Friday, August 11, 2017

hypertrophy, week 7

- I am back in the land of high volume. On glute day I hit 8,000+ lbs of volume on back squat alone.

- I love how high volume has tested my discipline. I write almost all of my workouts down before I get to the gym, and I do my damnedest to stick to the plan. Sometimes I have to scale it back or improvise in the moment(if, say, I had a long day at work and I’m not feeling well), but I love the satisfaction I get from setting the bar and climbing to reach it. There are times when I am on my third or fourth set of squats and I try to con myself out of doing less reps on the ones to follow. I’ve grown to be quite good at telling that naysayer within to shut up though. I’m not really into selling myself short anymore.

- The loads are getting heavier, the lifts are getting harder, thus the DOMs(delayed onset muscle soreness aka hurting the day after the workout) are raging these days. I’m trying to stay consistent with my yoga/range of motion stretches, because it does help a lot. I need to foam roll more. Due to continuously overloading(progressive overload IS the key here) I find myself more tired and in need of more recovery post-lifting. I think I’m going to have to restructure my rest days vs working days to support the increasing workload.

- For squats, I switched from high bar to low bar. This means the bar placement on my back has changed from high(the bottom of my neck) to low (base of my traps). Instead of keeping my hands wide on the bar, I pin them in against my body, aiming my elbows down instead of winging out backwards. It took me a few sessions to get used to, but now I can’t imagine having my arms wide again. Keeping the arms pinned in helps me keep my chest up, and I can “pull” the barbell across my back and create a better “shelf” for the bar(think I used enough quotes?). Overall, it results in better form.

- I also end up like this when I pack my gym clothes in the dark of 5am:

at least I was kiiiiiiiiinda close

My bench press is finally climbling. I've been teetering around the same number on bench for nearly a year. In the winter I started over completely--I wanted to improve my form because it was fairly hideous. Hypertrophy work(lots of reps) has helped me lock in form and increase my confidence under the bar. That confidence is everything. Next thing to accomplish on bench: stop hesitating to ask someone for a spot. I need to push myself and I think not having a spotter keeps me in a comfort zone. No more comfort zone.

I'm going to purchase a food scale this month. I follow a fairly regimented diet and steer clear of junk. I'm a laissez-faire macro counter. The scale is going to help me keep better track--I'd like to bulk/increase my size a little. It's pretty much eggs/carbs for breakfast, rice, tuna, veg for lunch and occasionally the same thing for dinner(or udon noodles, and maybe chicken since I do eat that again now). Fairly boring from the outside, perhaps. No complaints here though. Special thanks to sesame oil, nutritional yeast, and hot sauce.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

update! strength block, retest, new max, onward

Long time, no post. Apologies for that. I'm not even sure if anyone reads this part of my blog, so if anything apologies to myself for not archiving this shit better. Granted, I am dedicated to tracking all of my lifts so that I can properly progressively overload, but still. This space needs love too.

And now, onto the things.

I successfully completed a strength block. This block lasted roughly 4-5 weeks, with a retest at the end of it. A strength block means lower volume, heavier lifts. I kept most of my accessory work in the high rep range, but made a conscious effort to push myself on the amount I was pulling/pushing. My bench progress stalled out during strength, which kind of sucks, but to be honest I'm over it. I'm okay with bench press remaining my weakest lift of the three major ones. I'm sure this is partially to the times I've failed lifts and couldn't get the bar off my chest. For me, that's scarier than missing a squat or not being able to pull a deadlift. Being physically under the bar face-up is already daunting. 98% of the time I lift without a spotter. I've learned to leave the clips off the bar when I bench--this way, if I do need to bail, I can easily tilt the bar in one direction to slide the weights off. Haven't had to do that just yet, but it's important to lift smarter before going heavier.

I slowly progressed my weight on squats and deads until I felt ready to retest. A retest means you are intentionally going for a (hopefully new) 1 rep max. Initially I wanted to retest all 3 main lifts, but due to varying circumstances I only retested my squat for this cycle. I've started a new program specifically to increase my deadlift(thanks to megsquats for the free program), so I wanted to wait on that one, and my bench(as noted earlier) is kind of stalled at 100/105. In this cycle I will finally retest my max on that, but for now I'm focusing on slow increases and solid form.

Retest day was super exciting for me. I went to work that morning already in dork-mode, visualizing my warm up and thinking about how much I wanted to shatter my old maximum number of 185 lbs. I ate smart for breakfast and lunch, and even added in an extra poptart with my afternoon coffee before driving to the gym. I ended up taking large jumps with my warm up sets--it's hard to make the body instantly attempt a new max without a climb to it. I started with a few reps of 145 and hopped to 155, then 165, 175, 180, then 185. Then I slid plates on to attempt a new max.


I hit pause on Spotify and slid my armband off, not wanting any distractions. There was a little voice in my head, an annoying one, that said "hey it's okay if you don't hit this. No one will care. No big deal. Shit, don't even try." This thought was tiny but neon in my brain. I am, however, my father's daughter and stubborn might as well be stenciled on my forehead. Having that little voice around made me want it even more. I was going to do more than try. I was going to lift that shit.

So I did. On my back, down and up. 190 pounds. In the moment, I know I could've grinded out 195, but I was so over the moon about 190 that I stopped there. My goal has been 200 for months now, and I'm ten pounds from it. Easy. I was so excited that I immediately texted various friends and my sister. I was grinning for the duration of the drive home.

After my retest, I jumped right back into hypertrophy. I'm not on week 3 of this new cycle. I've moved the chains--doing high reps of heavier weight than my last high volume cycle, which is the point. Progressive overload. I think this one will be 8 weeks, maybe 10. Then another strength block, then another retest. I'm enjoying the hell out of this process. That's what matters above all else. Of course I want to progress, want the numbers to increase, want the gains to continue. But what's the point if it isn't fun? It requires commitment and I try my damnedest to make every session worth the sacrifice of time and effort. So far, so great.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

brief babble on hypertrophy, start of week 5

Today I started week 5 of my hypertrophy block. I'm getting to that slightly insane part of training where everything almost always hurts--not in a bad way, but DOMS for days. I've slowly been increasing my volume with each week--if the volume were an actual knob on a stereo we would be just a few decibels shy of 11.

Squats are nearing a brutal point. Late last week I hit a new 8 rep pr on back squat, and this week I set a new pr to beat that one. I've started incorporating pause squats(the pause is just above horizontal to increase power pushing out of the hole) in hopes of getting a little break amongst all that volume. Ha, break my ass.

I love the absurd mental game one has to indulge in during a high volume workout. During set up I'll nod to myself before that heave upwards to take the bar completely on my back. The nod is kind of involuntary. My brain and body check in with each other, find agreement, and then we go. I'm also visualizing a lot more, which is starting to help me strengthen my left side. Since I am right-dominant, my left side is naturally a bit weaker--something I've been working on correcting for some time now. It's too easy to go through the motions, mentally check out, and let my right side handle most of the work. Staying present and picturing the muscles at work really helps me balance the load from right to left. Higher volume is helping me lock in good form, which is going to be oh so necessary once the strength block starts. I want those 1 rep max prs. I want them bad.

At this point in my hypertrophy block, I mentally struggle with the last set. There is a moment where I am tempted to cut it short, skip the final set of reps completely. Over the past week, I've been combating this impulse with some trainer treatment. Almost always, I train alone, but sometimes I wouldn't mind having someone rooting for me to suck it up and attack the last set, or someone barking a countdown next to me for that last push. Even after all this time I could use a kick in the tookus now and then. My solution is to turn the "maybe I'll skip this one" thought in my head into that of a trainer--the voice I need to tell me to go on and do it, pull my shit together and make it count. A time or two I've muttered "one more Nik" under my breath before tackling the last set. The best feeling is finishing the one I initially wanted to skip out on. The completion is incredibly satisfying. I need that motivation at this point in my training--each workout is harder than the last. Sure I'm incredibly sore, but I'm also pretty damn content.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Process of rebuilding

I’ve been relatively flu-free for three weeks now, hooray! Never underestimate the power of illness to afford you a little perspective and motivation. I’m aiming to use this unexpected hiccup in my training to reset myself so that I can train smarter and harder. To be honest, getting sick didn’t really give me a choice.

Getting back into lifting post-flu was a process. After a week of being ill, I went to the gym and tried my usual back exercise(with the intensity turned down a bit). After only 20 minutes, I developed a cold sweat and felt strangely winded. I was more shocked than frustrated—I didn’t expect to feel that genuinely awful after only 20 minutes. My body was not ready for it yet. She kicked and hollered in response to the stimulus, and I listened. I pulled on my sweats and went home, and didn’t look back.

I waited three more days before attempting another gym session. That next one was a glute day, and I was feeling anxious to get back in the squat rack and see how much power I had lost. I felt positive about it—I’ve been lifting very consistently for a long time now, so two weeks didn’t seem too extreme. Before the flu hit, I had just finished week 2 of a 4 week strength block. Part of me was hoping I could jump right back in and maybe be behind by only five pounds or so. I’ve been so excited with seeing true, actual process with the poundage I’m moving, so I went in that Friday with fingers crossed.

That glute day was brutal and humbling. I wasn’t anywhere near that second week of strength pre-flu. Reps of 135 felt like torture. I could only manage to do 3-4 reps at a time, and couldn’t get the bar heavier than 140. My stance felt off, my back was shaky, and after days of harsh coughing and congestion, it was tough to fully brace my core for each squat. I was worried about coughing mid-descent. This session lasted about 45 minutes.

I went home and stared at notes from my last strength block day. I allowed myself to feel bummed about it for all of five minutes. There’s no point in dragging out the woe-is-me. It was the flu. Not (thank goodness) a debilitating injury. Whatever I lost through illness, I could gain back and then some. Quickly the bummed out feeling bloomed into hopefulness.

Since then, I’ve been climbing my way back, slow and steady. I decided to scrap the rest of this strength block and reset with a hypertrophy block. Hypertrophy promotes growth and I want to grow a bit more before working my way up to potential new max lifts. This means low weight, high reps, high volume. Each week I aim to increase my overall volume in general, but mainly for the three major moves: bench, deadlift, and squat. I think switching back to hypertrophy training post-flu was a sneaky little mind trick for myself as well—I was feeling hung up on those numbers from the strength block, and mentally it felt important to redirect my effort in order to remain motivated.

Before the flu I could bench 95 easily, for multiple sets/reps. My first chest day back after illness was quite clumsy. I thought: 95? No problem. And I was wrong, to put it mildly. I did the first set of 2 okay—lots of push on the last rep but I got it. I went for a second set and during the last rep I knew I was in trouble as soon as I lowered the bar to my chest. I pushed a bit and it dropped back on me, thankfully not from very high. I had to call out to the guys benching next to me for a little help. Slightly embarrassing.

This is a good lesson for me to learn. There are so many lessons in weightlifting. Patience is an immense one. You have to be patient. Progression does not happen overnight. Sometimes the goal posts barely seem to be budging, but you’ve got to instill a bit of faith in the process. Patience is especially important when recovering—be it from illness, injury, a failed lift. When recovering it’s important to acknowledge your limitations, and respect them. Pushing too hard too soon will potentially result in a lengthier recovery. There’s no shame in a setback. It happens, and it isn’t the end of the earth. The plates are still there, waiting for me to pick em up and move them.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

brief word on setbacks

Last week I was gearing up for week three of my strength block. I had completed 4 solid weeks of hypertrophy training, one deload week, and two super promising weeks of strength. I've been feeling really productive in the gym--having a method to the madness is seeming to pay off as the goal posts continue to move. Everything was clicking/moving/working.

And then I acquired a little hell on earth called influenza B, aka The Flu.

I've been dealing with that for almost a solid week, and I am just now feeling well enough to type/look at words on the screen without getting dizzy. I've spent a lot of time sleeping, blowing my nose, throwing up, writhing around with joint and nerve pain. In the span of 4 days, I left the actual house for 1.5 hours, and that was to see a doctor. Illness is isolating(this is quite possibly the worst part to me).

Probably goes without saying, but I did zero exercising this past week. It wasn't even an option, so I didn't feel too bad about it. I went three days without a cup of coffee due to simply being too sick to have one--can't say I had the energy to be bummed about not lifting.

Weightlifting has taught me so much about progression, patience, and pushing myself. I'm madly in love with the journey, and having that love makes all the difference when it comes to getting results. I think this love also taught me a new approach with myself. To be a bit more gentle and understanding. Setbacks happen. The world hasn't ended. All of my hard work hasn't magically, tragically disappeared(this is a ridiculous thing to think but OH BOY does the thought rush over me at times). "Setbacks" are kind of part of a lifting program anyway(even though the term is a bit negative for the cause). Rest days are just as if not more important than working days. Deload weeks are necessary to reset the nervous system and give the body extra recovery. When you're on a roll with lifting, rest days and deload weeks can be frustrating--sometimes I feel tempted to skip them altogether. But there is a method here, and the method is important. On the working days work, and on the resting days rest.

This flu stung a little harder because I was sick all weekend during the Arnold, and I've been looking forward to attending. Just wasn't meant to be this year. Thank goodness for technology--I was able to follow a few live feeds and instagram updates from the comfort of my bed while wrestling a fever. There were moments when I felt pangs of envy, of wanting to be there and/or to be in the gym lifting. The best thing for me to do in those moments is to step away and take a minute, which is what I did. When I didn't feel so frustrated, I revisited the feed and rooted for some new world record lifts. It's okay to feel frustrated or even angry with a setback. But the frustration cannot become consuming--it doesn't serve a purpose.

Setbacks happen. Be it illness, life stuff, work, injury. It's never about what knocks you down, but how you choose to get back to it. You can stay down and mope, or you can get up and come back better and stronger. Attitude is everything with setbacks. Stay up, stay ready.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

the beginning

Fall of 2014. It started with a seasonal job at a warehouse.12 hours of standing on concrete floors was turning my body into a screaming, pleading, seizing thing. I started doing yoga in the evenings, hoping that holding a stretch or two would make my body feel a little bit closer to normal. I remember putting myself in half-pigeon for the first time and bursting into tears. Hip openers, man. Who knew? The release was that good. It was exactly what I needed.

Yoga was my gateway drug into weightlifting. I have numerous friends that site yoga as their gateway to other things too--martial arts, running, lifting. I was really getting into it--when I moved to Egypt I had my yoga mat sticking out of my carry-on bag. I loved to practice in the flat with the balcony doors wide open during call to prayer. The more I practiced, the more I craved complex movement. A lot of the moves required upper body strength that I simply did not have. I wanted that crow pose to handstand, badly.

In Cairo, I joined a gym. At first I put a lot of miles on the treadmill. As a runner this made the most sense--foolishly I used to think cardio and running were interchangeable terms. I started familiarizing myself with the various machines, especially ones targeting the shoulders and chest. I bought a dumbbell at the local market and pressed it above my head regularly. I've always been spaghetti-like in upper body, so this was a big deal for me. I learned to do a proper push-up. I started to try different machines at the gym, and read up on things like supersets and programming.

My interest in yoga began to slowly fade. I wanted to get stronger. I was starting to like the way lifting heavy things felt. Running in shitty shoes on the treadmill gave me blisters under my toe nails(gross), so I stopped making that a priority. And, compared to lifting, it was boring. I started to explore other methods of cardio--incline intervals, rowing machine, stair stepper, HIIT(a favorite).

I truly fell in love with weightlifting in 2015. My recreational relationship with the gym/working out turned into a personal mission of sorts. I started reading, and applying the knowledge to my workouts. I wrote down reps and sets meticulously. I started school for personal training. I worked out every day. In Dubai, I ended up overtraining which was kind of scary. Everything felt wrong but I couldn't put a finger on it. I was depressed, I couldn't sleep. After fainting I went to the doctor. I took some time off, and almost immediately after/during my world kind of fell apart(marriage ended, moved back to the states). The end of 2015 was a bit brutal.

In 2016 I healed my busted heart at the gym. I left my notebook at home--I realized that the number of reps/weight/etc fixation had definitely contributed to my overtraining. I wanted to start over, train smarter, be easier with myself. I learned that rest days were just as important as working days(if not moreso). I probably drove everyone in my immediate vicinity crazy with all the workout talk. It was helping me put one foot in front of the other after having my life fall apart. This was my therapy, my safe place. When I did not know what to do with myself, I went to the gym. When I felt myself grow so angry that I could barely see straight, I went to the gym. I have no doubt that weightlifting helped me heal from all the bullshit, and it reminded me of my value as a person. Simply put: this shit saved my life.