Wax & Clay

“What if I fail? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” ~Erin Hanson

That’s a great quote, isn’t it! I love it for the hope and courage it inspires for the simple act of trying. But about when you actually do fail? Sure, it’s great to think about soaring with the eagles, proud and victorious, but reality isn’t always like that. Sometimes we crash and burn. We choke on the ashes of our hopes and dreams and feel searing pain. Quite often we suffer alone. Even when others may be sympathetic to our pain, very few can actually see the depths of our disappointment and suffering. They mean well, and I appreciate their efforts to sympathize and encourage. I know it isn’t always easy to wholly know another person’s innermost hopes and dreams.

Going into my competition, I had thought that I was mentally ready for disappointment, because I had months to prepare and come to an understanding of what I would or would not be capable of on the day thanks to my back troubles. And yet, for all that I was truly ready for a lesser performance, I was still blind-sided by the the struggles of the day. It certainly didn’t feel like I was flying…I had crashed and burned.

Processing the results of a competition, for me, can be a lengthy process. Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that there can be months of physical and mental preparation leading up to a competition. Then the day of competition is often long and somehow still a blur. It takes time to work through my thoughts and emotions, even when the results are positive. I’ve competed enough now to know that this is a process that cannot be rushed or forced; it happens in bits and pieces that push their way to the surface in their own time. Usually I have the opportunity to rehash details with my coach, which is part of the process and often helps, but since I’m not allowed to train this week that step in the process is missing. For now.

Perspective is also an important piece of the process, although it isn’t something that I can always just pull out of my pocket and apply to my situation. Obviously when the emotions were still raw, I had no perspective. Now that the emotions are once again under control, I can find perspective.

This was not my best competition in so many ways. I failed on the one lift I wanted most of all, and I didn’t even bother attempting one lift that might have caused me more injury or pain. It is easy to focus on those disappointments. The squat that hurt my back again…that was a scary moment that I have never experienced before. It took a great deal of focus and determination to not give up on that squat at the moment I felt my back give. Once I got the bar off my back and myself off the platform, I was assailed by a storm of emotions: fear, frustration, anger. I could have quit. Maybe the smart decision would have been to quit, but I was determined to finish.

It’s easy for me to look at my numbers from the competition and be frustrated, knowing I am capable of so much more; however, perspective properly applied creates a new outlook. Although I am capable of more, I still moved a lot of weight that day. In fact, I moved more than 1300 pounds over the course of the competition, and that isn’t including my warm-ups! My final deadlift was only 248 pounds. It’s a far cry from what I can pull, but that is still as much or more than picking up a large man. My competition bench press seems permanently stuck, but I still pressed the equivalent or more than the body weight of a Victoria’s Secret model. As I talk about that unlucky squat, I am quick to point out that the weight was easy for me, because 220 pounds is typically an easy weight for me to squat. But 220 pounds is still a lot of weight! It is still a large man or a couple of models! Those lifts might not have equaled my best weights, but I wasn’t on the platform using fake weights. I still worked hard, even if most of my lifts were not too physically taxing.

It’s all about perspective!

“The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay
And the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay
And the mighty wind that knocks us down
If we lean into it
Will drive our fears 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.

Super-powered Singlet

Yesterday afternoon I pulled my singlet out of the drawer and put it on to make sure it still fit. It fit just as I expected it to. My little weight cut is going well. There is just nothing flattering about a singlet. Still, I chose to wear the singlet at the gym this morning. I knew I’d be doing some heavy squat singles, so the singlet would make it easier for my coach to judge my depth. Next week my coach will be away, so I will have my few pre-competition training sessions in a strange gym surrounded by strangers. Since I like to wear the singlet at the gym at least once before a competition in order to re-familiarize myself with it, I would much rather wear it at my coach’s private gym than out in public.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves, in a singlet, almost pausing

45 lbs x 6, 95 x 5

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 2, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 215 x 1, 215 x 1

I don’t know what it was, but I felt strong today. I’m losing weight and feeling hungry fairly often, but the bar felt light this morning and moved fast and smoothly. And all to legal depth! Maybe it was the singlet! Maybe I’m finally getting my groove back. Maybe by the time I get to Provincials I will be close to where I was last competition…

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on bench: 43 lbs x 8, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 5…paused last reps

with legs and arch: 110 lbs x 4, 110 x 3, 110 x 3…paused each rep for last two sets

2. hanging leg raises

x 12

I kept these quite strict with no back swing, so I couldn’t lift the legs too high, but that is also due in part to the back issues. Mostly this was about decompressing the spine a bit without aggravating the back problems.

3a. rope face pulls

20 lbs x 15, 30 lbs x 15

3b. dumbbell curls

20 lbs x 10 x 2 sets

3c. TRX rows

2 sets of 20

Hitting Depth!

Competition is 3 weeks from tomorrow. Excitement is beginning to blossom, slowly and cautiously. This competition will be unlike any of my previous 7. Indeed, nothing in my training/peaking has been normal for heading into a competition. It wasn’t too many weeks ago that my coach asked me if I was certain I actually wanted to compete still. As stubborn as my intention to compete has always been, the lingering disc/SI joint issues have definitely messed with my head and confidence. My expectations have had to change, which isn’t always an easy thing to accept, but this is reality. Whether I like it or not, this competition is not going to be my best ever. That chafes. I am competitive, and I strive to be better every time. Sometimes that won’t happen, and that should be okay. I know that is true, but I can feel the inner tug-of-war between accepting my limitations and striving for more.

My coach asked me today what I am hoping for at Provincials. That’s a tough question to answer. Obviously I can’t base my hopes on a completely healthy body and ideal peak, but the limitations to my training have been significant enough that I honestly have no idea what I might be able to do. The only personal best expectation that I have is for my bench press, because I’ve been stuck at the same weight in competition for too long and should be able to surpass it. Aside from that, my response to my coach was that I would really be happy just to go 9 for 9.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 2, 185 x 3 (RPE 7), 185 x 3, 185 x 3, 185 x 3

Michael told me to treat each rep almost like a paused squat, so I controlled my eccentric and almost paused at the bottom. And you know what that did? It allowed me to finally make legal depth! Yeah! I think there might have been one rep in the final set that was iffy for depth, but the rest were all good. Finally!

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 5, 83 x 3, 103 x 1

with feet on floor and arch: 115 x 1, 125 x 1, 130 x 1, 130 x 1

The first single at 130 was a bit slower than what Michael was expecting. It was slower than I expected, too. I focused on some inner frustrations before the next single in order to make it faster, and it worked.

2. TRX rows x 15, x 20

Just a Squat That I Used to Know

Provincials are 25 days away according to my countdown app…just under 4 weeks, which means I really only have 3 weeks of real training. The final week will be for deloading.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves, slower eccentric

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 3, 185 x 2, 200 x 1, 210 x 1

The set at 135 pounds actually felt really good. Michael even said that he might pass most of the reps. The slower eccentric helped a bit, but I’m still mostly hitting parallel for depth. We took video of the 185 and 200 sets to assess. It’s difficult to judge the depth with certainty. Maybe I’ll have to start wearing my singlet. One thing that was quite obvious in the videos was my ankle mobility and extreme angle of my shins! My body is doing all sorts of things in the effort to squat safely, to protect my back, and to try to hit depth. Unfortunately, that also means that my squat looks different almost every time I go to the gym! But my final single did move better than my heavy single last week. Hopefully my body is getting used to the feel of heavy weight on my back again.

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on the bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 83 x 5, 103 x 5

with feet on floor and arch: 113 lbs x 5, 118 x 3, 118 x 3

My back is still not 100%. I’m hesitant to even attempt to rate the state of my back at this time. It is definitely improving and has improved significantly compared to a few weeks ago, but I can still feel a degree of pain or discomfort through most of the day. There may be a reasonable chunk of time with almost no pain, but then the simplest thing, like taking a step up a stair, can jostle the back uncomfortably. Although my back generally feels okay at the gym, I want to keep it feeling that way through my training session and beyond, and this is why I elect to do as much of my benching with my feet up on the bench. Having my feet on the bench enables me to have less of an arch…or no arch, if necessary. It’s not my favourite way to bench, but sometimes you do what you gotta do. Benching was all solid and smooth today.

2a. pause squats-low bar, with belt, 2 second pauses

155 lbs x 3, 175 x 3

I love pause squats! There is something about doing a pause squat that allows me to nail my technique. Michael was hoping that having a slower eccentric on my regular squats would have the same result, but it didn’t. I’m not sure why, except for maybe the difference in knowing that I will be staying in the bottom for a bit when doing pauses. Pause squats have always been a good tool for me, but we mostly avoided using them over the past few months because of my back and not wanting to put more strain there. That was likely a good decision, but I’m glad that I am able to use the pause again.

2b. hanging leg/knee raises

x 12

I started off raising my legs and switched to knees at some point. There was some minor back discomfort doing these, particularly with the legs straight…the feeling of muscles being pulled or stretched more than they want to. That same sensation has been present at the bottom of my squats since the back problems started. It’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve been able to squat without feeling it, so I’d say that’s progress. Several weeks ago, I couldn’t even do hanging knee raises without significant discomfort. More improvement!

4 weeks and a day

The week isn’t quite over yet. I have one more work day to go before my weekend, but this week has felt rather long. At least a dozen threads of thought are floating inside my head wanting to be tugged and put to words. And yet, if I try to focus my attention inward, I find my eyes glazing over and my focus sucked into a black hole of nothingness. Maybe a solitary tall Americano simply wasn’t enough caffeine for the day. Maybe I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I did last night, but I am on the wrong side of the bed. The work day was steady but good, except for spilling several litres of frapp roast all over the fridge, the floor, and myself. My training session was decent, I think. I have eaten fairly well today. Had plenty of water. Regardless of the cause, I am fading fast.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5

with belt: 135 x 1 + 5, 165 x 3, 185 x 3, 190 x 3, 190 x 3

My coach was training alongside of me today, so we were sharing the squat rack. I was squatting, while he was doing Anderson squats. That meant the safeties needed to be changed every set. For my set at 135, I lifted the bar and walked it out, braced and squatted. Clang! We had forgotten to change the safeties after Michael’s set. Made the change. Reset. Finished the set. Ironically, a couple of sets later, we forgot to change them again, but this time after my set which meant that Michael was squatting deeper than anticipated.

The rest of my sets were okay. A couple of reps had a slight forward pitch. These past several months have taken my squat and turned it into something else. It’s still a squat, but it isn’t exactly how I used to squat or how I should. After Provincials are over, we’re going to deconstruct my squat and start at the beginning, but that’s something to think about in 4 weeks plus a day or two.

1b. bench press-competition grip

with feet on bench, small arch:

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 5, 83 x 3, 103 x 1

with feet on floor and arch:

115 lbs x 1, 125 x 1, 125 x 1

115 x 3 paused each rep

2. TRX rows x 20

Now almost time for bed.

Hips, Knees, Benches & Bretzels

My husband had his hip replaced yesterday. It seems to have gone well, and he’s already been up and taking short walks down the hall of his hospital ward. Assuming that everything continues to progress as expected, he will likely be sent home tomorrow morning and that’s when the real fun will begin. Found out that we will need to switch sides of the bed, which means I now need to make some adjustments to the furniture layout in our bedroom so he can get the walker between the wall and the bed on that side. I will also need to move my alarm clock to the other side. Although it will be quite a few weeks before he is able to do a lot of things, at least his recovery should be fairly smooth. I hope.

As for me, I definitely feel as if my back is finally seeing more progress and fewer set-backs. It’s still not normal or without varying measures of pain and discomfort, but it’s exciting to realize how much more I can do. This morning at the gym, I sat on the floor to put on my socks, knee sleeves and shoes, which is something that I haven’t been able to do for a long time! Although I still avoid sitting as much as possible, I have had to do more sitting over the past two days than I am used to, and the back has held up fairly well. Okay, so for a while yesterday I was mildly concerned that I was about to take backwards steps again. The SI joint was a bit achier than it had been for the previous few days, not too bad but not quite as good; however, it seemed to settle back down by mid-afternoon. One of my biggest questions these days is always how far can I push myself without negatively impacting my back/SI joint. Unfortunately, I cannot always answer that question until I try to see what I can do. My coach often has exercises that he would like me to do in the gym, and he will ask me if they are okay for me to do. There are a couple that I am reasonably certain would not feel good on my back at all, but most of the time I simply can’t say until I try it. There is also no guarantee that what felt fine before will always feel fine and vice versa. Ab wheel roll-outs were fine early on in this ordeal, but the last time I did them a couple of weeks ago they were more uncomfortable. I couldn’t do hanging leg raises at all a while ago, but I managed to do some leg raises last week using the dips bar. One thing I am fairly certain would not be a good idea is sit-ups on the glute-ham device, so I’ve rejected that option every time Michael has presented it. The biggest tests will be once I get heavy enough weight on the squat bar and when I get to try deadlifting again.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 7

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 1, 185 x 1, 205 x 1, 215 x 1

215 lbs for roughly a 10 second hold, twice

Squats didn’t feel too bad today. A few reps felt a bit deeper but probably still not quite deep enough, although I honestly felt like at least one rep might have been legal depth. The single at 215 felt a little heavy, tough, and ugly, so Michael had me do a couple of holds with the weight to get used to having it on my back again. The first hold felt super awkward, because he didn’t even want me to walk the bar out, which meant I couldn’t have any forward lean to make the low bar position remotely comfortable. For the second hold, we raised the safeties and I was allowed to walk the bar out. It felt a bit better but still not nearly as good as it should. This is one of those areas where Michael has ideas that he wants to incorporate but isn’t always certain it will be good for my back. Obviously I need to re-familiarize myself with having heavy weight on my back, and I don’t have a lot of time to get to that point. He thinks doing some holds or walking with the yoke rack would be good. I don’t disagree with him, and I’d be willing to try. He just wants to be careful with my back.

1b. bench press-competition grip, with feet on the bench and small arch

47 lbs x 10, 67 x 6, 87 x 5, 107 x 5, 112 x 5, 112 x 4

Benching with my feet on the bench allows me to better keep the arch in my back small, which should help me to avoid aggravating the SI joints. It’s akin to deadlifting from a deficit. It will make me stronger, but I do miss being able to use my leg drive. My butt came off the bench on the fifth rep of the first set at 112 pounds. That is not typical of me, but I suspect the need to use leg drive was too strong to resist on that last rep. Oh well! In powerlifting, only the first rep matters. 😉 As for the final set, there was supposed to be 5 reps. Shake it off! I know I am stronger than how my bench felt today.

2a. Spoto presses-with feet on the bench still

97 lbs x 6, 97 x 6, 97 x 6

I think the first set felt a bit tougher than the next two. Sometimes that’s just how it is…as if my body needs a set to remember what it is supposed to be doing.

2b. back extensions-holding a 20 pound dumbbell

x 20, x 9, x 10

This is another one of those exercises that is hit or miss for how it makes the back feel. Actually, today these were completely hit and miss. The first set was horrible. I felt so much strain around the back of my knees that I had to drop the dumbbell midway through and repositioned myself before picking up the weight to finish the set. Honestly, I have no idea how I managed 20 reps that set.

Michael told me to keep my knees slightly bent to avoid the strain, so I did that on the following sets. It alleviated a great deal of the knee strain but not quite all of it. I was wearing my squat shoes for the first two sets and took them off for the last set, thinking that might be part of the problem. The last set wasn’t a whole different than the second. Maybe the pad was set a bit too far? I don’t know. Also, although the extensions didn’t make my back feel worse, I could feel some discomfort while doing them, which between that and the knees made me cut the reps short. However, it did feel sort of nice to carefully drape my body forward over the pad so my head was hanging down, stretching out the lower back in a way that it hasn’t liked to move for a while.

Yesterday my chiropractor gave me a new stretch to do…the Bretzel. If that makes you think of a pretzel, then you’re thinking in the right direction! If I’m not careful, this stretch will threaten me with a cramp and it doesn’t feel too pleasant on the quads, but I kind of like it. Not the unpleasantness, of course. I can see why my chiropractor says this is one of his favourite stretches, and I think it is one that I will continue with for a long time.