Saturday, June 23, 2018

halfway

I am officially halfway through my new 12 week program. I followed my own program for the last training cycle--this time I wanted to try something a little bit different. As an early birthday present, someone dear paid for me to have Meg of megsquats design a program for me--a service offered for a decent, doable price. Some pros and elite lifters offer this type of thing--designing strength and/or nutrition program for anyone willing to pay. Truth is a lot of these services are pricey(and, for the most part, rightly so).

I'm extremely happy with the results from this program thus far. Workouts are exciting and much more challenging. I do like accountability when it comes to hard work, and following a program written for me offers that perfectly. This time if I try to cut a corner, I feel like I'm letting down more than just myself. Creating it took time and effort, as well as money. I will not be attempting any 1 rep maxes until the very end, but I'm already seeing an increase in rep max and strength. Every week of the cycles steadily increases the effort.


my gorgeously ripped hands
So far my biggest improvement is on deadlift. I've learned better cues for the initial lift off the floor in sumo position, which has made such a difference in execution. The best cues: start the pull by pulling all tension out of the bar(listen for the clank noise of barbell hitting the top in the plate holes), and initiate with the legs. Firing in the legs first instead of putting it all on the back helps with patience in the pull, and I'm much more likely to get the weight successfully off the floor by pulling legs first. Game changer. This, and finally understanding the movement of pulling hips forward into lockout position. I can tell the difference between pulling forward and not--when I don't, it's much harder to complete the movement. Sometimes lifting is hilarious when you consider all the cues one should remember for a seemingly simple movement. Tension out of bar, fire lats, big breath expanding on all sides, fire first with legs, snap hips forward. I cannot wait to see where my final numbers are for a 1 rep max.

The other great thing about this program is that my weekly split is vastly different, allowing me to be much less beat up at the end of it. I train the program 4 times a week instead of 6, which allows for heavier effort/more rest. 4 days instead of 6 means I no longer have that sense of overbearing obligation or having to drag myself to the gym. Four is enough room to look forward to it every single time. I'm no longer dedicating one day to legs, one to chest, one to back, etc. This program mixes things up so everything is getting some work. Every training day involves doing bro stuff aka accessory work at the end, and every action goes to support the three main lifts. Every session also involves a giant set near the end(generally performing 3 or more exercises for one muscle group in succession). This is a special kind of brutal every time, and I love it. I sweat more with this program than I ever did with my own.

My overall muscle size, strength, and endurance has increased. Most of my shorts now protest against my leg size, which is its own brand of hilarious and frustration. I'm so excited to see what gains will be made in the next six weeks. Having a program written for me by a professional was money well spent.

Sidenote: I hope to update this space more. The longer I lift, the more things I notice, the more things I want to say. Things about common gym etiquette, sexual harassment, making friends, training with purpose. More soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

april meet recap

It's been just over one month since my powerlifting meet. I sat down, quite a few times, to write about it in this space, but would only get as far as saving a draft of a day half-described. Maybe my thoughts on it felt incomplete, or maybe life just grew too busy(truly both, let's be honest).

I cannot describe my nerves going into the weigh-in day before--that kind of anxious that numbs your body from the hips up. The kind that makes you babble about any and everything, to the amusement or annoyance of everyone with me. The meet was only 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, but I restricted myself from almost all social events prior to the meet. I was worried about getting my rest, staying migraine free, eating the wrong thing. On the day of the meet, I was up at 6am, awakened by my cell phone alarm and the beautiful smell of fresh coffee. We stayed with my friend Joe who was kind enough to preset the brew, knowing I'd need it.

I quickly ate a small container of oats and yogurt, a small bagel. Packed the rest of my snacks for the day--the container of Pedialyte, jug of water, my weightlifting shoes, belt, phone, music, towel, baby powder. Items from a list I wrote weeks ago and meticulously checked off before departure. All that was left to do was lift the damn weights.

Once the rules were stated to all of the lifters, things moved fairly quickly. Warm up was a little chaotic--two areas with many, many competitors waiting their turn. The monolift took some getting used to--I didn't have to worry about the walkout, which allowed me to conserve an extra sliver of energy. Every crumb of it counts on a day like that.

I was first to lift in my flight, and as soon as my hands wrapped around the squat bar, I heard the beginning of "Ice Ice Baby" start to play over the speakers. Oh boy here we go. Squat came and went--I made all of my lifts. I jumped on the last one to match my all time personal best. A thought formed in my head: I had nothing to compare this experience to, therefore I had nothing to lose. I could roll with that. I could take some risks. We went outside and I demolished some rotisserie chicken and looked onward to bench.

Bench is my "worst" lift, as in my weakest of the three. Warm up felt okay, but rushed due to the sheer amount of us trying to get our reps in. Everyone says to focus on making competition day as close to a training day as possible, but they easily felt light years apart. During competition there are extended periods of rest, followed by a flurry of getting warmed up which dominoes into the actual lifts(which go rather quickly themselves). Training can be a lot of "wait until you're ready." Competition is more of the "you better be ready when it's time" scenario.

My actual bench attempts felt great so I took another big jump on the last one--10 pounds, giving me an all time personal best. The lift was a grinder--the rule for bench is that once you start pressing, the bar cannot start descending--that will be a no lift. Halfway up my press the bar wouldn't budge, and I refused to let it drop until that sucker was fully extended and complete. 3 white lights, good lift. Probably my most exciting lift of the meet. Afteward, J told me that's when he realized I was not there to play around. The look in your eye when you decided to go for it, he said.

I drank diluted Pedialyte for the duration of the meet--I was pretty damn tired by the time deadlifts rolled around. I was also getting more irritated and therefore more assertive with the warm up area situation. Deadlift is a fickle beast. Some days the bar feels incredibly light, and other days 200+ pounds feels more like a ton. Technique, proper position is everything. I warmed up to just over 200 and then let myself relax. It's too easy to blow it all on warm up and I felt fairly cashed already.

Deadlift pulls felt like butter. There's nothing like moving heavy weight and moving it well. I made another big jump on my last lift--I was going to use every last bit of energy I had, so why not go all out? The lift was good and I hit another all time personal record.

In summary, my goals were accomplished and surpassed. I went 9 for 9(all of my lifts were good), matched one all time PR(squat) and obtained two new ones(bench, deadlift). I was first in my division. I was the lightest(weightwise) and oldest woman competing, which gave me a bit of pride. The meet lasted just over 8 hours.

Listen. There were days I showed up to the gym and felt like I was simply going through the motions. Days when I did not want to be there. Days that I didn't want to be anywhere else. Days when I left in tears because I couldn't hit an easy number. 99% of the time I went and lifted alone, and sometimes the loneliness sucked. I had to say no to a social life, to staying up late, to junk food. Tuna and rice, tuna and rice, over and over again. Every inch of my body has ached at some point or another. I listened to so much old school hip hop, punk, cuban music, silence. Over time I grew the courage to talk about my goals with strangers at the gym. I formed friendships in between sets. I bruised and bloodied myself--ripped the skin off my palms multiple times. It grew back thicker and thicker. When I started out, my father would offer with caution "be careful, don't overdo it," but as competition day grew closer he started to ask me about my max numbers, telling me a little wistfully that he wishes he could be there to see it. I sent him videos of all my lifts and he's still showing them proudly to random people.

I was so fucking proud of myself, and still am. I decided to compete, and I worked hard for months to get ready. And I did it. I showed up and I lifted and did my best. I put in the work. I put in the effort. I loved all of it. I love the lifting community--the excitement, the camaraderie, the absurdity of all these incredibly strong folks in singlets with chalk on their thighs and hands and delts. It was incredible to think how every person there spent countless hours preparing--you can explain it to outsiders but unless you do it yourself, outsiders will have a hard time understanding. The very why of it baffles people. Why not?

I managed a full four days of rest(the most I've had in 4+ months in a row) before I was right back in the rack. This time a little more wild-eyed, a little more certain, much more hopeful and hungry.




Sunday, April 8, 2018

12 days



Yesterday, I fell asleep sitting up on the couch at 9am. The cup mostly full of coffee that was being held in my lap slowly drifted to the left with loosened grip. The elixir drenching not only myself but the couch is what brought me to again.

Whoops. Mama is tired.

Let that be the understatement of the year. I'm not sure how to even begin to describe my current physical and mental being. Prepared, but exhausted. For months, the entire thing was for certain--I signed up, sent in the entry fee, procured my singlet and got to work in the gym. For months I did real, tangible things to make this goal attainable. But now as the actual day of competition rounds the corner I look back and see that most of it felt fictitious. Like some far off maybe-thing that would happen but not for a long, long time. A long, long time goes fairly quick sometimes.

Today I bought a tiny tshirt to wear under my singlet, and last night I drafted/wrote down my attempts for all three lifts. Those two things felt like the final big two on my list of stuff to get done. I have to pack my bag, get my snacks/plan lunch for the day of, and get there. That's it. I have one more week of hard work in the gym with lifts practiced in my singlet so I can get used to its constrictive nature.

Being a creature who likes to study, I've read numerous articles and forums on peak week and meet prep. I am at the point in the journey where there isn't much left to do but relax, have fun, and lift my ass off. That's what all the advice offers, in the end--have fun. Don't cut weight, don't make your first attempt too farfetched, and have fun. Enjoy. I want to remember that word from now until the day of is done. I've worked so very hard, and it hasn't all been pleasure. Some of it has straight up sucked. I don't want my meet to feel like that. I have some worries, some stress--I worry about how I will feel the day of. As someone with chronic migraines, pain is always in the back of my mind, a potential that I have to consider. I can avoid all my triggers and still get hit with one(especially with the timing of my cycle). I consider the possibility, but I won't let the potential threat dictate how I go into this competition. I don't want to go into it with dread calling the shots. I'm nervous about making lifts in front of so many people. I know I can do it. I will be in an environment where, competition or not, everyone wants you to succeed.

I am going to focus on each of my final peak sessions this week, one by one. I'm going to approach each lift with the knowledge, the steadfast belief, that I can and will succeed. The lifts will be clean, the form well executed. I will walk into the gym each day hungry, as I have been doing all of these months. I will believe in my ability and I will have a fucking blast doing it.

Now, to daydream about what snacks to pack...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

3 weeks



These days, I am mostly chalk and tiger balm.

22 days out from the meet. 1.5 more weeks of hard work followed by peak week and then lighter loads until go time.

I'm almost ready. I've been taking things one session at a time, focusing on the lifts in front of me. When I lay in bed at night, I let myself imagine the meet setting. I think about it until nerves bloom goosebumps and I have to back off. It all comes down to this: I want to go 9 for 9, and I want to have an amazing, fun time doing it.

I can't believe the meet is almost here.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

7 to go



For some reason, things are clicking this week. Every training session has been nothing short of brilliant. I took a deload week and I think that break from heavy lifting also helped clear the proverbial weight in my head. It's true: deload weeks help reset the central nervous system. And boy howdy was in need of that.

I'm just over 7 weeks out from my meet, and I've fallen in love with every inch of this process. My body is tired. The muscles in my legs frequently spasm as I lay in bed at night, trying to go to sleep. I've grown used to their little jumps, will point it out to my partner occasionally. The skin jumps and sinks in quickly, little blinks. I love how solid my lifts have become, how heavy the weight. Nowadays I also like eating two lunches, drinking protein shakes, scooping out tiny lumps of creatine. There is ritual and beauty to it. There is also really hard work. Going to the gym when I don't feel well. Going when I'd rather get something else done, or nothing done in particular. Shit, sometimes I want to simply do nothing. My diet is a carousel of sameness: chicken breast, tuna, rice, spinach, sweet potatoes, eggs. Holy crap can I put some eggs away. I eat at least 3 a day.

But this is a commitment, and commitment often requires a certain amount of sacrifice. I feel really good about it. I'm still very nervous about April, but I know it's coming and I will be ready.

I want to remember this part of it. The not so great days and the incredible weeks where it all comes together and I hit my numbers. I want to remember the drives home from the workouts, always exhausted and a grin slapped on my face. The little moments between the big ones. The coworkers that make fun of me for "eating weird," when really all I do is eat healthy. The night I first tried on my singlet and never, ever wanted to take it off.

It's one fantastic, slightly ludicrous ride. More soon.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

goal in progress



It's fairly well established at this point that I am terrible at updating regularly. I always intend to, but before I know it the days turn into weeks then into months. As more time passes, there is more to say yet I'm never sure where to start. I guess we will just jump in here.

On January 1st I sent in my money and officially registered for a powerlifting meet in April. No turning back now. I was more excitement than nerves until I started reading the meet rules and imagined how the day would go...that's when my hands started getting sweaty and I felt the need to go to the restroom. Ah, the nerves. They finally showed up.

I'm training smart and training hard. I've managed to avoid the hell that is the flu this year(knock on all the wood things, as the winter ain't quite done with us yet), but I did get a week long viral thing, and I'm currently getting well from a nasty cold that lasted just under a week. I fought the urge to return to training early, giving myself a day more rest than I wanted to. Time is precious, and I can't afford to be stupid about it. Better to take the extra rest as opposed to returning too early and staying down longer. As simple as these type of decisions might seem, I struggle with them. I'm stubborn to say the least.

The biggest change is that I've started benching twice a week. I squat twice, bench twice, and deadlift once. My accessory work has changed as well--I do what supports those three main lifts, and trimmed the fat that I could. The second bench day replaced my overhead press--I now do OHP on occasion instead of dedicating an entire session to it. I pummel shoulders with incline bench, lat raises, etc. Adding to my bench volume has made a significant difference in overall execution and the amount of weight I can press. As a matter of fact, I beat my old bench press max today by 3 reps. Totally unexpected, but a big victory for me. To me, it feels like a victory when I gain evidence that my programming is working. It gets a little harder to obtain those milestones the longer you lift--I'm a long way off from those beginner gains. The rep pr is quite nice, but my focus has been more on maintaining form lately.

There's still a lot of volume being done. I finish with heavier reps in the 1-3 range, mainly to lock in that form. As time crawls closer to meet date, I'm also doing more pause bench and squatting with commands--I am hellbent on having all white lights for my attempts. The more I can lock that into my training, the better accustomed I will be to it when it's time to compete. It's a nice new challenge to factor in, keeping me on my toes.

My hands are shredded. My body is often sore in one way or another. When I lay in bed at night, my quad muscles occasionally jump without provoking. But I love it. I love it so much. When I've had a rotten day, the gym is my sanctuary. Hell, when I have a great day I still look forward to my sessions--it makes the great days even better. I'm happy. I'm hungry. I'm working hard on the goal in front of me and that makes all the difference.

Friday, November 24, 2017

my new friend fear

I've found new life in the old idea of befriending your enemies. There is value to be found in exposing yourself more to what frustrates you, challenges you, and/or scares you. For me, fear is mainly rooted in the unfamiliar. I'm learning to turn the no-I-can't/never-have into yes-I-will.

Lifting has clued me into my weaknesses--physical is the part of iceberg exposed, the obvious thing revealed. So much of progress is mental, even before hands touch the bar. For a while I bought into hesitation and allowed myself to back off when things felt maybe too tough or sketchy. I went right up to my limit and hovered for months, setting up camp on the plateau that inevitably happens when you stop truly challenging yourself.

Never has this been more true than with bench press. I cannot explain why fear felt more prominent for that one movement than anywhere else in my program. It might have to do with dropping the bar on my chest one or two times...once getting stuck to the point of needing help from a stranger working next to me. Shaken, but fine. Maybe it's because the bar is overhead, and in the past I've never been really strong in my upper body. I've always been leg dominant. And chest? Forget it. Before lifting I didn't even understand the reason or worth in training chest. Naively I thought bench was for big boys, ground I had no reason to cover.

For close to a year, my 1 rep max on bench press did not move. I kissed it a few times, shakily, but never felt confident enough to work past it. While I've been successful programming linear periodization for my other lifts, I could never lock in a progressive workload for bench. Also, I only exposed myself to it once a week. It wasn't my favorite, it made me nervous, and therefore it was easy to not make it a priority(or even equal to my other lifts).

This summer, I started reading more about programming--what works, what doesn't. I gave more thought to body symmetry--training the back chain as frequent and as focused as the front. I made a decision that I did not want any weaknesses. I broke down the three main lifts and took all the weight off so I could lock in form first. After being asked multiple times by friends and strangers if I was training to compete and always saying no, I started to give honest thought to it. Maybe I should, I'd think after a great session. I had plenty of rep goals, weight-on-bar goals...but a competition? It was an interesting thing to start considering.

Fast forward to now and I'm just finishing week 3 of a new 4 month block that will take me all the way to peaking for my first powerlifting meet in April. There's been a real change as the leaves turned a burnt sienna and drifted off their limbs. I lift with purpose. Going back to the beginning and locking in form helped me understand the numbers are nothing if you aren't lifting them right. I decided to befriend bench. Flat, incline, decline, dumbbells. I went back to having nothing on the bar so I could get comfortable with 45 pounds over my face for as many reps as I could stand. I started to trust myself. I quit approaching the bench with a thought of "there's no way..." or "I'll be lucky to get [enter measly number] pounds off my chest more than once." I started sticking to the numbers I wrote down. I made my back stronger to support the push movement. In the simplest term, I worked my ass off. I hit a new 1 rep max in early fall.

Bench is my buddy now. There's still a bit of that nervous adrenaline, even if I know how to bail when necessary. Instead of letting that residual fear balloon up into blockage, I've turned it into a power source. Fear is motivating. Fear makes me move the damn bar. Fear is giving me some of the best sessions that I've ever had. And for the first time ever, I can see my chest split in the mirror(an unexpected bonus to getting stronger I guess).

At this point I have no idea what my attempts will be for the meet this spring--I have plenty of time to grow and that's exciting. By the time April is here, my current max might be my opener. Ah a lady can dream. And a lady can do.