Friday’s: Bench, Massages, and Dreams

Fridays: Bench followed by massage. Coach and I had a long discussion about the cost benefit of the weekly (soon to be every-other-week) massages. His input is more important than ever given the fact that massages aren’t cheap and we are saving like crazy for our back-up plan and his greater dream. He hasn’t been positive or even encouraging about the other things I’ve tried for rehab and he is almost as frugal as I am so I was minorly surprised to hear him say “I think the last few weeks have shown this is now an essential part of your program. With all that your shoulder has been through (as a child it was dislocated several times, it sublimates regularly, the tendons and ligaments destroyed from the anorexia, the injury to the rotator cuff in December) it has to be packed with scar tissue. She is doing a great job of breaking it down.” And the money? “Well spent”. 

Last week I asked Coach if he was going to coach me on the competition details of setting up for benching. At the time he waved it off and said “so many competitors arch so much I don’t even consider it a true bench press”. I know there is more to his reasoning and I have learned to stop pushing for full explanations when they aren’t necessary. All becomes clear in time. Eventually the pieces come together and I understand his plan.

This time it only took a week and Friday he started coaching the finer points of setting up for a competition bench press. We spend time learning how to tuck my feet to allow for as much glute engagement while not engaging any muscles around the hip. Others get to engage their hips but the second mine kick in, my bad hip cramps. Glute engagement sans hips is easier said than done and the slightest shifting of the feet can change the whole chain. After a few times practicing set up, he has me lift. The arch I am able to create makes me feel unbalanced and the bar wobbles. When we discuss this later I say: core! I need to keep my core tight to make me feel balanced. 

As I type this in reflection of my day, I begin to consider how far my head game has come, not just from when I started lifting but even from when I began this blog. His silence to my assessment I would have mistaken as him thinking I’m stupid  (hey, I am able to self-assess and say “this needs work” instead of “I’m such a screw up”!) . I would have interpreted his little smirk as disgust at my stupidity instead of how I read it today: it was a little bit of pride, “she figured it out”. And my reaction to the weight not changing from last week? It was challenging to bench last weeks weight on the first day of a major form adjustment. And in the end, the form will make all the difference. My head game has jumped into a whole new realm.

DB presses and chest flys. As much as possible, I am to take the new form to the DB presses. It’s hard to “fall back” into that position and unnerving to adjust with a pair of 55# dumbbells overhead. 

Chest day is a two-a-day but Coach says I can wait until Saturday for the tricep work, allowing me to make the most of the massage.

Friday evening my shoulder was so sore from the massage I had to pack it in ice. This morning it feels incredible. Tricep extensions, dips and a unique form of shoulder press that primarily utilizes the triceps. Everything was higher than planned. There was a strange “pop” in my shoulder when I started the presses and for a second I paused…this can’t be good. I completed the set and then started ROM work. It was more mobile than ever.

My massage therapist is moving to a private fitness facility that actually looks like my dream. I didn’t even know I had a vision until we started working on plans for Coach’s. His dream is a goal and one I want to help him achieve. This dream of mine is just a dream. I have no interest in pursuing it but it is fun to think about. We live in a city built during the logging boom of the 1800’s. Down in the valley, along the river that divides the city in half, stand the old lumber and paper mills. Several have been made into beautiful and expensive lofts but some still stand empty. And this is where my dream facility would be: in an old mill along the river with enough land beside it for outdoor activities. It isn’t that far off from Coach’s, it just has a touch more character.

And for the rest of my evening, I will be catching up on my reading!

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Preparation

Preparing to jump off another cliff. Preparing for competition. All this excitement…

It has been 9 days since I’ve gotten any real sleep. It was nice while it lasted!

Monday Coach was still out sick. I am still certain this illness is primarily stress related but, as he was never one to get sick, his numerous and increasing illnesses in the last two years increases my concern.

Setting aside work and Coach and backup plans, Monday is shoulder day and there is work to be done. I am not allowed to track weight so I do the best I can. Shoulder presses, shoulder presses and shoulder presses of different varieties followed by shrugs and rear delt flys. I “pop”. I fail in my last sets. Even though I don’t know the numbers, I know the weight is marginally lighter than last week but it usually is when someone isn’t yelling at me “up up up” or “drive drive drive”. I still felt good about my day.

Tuesday was leg day. Coach was too ill to lift but he was there. Deadlifts and squat. The deadlift numbers I remember (they are hard to forget) and I don’t increase. But that isn’t the goal. The goal is consistency. Goal met and with good form. I didn’t mess up my lower back today (after all, weight is meaningless without proper form). My knee is still diving a little on the squat but not nearly like last week. Coach says “we need to start thinking about making squats a priority”. Because they will be my focus in January? “Because you just did 25 total reps at 20 lbs under a competitive weight. You may be doing all 3 lifts at comp”. And he follows this bombshell with “holy shit, what’s with the panic look? I know it is far less than what you were squatting but it is currently competitive. Stop thinking you have to beat yourself and start looking at what you are doing now. Accept that it’s pretty damn good.”

And he’s right. I can hang with those 20- and early 30-something’s that are doing incredible things. Therefore I am pretty damn good.

Wednesday is baby day – the day I head to New Mother’s house for her training and to see the cutest little thing to walk the earth. After NM’s session I had 45 minutes before I needed to return to the gym for my next client. Poor NM hadn’t slept the night before and I looked at her, feeling like I would collapse, and said “could I just lay down for a little nap?”.

For 20 glorious minutes I slept. There is something very grounding in that little home and with that little family; something about a house full of love that makes me feel safe enough to let go of my ever “on alert” status. I am used to insomnia but I have never felt so close to collapse before, so utterly unable to remain upright, and those 20 minutes saved me. There were more clients to train.

And today. Coach, still ill but having eaten bland food, did some bench work while I lifted back. I’m beginning to think the lack of sleep is my lifting issue but today all rows increased in weight. I don’t know by how much but it’s hard to miss when different weighted plates are loaded on.

And Coach was more open and honest with me today than ever before. And he has finally trusted me enough to give me a task to work on for our backup plan. I’ve always said he’s on my team and today I feel like I’m on his.

Jumping off cliffs with someone leaping with me is … I’m tempted to say better but that’s not exactly it. I’ve never looked around and saw someone jumping with me so it’s hard to explain. It’s just as terrifying but it’s easier to laugh, easier to keep courage. It makes the dragons that await us seem less formidable.

And until we land, which may be awhile, I’ll continue to work on being the best Warrior Girl Lifting a team could have.

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The Plan, Backup Plans, And Epic Fails

Last week got dicey. It is a safe assumption that a week without a post indicates life is happening at speeds I can’t control.

Word got out about one of the trainers deep in contract negotiations. We are all independent, just renting space, and negotiations for the first are not in the trainers favor. Coach and I were devising back up plans. Back up plans that involve Coach taking on too much stress and an unwillingness to share the burden. Back up plans that involve my husband giving us the last of his savings, our retirement, our leaking roof and 20-year old car money.

Outwardly I was calm. I even continue to eat (that would have been impossible even 6 months ago). And what I am learning is the “do not panic” exterior mixed with food gives me diarrhea. I am beginning to realize that under extreme stress my options are to emotionally break down or to work on a problem and be physically sick. I do actually prefer the later. Things still get done, just with frequent bathroom breaks.

Coach is actually sick. I’m sure the zero sleep and stress lowered his immune system, giving the bug he had been fighting plenty of opportunity to take a firm hold. He’s been out for days now. I worry.

I can’t afford to miss a day, though it is tempting. It is shoulder day. My favorite day. I don’t hit the same weights as last week but I was pretty damn close. My form and speed were great. I even worked hard enough to fail my last set of barbell presses. Not bad.

Over the weekend, in the midst of worrying about my husband trusting me to trust a 20-something who is dependable (more often than not), I messed up. I failed epically. I don’t know when the last time was I had a smoke. I do know a pack was $7 cheaper back in the day. I did Sunday. And I sat in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere and cried. I texted a friend my confession and what a failure I am. I’m no example. All these years of getting better and I’ve let everyone down. And now my husband, who doesn’t share his money, is offering to go destitute because I believe in Coach’s potential, should Coach choose to pursue it. I want to run away. But since I can’t, I sat an smoked in an empty parking lot like a sneaky teenager.

My friend said “it was one mistake, not a failure, not a reason to throw all your hard work away. Throw the pack away, go home and do push-ups. Your the cheapest person I know. If your going to feel bad about something, you just took $9 and put it in the trash.”

And I must have done close to 500 push-ups of different varieties throughout the day yesterday. I am still stressed, still have icky stomach but I am returning my focus to North Carolina in December.

At first I was sorry I failed everyone. I still am, but really, I failed myself. Not because of the cigarette but because I, for a moment, I forgot who I am. I lost faith. I stopped believing in the power that is me. I lost my focus on December. I forgot that jumping off cliffs is what I do best. I forgot that I’m a Warrior Girl.

I can’t promise that I won’t fail again but I do promise it won’t be with a cigarette.

Leg Day and Ice Baths

I no longer schedule clients on Tuesday afternoons. It is leg day and I need the afternoon for ice baths and rest.

Saturday I had my first ever massage. Almost the whole hour was spent working on my upper back but ten minutes were spent getting at least a good “push” on major muscle groups. I explained my hip and shoulder problem. 3 days later my shoulder still feels almost like new. The “push” on my hip felt amazing at the time, terrible on Sunday. It is still slightly inflamed going into leg day.

Coach hands me my list: deadlift 3×8 and box squat 3×8. 2 lifts, no second workout. He had warned me leg day would be a short list but…this is a really short list! 

On each set of deads, I do 4 conventional stance, 4 sumo stance. I need to get used to transition. I decide my opening weight should be 185# but my head is foggy this morning and my last warm up set is at 185#. I keep it there. It seemed to me that if I can’t do basic math, it was a sign to pay better attention. Conventional felt great, sumo felt great. I bump up to 205 for set two. Conventional felt good, last one was slow. Sumo felt good, last one was slow and a little imbalanced.

So I bump up to 215#. Conventional stance: Rep 1 was good, rep 2 was too much in the back, rep 3 I felt my back too much and I drop it. It lands on my shin and I say “that’s always disappointing. My shins never bruise”. Coach tells me to look again because it looks like an eye is growing out of it. True. It looked like a big purple eye exploding from my shin. Rep 4 doesn’t get off the ground. Sumo stance: rep 1 was good. Rep 2 was a struggle. I get the next 2 reps up with 30 seconds in between pulls. 

Coach loads the squat and I don’t even know to what. After the first set he has me analyze: my right hip hurt because my knee came in. “Yes, Elizabeth, but what was the very first problem”. I have no idea. All of this is supposed to be prep for me taking over my own training it seems but I can only ever figure part of a problem. I can never get to the heart of it. “The weight was lopsided. The weight on the left side was almost all the way up before the right even started. Lock down that left lat”. For the rest of the sets, I held the bar so hard on my left side my arm was numb from squeezing. Tonight there is a bruise from the bar on my left side. The weight stayed even. After this set, every rep that followed he is chanted “knees out, knees out, knees out”. When complete he said “They are good all the way down but practically touch each other as you come up.” I didn’t feel it. At most I thought the right knee came in 1/8 of an inch. When he demonstrates what I did, my stomach turns. I would have pulled a client off squats for the day if they performed a rep like that.

Coach had squats and leg work. When he is done we discuss deadlifts. “Why did you increase?” Because I would have gotten all 8 reps and yesterday you said if I get all 8 on the last set it is a problem. And we both know that isn’t a hard weight for me. My legs aren’t moving the weight they should be lifting. We both know they are stronger than this. 215 for 8 should be easy for me. So he explains: “If the last 8 are easily popped up, it’s a problem. If on set 2 you have to work on the last reps, keep the weight and work on speed. Yes, you can do more weight than this but we need you to get this weight right. You need to get consistent here, consistent with transitions.” Well then what do you mean by “pure brute force”. “There are two parts to a great lifter. They work hard and they work smart. You work hard. You just need to learn to work smarter.” But, and I mean in general not recent history, do I really work hard enough? “You are crushing people 10 years younger than you. That only happens if you are working hard.” You’re cute…They are 15 years younger than me. “I know, I was trying to be nice for once”. He explains more and I know I left there in a good head space. But looking over my day, I can’t help but think I messed up. 

The ice bathes were nice though. I probably need another but it is time for bed. 

I get another massage Friday. Hopefully we can get to more than just my shoulders. I won’t let her get near my hip again.

New Cycle, New Lifter, And Repeats

Today began my last macrocycle for competition. Going forward I am not allowed to track the weight of my lifts. This works for me except…where do I start? I can move up weight between sets if I choose too light but what if I underestimate by miles? What if I don’t push myself hard enough? I only have three sets. I can’t afford to be off ten pounds for one of them. I need to make the most of these early weeks. First three weeks are 3×8.

Coach hands me my list for shoulder day: military presses, smith presses, seated barbell presses, front raises, shrugs. No technical lifts. “Pure brute force, that’s all you need to worry about”. I am a workhorse. As I reach for dumbbells, I notice Coach tilt his head. I grab the dumbbells one set over (5 lbs less) than what I was going for. Round 2 I move up weight.

Coach loaded the smith, I have no idea what it was. I stayed there through all the sets.

Seated barbell presses with a 25# bar. Coach loaded 20# on each side. I do two sets here then start to add 2-1/2 lb on each side. I take them off and say “Go big or go home, I want 25# per side”. “If you get all 8, that’s a problem”. I don’t remember how many reps I got. I was extremely proud of myself though. I worked hard today.

About a month ago, another female lifter started with The Trainer. Today I finally talked to her. We introduced ourselves and I went back to work. Then I went over and said “I’m so happy to have another female lifter here! And your deadlift form is great.” Turns out she’s a CrossFit trainer and competes. We discuss.

After my workout I ask Coach if I pushed enough. “How do you feel?” Well, at the end of every lift I thought I was going to have a seizure my body was trembling so much. “You pushed hard enough. This is going to be important after competition..” But I don’t want to talk about after competition. My work is to focus on my work today. “You look panicked. Don’t worry about the competition. It’s just another day. The first of many competitions. After this one, you will be…” And this time I am firmer. I don’t want to talk about after competition. “Why are you so upset?” You won’t be there and I don’t want to think about it. I have to think about today. Tomorrow I have to think about tomorrow. Just let me enjoy this time. “I will be there”. You will be at the competition. But not after. Every Monday when the clock read 4 AM, my first thought is ‘one week closer to the end of my team’ and then I get to spend the rest of the morning ignoring that thought because I have work to do. So no, no more talk about after competition.

I drove home thinking ‘Coach doesn’t get it. He just loses an athlete December 14th but I lose the only family I know” and, as if on cue, my father calls to tell me he has no daughter. I suppose this is just in case I missed the message the hundreds of times he’s said this throughout my life. I should know better than to pick up those calls but he’s old and I worry. I would never forgive myself if I didn’t answer thinking it’s a “not my daughter” call and it was an emergency.

Coach is my family. I like having one finally. I don’t want to think about December 14th. Tomorrow is a ‘pure brute force’ day on deadlifts. My work. My work is the only thing I will think about.

Week 17: The Half-Way Point

I make rules for myself all the time. I like rules. Last week my rule was no blogging until I finished the coaching blog. It is still unfinished and I now have a week of lifting to blog about as well as my week of coaching. Sometimes rules create more work than necessary. So the coaching one is still a work in progress (or on pause) and I am reviewing my lifting.

The week started off rough but my turn-around time is getting faster. Coach had said I needed to get rid of the obstacles. My confession is that this is impossible for some things in my life (mainly Coach) so I am practicing boxing those things up and setting them aside. It was suggested that I begin working with the new coach now so that, post-competition, the transition will be seamless for me. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I do, after all, like organization, preparation, seamless transitions, rules. So I set up an appointment for Monday afternoon.

First I had shoulder day. This is officially the half-way point for comp prep. We are extending the three weeks of 3×3 lifting to four weeks. 3×3 is my favorite cycle so this is good news to receive on a Monday morning. As I sat down for my shoulder presses I could see the top of the ‘Coach box’ shake and rattle. The presses started off messy but I managed to clean them up. My upright rows have been a struggle for months now and Coach, who has been pretty stern about them, cracked a joke today. Mid-laugh the cover on that box came off and my head went straight to the future. The countdown to competition, the day I look forward to like no other, the day I become someone, is also a countdown for us, my team. The day I lose the one person who didn’t give up on me no matter how hard our relationship is. You try to lift a 5 lb weight with these thoughts on your mind, much less lift real weight. I didn’t panic. I clearly realized what was happening. I can’t prep and transition at the same time. Making the most of every lift and appreciating every laugh with, lecture by, and yelling from Coach is where my focus needs to be. I am not a person to have a foot in two doors. I have to have both feet in one place to be present. I canceled the appointment with New Coach.

Tuesday’s are leg day. Once again my conventional stance lift increased. I finally believe my numbers have a chance to be at pre-injury weight at competition time. Coach has me switch to sumo stance for my last four pulls and I fail my first pull. I think ‘I only have 16 more leg days, I don’t have time to fail’. I go on to fail the next 3. Coach doesn’t say a word. Next on the list are wide stance box squats at 135#, 3×3. Coach loads up 155#. I get under the bar and fail on rep 3. He immediately says “2 more”. Next set I fail rep 3. He re-racks it and says “get on the f*cking bar and give me 2 more”. Set 3 is the same way. I want to argue. 20# heavier, more reps than programmed, I only squat once a month. But I know these are just excuses. I am messing up. I am choosing to fail. I am stronger than 155#, I am stronger than 5 reps, I am just a quitter. There are no laughs today. What’s worse is there are no lectures and no yelling. I finish the day and my hip is destroyed. I am beating myself up for not working hard enough. Coach says “It’s just a bad day. Get your head right tomorrow” and I respond “How disappointed are you?” He says “After the conventional deadlifts you were all head and no heart. It’s just a bad day. You know, when the competition is over, you will see that we will be better than ever”. This is cryptic to me. I want to analyze it. We will be better? Why? Because he won’t be my coach anymore? Because I won’t put so much pressure on myself? Because I might finally believe I am pretty good at something I love so much? And once again, because he won’t be my coach anymore? I decide this needs a box unto itself. I feel things and process things in pictures. I put these questions in a box, wrap it with yellow paper, and I even put a ribbon on it. In real life I don’t open pretty boxes with ribbons, they are traps, and I think this will work for this too.

Wednesday is rest day and baby day. It is pretty easy to get one’s head right when a baby smiles and falls asleep in your arms. Who better than a 10-week-old to remind you to live in the moment, to focus on the task at hand, to not worry about the next day, next week, or what will become of you on December 14th? Having the hiccups at 10:15 on August 13th is enough to think about.

The week ended completely different than it began. I took back control. Thursday is back day. My lat work as programmed was ineffective and I just said to Coach “I’m playing around with this. If I’m not hitting my lats, it’s pointless so I may as well take the time to figure out how to hit them” and I did. My barbell rows were good, my high rows were the best I’ve ever had though they still need work. Wednesday night I looked at the hosting association’s list of top ten lifts for my weight class. My pre-injury numbers beat them. My current numbers for deadlift and bench are top 5. I show this to Coach and say “I think I know what you see, I just don’t understand what it means for me”.

Friday. Bench day. I am 100% present and focused. I begin higher than I have to date. We bump it up to 175# and Coach says “We are going to get really comfortable here. I want this to be our solid, never-fail, go-to weight.” Multiple reps in, I realize this is it. And for the last set I decide to break routine. I decide to listen to a different song between sets. I needed help to get the last rep up. I won’t play with the formula again. When we move on to the accessory lifts, I say “There is so much I haven’t been telling you because my sole purpose is to lift these days but I am going to burst today” and so I start to tell stories. I start to screw up my lifts. I stop telling stories. But as I scoot under the bar for my wide grip bench I start to laugh. “I have to tell you this though. After 2 weeks of sleep, I haven’t been sleeping again and last night I was thinking of the pictures you showed me of your friends from college and their lifting partners. And I thought ‘poor coach. All his friends have these cute sweet things as partners and he gets stuck with a mean old pit bull’ (he starts laughing as hard as I am) but then I decided you wouldn’t have it any other way.” “Most of the time” he says and smiles down at me.

I watched “Pumping Iron” Friday afternoon and noticed after the Mr. Olympia competition, Arnold Schwarzeneger smoked a joint. Maybe we will be better than ever after competition because Coach is going to let me get stoned. It made me giggle. He would never approve that.

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Last Week: The Lifting Portion

Competition prep, training college athletes, working in partnership with Coach, secretly celebrating myself as this marks a year of owning my own business, and setting new goals for lifting and for my career. It has been an amazing week. With all the excitement I had to fight getting swept away, a chance to practice remaining focused, and for the most part I succeeded. 

Lifting:

I didn’t make it back on Tuesday for my second workout. My hips were hurting from the conventional deadlifts and I decided that ice and rest was a prudent plan. I am finally learning the difference between smart hard work and stupid hard work. 

Wednesday was rest day, Walking was challenging.

Thursday was back day.  My hurting hip had turned into an ongoing pain.The same problems that affect our coach-athlete relationship exist in this week of work partnership. One more complicated layer to ignore so I can lift. I kept repeating “put it aside and do your work. No one works harder than me”. It was a good practice for the many weeks ahead and I was successful. Back day is set up as a prep for bench day and, when all is said and done, I may have over-achieved…

Friday. Bench day. I am someone who is lucky to get 2 hours of sleep a night (though the last week I have been getting 4 to 6 hours) and Thursday night I was out by 7:30 pm. I slept until 3:30 in the morning. It was glorious. I would have kept sleeping if my hip hadn’t woken me up. Throughout this week it hasn’t been inflamed, I don’t know how I have managed to escape this. I have been taking 2 ice bathes a day. When I woke up in the middle of the night Friday, I made my coffee and crawled into my first ice bath of the day. There may be something wrong with me: I couldn’t help but smile thinking “This is such a nice pain to have – I can do a conventional stance with my deadlift again!” I hobbled through my morning. 

I was watching video earlier in the week of a powerlifting coach describing setting up for lifts. He discussed the importance of developing a ritual or routine when approaching the bar. I have, to a degree, my rituals but until recently I haven’t been consciously moving through them. There is a specific part of a specific song I must hear (I now make sure it is set and on repeat), I sit at the bottom of the bench and listen to it. When it is over I take off my earphones, tighten up my wrist straps. I have a pattern of breathing as I tighten them and if it is thrown off I undo them and start again. This ritual, now that I am aware of it, is relaxing. I know what I am doing. I got this.

I started today higher than I started previous weeks. The first reps of each set are good but my left side lats lost tension as I got further into the sets. My triceps aren’t kicking in immediately and by the time they do I am losing the energy from the initial drive. My second workout on Fridays is all triceps and I focus on making them explode. By the time I drove the 20 minutes home that night, my triceps were numb. I hope they learned their lesson!

And that is the lifting portion of last week. The best part of the week, the part where I played an assistant strength and conditioning coach to college athletes will follow. But let me spill one secret: it was awesome!