Rise of the Machines

Being injured is not my idea of a fun time. If I had broken an arm, I would quite likely be having a cast removed any day now and on my way to regaining strength, but a herniated disc doesn’t necessarily have a predictable and tidy healing schedule. I’d rather have a broken bone or a pulled muscle, a sprain or stitches, or a week long flu. This is not fun.

I feel like two different people. One is the optimist who knows how to dream big and work to achieve it. The other isn’t quite defeated yet but is broken, frustrated, and despairing. I am both people, flipping back and forth sometimes as frequently as a heartbeat.

My training routine since the injury has been little more than rehab exercises. Everything has been careful and slow and simple. I’ve not been allowed to touch a barbell or perform certain movements. While I appreciate the necessity of the rehab and the restrictions, I miss moving some weight and training more like an athlete than an injured person. I might have a World record squat, but these days my prowess is pretty much limited to bird dogs and body-weight glute bridges.

With my training playlist blaring in my ears, I go through my rehab motions fighting an internal battle between determination and despair. It’s an ugly battle of hand-to-hand combat, trenches, and no man’s land. One day a song might bolster my spirits and fan the flames of positivity and determination, while the same song the next day might shoot down my hope in a fiery hail of bullets. The ongoing numbness in my left leg weighs heavily on me. It’s bad enough that I can feel the weakness in that leg and the tentativeness that comes with diminished physical sensations, but the thought of potential long-term nerve damage is rather frightening. Having resigned myself to missing out on Nationals, I have also accepted that there is no specific timeline for stepping back onto a powerlifting platform. Although I have seen some improvements over the past five weeks, my physiotherapist has pointed out that ideally there should be more. My worth and sense of self are not dependent upon being or training like a powerlifter; however, I do still greatly miss doing those things that I enjoy doing in the gym.

I smiled last night when I opened up this week’s training program from my coach. Not only did he put in a reference to the new Star Wars movie opening later this week, but he also changed up my program to incorporate a bunch of machines! This is both exciting and out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, because machines means I get to use some weight, even if I’m still starting out low and slow. This is potentially uncomfortable and scary, because I’ve never really used machines before! I’ve seen them in the gym, but I’ve always looked at them as strange, wild animals that you look at but don’t touch. I have no idea what they are or how to use them, so I quite literally need to google each exercise/machine before going to the gym. I need to know what machine I am looking for and how to use it properly. That’s the easy part. Then I need to find those machines at my gym. My gym has two floors with machines on both levels. Some are labelled, some are not. But I think I found all of the machines I need for now.

I’m still a long way from deadlifting, bench pressing, or squatting with a barbell, but it was so good to use some muscles that haven’t been used since the injury. The weights I’m using must start off low. I need to take each rep slowly and carefully, but I was able to work biceps and triceps, pecs and delts, quads and hamstrings. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many muscles quivering from exertion. I felt the effects of a lack of strength training and the ongoing left leg nerve impingement. Standing body weight calf raises…the left calf is weaker and lagging. The same is true of the left hamstring when doing leg curls. Even though my left quad is unaffected by the herniated disc, when doing leg extensions I can still feel a lack of involvement in my left foot, or at least the numb half of my foot. As I’m extending both legs, my right foot feels engaged and active, while the left foot isn’t engaged and feels as if it is merely hanging out for the ride. <sigh> Small weights. Small steps. Turtle’s pace.

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Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

Three!

This is how my mind works…

Several days ago already, I was mentally planning and arranging my time between then and my competition, because time seems to be something I don’t have a lot of right now. Today is day 6 of 7 consecutive work days. Two open shifts. Three closing shifts. Today is 10:30-6:30. Tomorrow is another open shift. I knew that I would need to go to the gym on Monday and Wednesday. Monday wouldn’t be a problem, but Wednesday wasn’t looking appealing with a mid shift sandwiched between a close and an open. I like sleep. I need sleep. I am usually drained by the end of my work week, and I am feeling that way already but I’ve got two shifts to get through yet. When would I be able to get to the gym on Wednesday?

Obviously I had two choices: before work or after work. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thrilled about either choice. Before work would mean sacrificing some sleep after a late night. Going after work would have me scrambling to train, eat, and unwind before getting myself to bed early enough to get enough sleep prior to waking up at 4:45. As unappealing as my choices were, I knew that I could make each of them work. I could get up early and go. I could survive an open shift on less sleep. I can do all of that and more, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’m in the process of water loading, which means drinking a ton of water and making frequent trips to the bathroom. It feels like I have so much to get done before the competition and no time to do any of it before I finish work early tomorrow afternoon. Excuse my little whiny moment!

In my brain I like to look at all the angles and options and then come up with a plan. My plan usually also has options in case I hit a snag along the way. So, I decided that it would be better to potentially lose a bit of sleep last night in order to get to the gym early this morning. I can function on less sleep than I get, but I definitely do not like having my time crunched together at the end of the night, trying to fit everything into a tight space. I was awake at 7:10 this morning and at the gym ready to train at 8:00. Today’s training was super easy, because I am 3 days from competition. I performed all three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlifts. At 50% for 3 single reps. Twenty minutes later I was finished without even breaking a sweat. Everything moved well and felt good.

Shortly I will be on my way to work. Hopefully it will be a day that seems to pass quickly, because I definitely feel exhausted and it wasn’t from the gym. But at least now I only need to worry about eating, drinking more water, and unwinding in the 2 hours between finishing work and crawling into bed!

5 Days!

Competition is in five days, yet it sometimes feels still so far away. I am so excited and nervous and aware of every little ache and pain and twinge in my body. As long as those aches remain minor annoyances…this is normal at this point in time. The biggest area of concern is my back, especially since last Friday’s day of pain for no apparent reason. Since then the back has been okay, and I say that tentatively. While the pain is gone it leaves a palpable presence lingering in the shadows, which has me figuratively holding my breath, waiting for the back to explode and destroy my hopes and goals for this competition. So far, so okay.

Today’s training session was relatively easy, although not nearly as easy as Wednesday’s will be! The hard training work has been done. This morning I did all three lifts, working up to my openers or thereabouts. I worked up to a 225 pound squat, a 120 pound bench, and a 270 pound deadlift. Generally I think everything moved fairly well. My back is still intact with no explosions or implosions yet. The other achy body parts just have to be accepted as part of the family for now.

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now

This morning’s training session was short and sweet. Deadlifts were the only thing on the agenda and only two working singles. I had warmed up and completed my pulls within 25 minutes. I’m not sure that I even broke a sweat, but I was stoked by how solid and easy the deadlifts felt. My heaviest pull today was 285 pounds for a single rep, and it felt much easier than last week’s singles at 275. Gym PRs don’t really count for much, but I have never pulled 285 pounds in the gym before. Of course, I’ve pulled more than that in competition…but never in training. Not ever. I am used to having heavyish deadlifts feel almost impossibly difficult in training, which is one reason why I was rarely asked to do them. Oh my goodness! So many of my preconceived notions about my abilities have been shattered these past few weeks, and I find it all exciting and scary at the same time.

With the success of today’s training session added to Tuesday’s, my emotions are being pulled in a dozen different directions. The countdown is on…9 days! I am more excited than words could ever convey. This will be my 9th competition, but the thrill of competing never gets old. I feel poised on the brink of something good. After months and months of pain and struggle and frustration, I am finally feeling good and ready. My body isn’t in a 100% perfect state, but I do think I am in a physically better place than I was going into Provincials, even though I had been feeling pretty good then. Training has been going well. Weights and volume were more than I’ve done before, but my body held up and the weights moved. One of my biggest goals is within reach. I have no reason to think that this competition will be anything but good.

With the dawning confidence comes surges of fear and trepidation. I’m not afraid of failing so much, although I certainly don’t like it when failure happens. But in the moments that I feel the most excited and hopeful, I also feel the most nervous. Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’ve been injured most of the year. Some is simply the natural byproduct of competition and the desire to succeed. I think a big part of the fear is the thought of disappointment. Not my own disappointment, although that is a real possibility, but rather the thought that I might fail and thus disappoint everyone who has been cheering me on. It’s not exactly a rational kind of fear, I know, but it is present and I must acknowledge it.

My coach shared his thoughts with me as to the numbers that he is thinking of for me at this competition. His target is a small increase in my overall best total, and I am good with the numbers that he showed me. They are realistic, reasonable, and still challenging in one way or another. Seeing those numbers allowed me to exhale all the breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding inside. With a new coach, an online coach who is still learning me, I didn’t know what numbers he might pull out of his hat. I’ve been so focused on simply getting and staying healthy and my one big goal that I haven’t thought much about too much else. Yet somehow, now I am relieved to know that my coach isn’t projecting a huge jump between my previous best and what I will do in 9 days. My husband likes to joke that he won’t be satisfied unless I deadlift 350 pounds. While that may be possible one day, I am glad that my coach isn’t looking for me to add 40+ pounds to my best lifts after the year that I’ve had. It settles the nerves a bit to know, although the sense of expectation is still high.

This is a roller-coaster of emotions that I have ridden before. I’ve got this.

Believer

The excitement that I felt yesterday had evaporated during the night. I went to the gym feeling focused and determined but tempered. I went through the motions of warming up, adding weight to the bar in the slow and gradual process that is so familiar and comforting. Although things were feeling okay, fear began to creep around the edges like the beginning of frost on a window. It wasn’t paralyzing fear, nor was it the kind of fear that gnaws away at your stomach. This was just hesitation, that soft voice which questions your sanity and safety like a conscience. There was no doubt that I would make the attempt. The real question was would I overcome my aversion to asking for help to ask a complete stranger to give me a spot. Did I need a spot? Could I get by without one? Who could I ask? The muscley guy with his head in his phone? The toothpick of an older lady doing leg raises on a mat? The jacked dude all the way on the opposite side of the gym a mile away? Or the young woman quarter squatting while wearing gloves? I’ve seen too many videos and live examples of people who do not know what they are doing in the gym…the last thing I need when squatting heavy weight is a spotter who doesn’t know what he/she is doing. I hemmed and hawed but ultimately caved. In my indecision I had paced around and wound up near a piece of equipment that was currently unused. The glove-wearing, quarter squatting lady approached to ask if I was using that equipment, so I asked if she knew how to spot a squat. She said she did. After watching the video of my squat, I’m not so convinced, but I survived my squat.

You might not know it to have seen me in the gym following that squat or to see me now, but that squat was huge for me. In the 4 years that I have been competing in powerlifting, I have only squatted this much weight 3 times and all in competition. I have never had this much weight on my back for an actual squat in the gym EVER. I have never squatted this much weight without wearing knee sleeves. I have not had this much weight on my back since Western Canadians in August 2016. Okay, so maybe a smile just split my face!

1a. squats

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 3, 205 x 2, 215 x 1

main event: 225 lbs x 1, 245 lbs x 1

Undoubtedly some of today’s squats weren’t very pretty or perfect, but they still managed to feel decently good. And although 245 pounds felt like it moved slowly, I am still happy with how it really did move and feel. There is more there, I know it. I feel it.

2. bench press

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 4, 100 x 2

main event: 115 x 1, 115 x 1

Easy peasy.

3. chest supported rows 8-10 reps

40 lbs x 10, 40 lbs x 10

For the first time, I maxed out my reps here. Of course, both the weight and a set were dropped, but I’m still going to feel good about how good these felt.

With competition in 11 days, the volume is dropping significantly. Physically I am not feeling too fatigued yet, but I’m still glad for the drop.

Singles, a Singlet, and Something Else

Competition is 12 days away.

I opened my this week’s program this morning eager to see what was in store for me. Although this is far from my first competition, it will be my first competition with a different coach and training program. Since he sends me a program and I do my best to execute it on my own, we are still in the process of learning about each other. I am figuring out his training philosophy, while he is figuring out what I respond to and what works best for me. That’s a much slower and more difficult process when your point of contact is online rather than in person, but I think we’re getting there.

Looking at this week’s program, I am unbelievably excited. I should also be incredibly nervous, but so far I’m not. Volume is even lower this week, but I am looking at hitting two gym PRs. The first one will be tomorrow morning when I squat, while the second will be Thursday morning’s deadlifts.

My coach has programmed a single deadlift rep at 285 pounds. Although I have deadlifted more than that in competition, I have never pulled that much weight in training. Not ever! After pulling four singles at 275 last week, I feel confident about this week’s deadlifts, even if it probably will feel tough.

Tomorrow’s squat is where I should be feeling the fear. One single rep at 245 pounds! Again, this is a weight that I have done in competition but never in training. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I haven’t had this much weight on my back for a very long time…not since August 19, 2016! It’s been more than a year since I’ve had this kind of weight on my back, and only in competitions. After nearly 10 months of dealing with back issues, I should be anxious about this squat. In the gym tomorrow morning, I might be, probably will be, at least to some degree. Right now though, I am practically quivering with excitement.

Wanna know why? Because as scary as it should be and truly is, I feel ready and strong enough and capable. I’ve seen my numbers these past few weeks and been amazed at what I am doing now compared to in the past. Even though I will always, always have a measure of fear about heavy squats, I know I can.

And then there is that big goal I have for this competition. In my age/weight class for 100% RAW (which is the federation this competition is with), the world record squat is 248 pounds. 248. Let that sink in for a moment. I have done 248 in competition before. I have done 253 in competition before. Both times at a lower weight class. Since I moved up an age class this year, I’ve had this goal in mind. Heck, I had it in mind even before I moved up an age class! And before I hurt my back. Healthy…I know I am capable of breaking that record. It’s been a long, tough year physically, so I have been cautious about this goal. I’ve always believed that it was within reach, but my ability to reach it hasn’t always been solid. As my training has progressed recently, I have felt my confidence growing and the goal has been inching closer. If I am successful in my 245 pound squat tomorrow…

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves! The most important thing right now is to move the weight well and stay healthy. I’m also planning on wearing my singlet to the gym this week, at least for day 1 and day 2. I usually do wear the singlet once or twice prior to a competition to refamiliarize myself with it how looks and feels and to get over my self-consciousness in it! Since this will be my first competition at this heaviest, for me, weight class, I tried the singlet on this morning to ensure that it still actually fit. It does. That’s a relief!