if I didn’t maintain my balance.

24kg kettlebell x 15+

I did more than 15 reps, but I’m not really sure of the exact number. I did at least 3 or 4 to get the feel of the squat, and then I did a full set of 15 reps.

24kg kb + 35 lb plate: x 12, x 10, x 10

It feels slightly embarrassing to say that roughly 88 pounds felt a bit challenging. It almost felt like I was just learning how to squat, but I sure didn’t mind being able to squat without pain in my back!

1b. floor presses-no arching of the back allowed!

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 8, 83 x 8, 93 x 8, 103 x 6

After the set at 93 pounds, Michael said I could go up 5 or 10 pounds, my choice. I chose 10 pounds. I had to think about it. The weight on its own wasn’t super challenging, but keeping my back flat impeded my ability to put my shoulders into the proper position and keep them there. With my shoulders not in my usual tucked and tight position, the pressing was more difficult. But I can be stubborn and maybe part of me wanted to compensate for my inability to deadlift. I was likely overly optimistic, but that’s okay.

Drop the weight for as many reps as possible:

83 lbs x 15

The last rep was a real grinder, as in my left arm locked out well before the right, my head turned to the left, and I snarled at Michael to not touch the bar. I got the rep, and he didn’t touch the bar. The left shoulder didn’t feel very great for the entire set, and the funkiness continued well past it; however, I am reasonably confident that this was a result of the change in shoulder position with the flat back and maybe a little bit from the grind of the final rep.

1c. planks-one arm, one leg

4 sets of 10 seconds each side

These were a bit challenging, but I think the last set was the best.

2a. back extensions

x 20

with 20 lb dumbbell x 20, x 15

For some reason the first set, the body weight set, felt the hardest. I was a little tentative getting into position on that first set, because I could feel a measure of low back discomfort. Thankfully, there was no discomfort or pain once I was actually in position and going through the motion.

2b. decline single arm rows

10kg kettlebell x 12 each side, 12kg x 12 each, 12kg x 12 each

These were easy. Really, I am quite capabe of rowing more than a 12kg kettlebell, but that left shoulder was feeling a little funky after the floor presses.

2c. ab wheel

2 sets of 12

Michael wanted some kind of ab exercise without taxing the back. These were better than I expected, to be honest, but I also didn’t extend out as far as I usually do and that was intentional.

After a couple of pain-filled and frustrating training sessions, today was a pretty good day. I wasn’t upset about not being allowed to deadlift. I still felt like I challenged myself and did something. I could feel that my back was bothering me less. And my coach once again spoke words of wisdom into me. I got to do something new! I don’t know what next week’s training will look like…guess it all depends on my back!

One Day at a Time

For once I was kind of looking forward to upper body day, because I figured that it might be an easier day on my lower back. At least it felt like a more productive training day, even if it was still frustrating.

1a. chin ups-with barbell and incline bench

overhand grip x 9, x 8

underhand grip x 7

with rings and incline bench x 6, x 7

1b. push ups-on barbell

x 8

with chains 4 sets of 8 reps

I don’t think I have ever done so many reps with chains before, so I can be happy about these. Getting into position wasn’t comfortable on the lower back, but it wasn’t a difficult adjustment to make.

2a. TRX supine rows-with legs straight + with knees bent

x 5 + 5, x 5 + 6

Then Michael saw how slowly and carefully I was moving to get into position for these rows. The back was fine once I was in position, but getting from standing to sitting to a supine position was uncomfortable. So…

chest-supported row 25 lbs x 17

The weight was super light, and I was keeping the reps strict, not arching the back. Michael wanted 20 reps. I stopped at 17, and I wasn’t happy about it. I easily had the strength to complete the reps, but the lower back wasn’t feeling very nice at all. By this point I was feeling rather frustrated, so I had to have a moment with my water bottle, back turned to everyone, just focusing on breathing and not giving in to tears. <sigh>

So…

a single arm standing row with a band-like thing: 2 sets of 15 each side

Pallof press-standing x 12 each side

2b. braced single arm dumbbell presses

25 lbs x 6 each, 25 x 6.25 left + 7 right

The right arm could have done so many more reps, but the left arm just wasn’t willing to cooperate. Drop the weight to get more reps…

20 lbs x 10 each, 20 x 8 each

3a. alternating dumbbell curls

15 lbs x 30, 20 lbs x 20, 20 lbs x 18

3b. kettlebell triceps extension

10kg x 12, x 12, x 10

At one point Michael asked me what I was thinking, and I said that I’ll never be able to deadlift again. I know that is a gross exaggeration of reality, but right now I don’t see how I will be able to deadlift on Friday. Michael pointed out several times this morning that we can make adaptations and work around the problem. I know it. I don’t always like that, but I know it is true. And important to do when necessary. Then Michael made a comment about maybe needing to take a week or two off from training. My face dropped, but I quickly said that wouldn’t be necessary because I’m going to be fine. Just like that he sucked me into changing my mental perspective from negative to positive. Fine! I will think positive thoughts about whatever is going on with my back, trusting that it isn’t anything major and that it will get better soon. I can do that for at least one day at a time.

 

Flowing

“Flow states turn the drudgery of practice into an autotelic activity-that is, one that can be enjoyed for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end or for attaining some external reward.”

I’m not certain if the above quote is actually from the book, Flow: the psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi or merely a quote from an article about the book, which is where I came across the quote even though I do own the book. Regardless, flow is an amazing thing. Here is the definition of flow as taken from the book:

“flow-the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Going to the gym and training puts me into a flow state. The training isn’t always easy, and sometimes I feel weak, intimidated, frustrated, and challenged; however, I always enjoy doing it and I am willing to make sacrifices in order to continue training. (A flow state isn’t only attainable by physical pursuits, and I’d highly recommend reading the book.) I was reminded of the book and flow state today. My off-season training isn’t glamorous, but I still enjoy it for the simple fact that I get to do it!

1a. overhead squats, with a 2 second pause at the bottom

43 lbs x 6, 63 x 6, 63 x 6, 63 x 6

I decided to take the bar out of the rack, because I’m not comfortable trying to jerk it off of my back or snatch it overhead. In the emptiness of my living room though, I might be practicing with my dowel. Some new movements are more challenging for me to get the hang of, but I am nothing if not determined.

1b. Anderson squats, high bar

95 lbs x 5, 135 x 8, 135 x 3? + 4, 135 x 8, 145 x 8 PR

I ran into an issue with my torso being too upright on the third set, and I found myself unable to budge the bar.

1c. Swiss bar bench press, medium grip, touch and go

63 lbs x 10, 68 x 10, 73 x 10, 73 x 9

The 73 pounds shouldn’t have felt as tough as it did, but there did seem to be some issues with my left shoulder staying in position.

2a. quadruped single arm, single leg kettlebell rows

10kg x 10 each side, 12kg x 12 each side

This was my first time doing this row variation, and it was definitely challenging to stay balanced on one arm and leg on a bench while rowing. The second set was a bit easier, although my ability to remain well-balanced is usually limited.

2b. barbell split squats

95 lbs x 10 each side x 2 sets