At the risk of coming across as a mushy-feely post, I’ve realized many of us who choose to invest so much of ourselves in our (lifting) sport, don’t always stay on Cloud 9 with the barbell (or other lifting implements e.g. log, axle, stone).
It’s (dare I say it) like a big kick in the pants. Disappointing even.
To find yourself dreading those training sessions you had once looked forward to, and really, really rather be doing something else. Like catching up on much-needed sleep. Or actually sitting down to eat a meal (and not while you’re working in front of the computer. Or driving). Or wandering to unknown places. Anything besides lifting really.
You walk into the gym and instead of being filled with excitement to hit certain lifts, the opposite washes over you and hearing your peers jump in glee over PBs, you have to restrain and refrain yourself from punching them in the face. Because their happiness feels like it’s adding salt to your wound (not literally, I would hope but hey, they gym is a salty, sweaty environment..). You know you should be lifting because it’ll get you stronger, closer to that grand total you’ve been chasing. But you feel flat and you don’t know why the fire isn’t there.
It’s particular easy to sink into this feeling after rolling off a series of comp-induced highs. (But we all know it’s probably not the healthiest thing to be in back-to-back comps all year round. Tried and tested, can confirm that it is also a recipe for delaying #gains).
It’s like a relationship with a significant other – after the initial honeymoon period, there come days (weeks?) where things start to get a bit stale and you have to remind yourself why you’ve made the decision to commit so much of your time and well, yourself to this endeavor.
With less than 5 years under my belt in the realm of strength sports, I state my opinion on this as purely anecdotal (after having many chats to various lifters having gone through something similar), and sharing this really for anyone that is going through something similar.
It’s not you (and well, it’s not exactly the barbell either)...
It’s a phase that a fair few lifters go through in their lifting journeys, and as difficult as it is to admit, myself included. It’s a frustrating process, one that I would have rather preferred to not have gone through. Much of the frustration I guess is because it felt like I was letting myself (and lifting crew + coach) down; willingly putting in the hard yards months on end beforehand, and then suddenly walking into a period where I was over it, I had enough of gripping the knurling and doing rep after rep after rep.
Reviving (what felt like) lost hunger for the iron required more than anything else, shaving down the ego. Looking at lifting with fresh eyes again. Looking away from lifting. Not getting caught up in the (social media) race of PBs. Taking training a notch down from serious-bitch level and more to can-socialise-like-a-normal-person fun level. Get different training ideas from other lifters of all levels. Recognise that I don’t know it all (more toning down of the ego). (TL DR: Asked ‘why’ to figure out ‘what’ and ‘how’).
Sure there is the principle of linear progression in training/programming but I think the reality is that longevity in the sport is more undulating. Up, down, big up, slight down, mini up, massive prolonged down, slow climb up.
I hope you weren’t expecting a love story.
(I have to get back to training and love stories don’t exactly get me stronger).
I’ve made it out alive!
From a hectic several weeks/months of organising work, moving interstate, prepping for Proraw 8 deadlift comp and then GPC Vic States, it’s safe to say that I’m still in one piece. Partly self-inflicted stress (from the need to be uber organised), partly induced by external factors beyond my control. Even when I felt as though my head was just bobbing above the water I kept to my routine of getting under the bar, doing the lifts as programmed.
Why succumb myself to additional (unnecessary, some may add) stress of finding time to train?
Because the routine of lifting actually keeps me sane.
The routine of doing my prehab work, setting up for my deadlifts/bench/squat every other week, reminds me that despite all the chaos surrounding me the one static thing I can rely on is my time with the bar(bell).
I know some will relate to this meditative like experience acquired from time spent with the bar. I’m no philosopher and I don’t claim to be one, but what I can attest to is the sense of control that possesses me following a satisfactory session of hoisting weights up and down.
If you are going through something similar (or about to), make the most of your sessions with the bar. Even if they have to be shorter than usual, getting some “me” time with the bar with a focus e.g. certain weight for reps. Aimless sessions, on the other hand, I’ve found can backfire, leaving you with a sense of more dissatisfaction, and sadly I’ve witnessed some foregoing lifting altogether after struggling to keep the balance with lifting and everything else.
I won’t lie, initially getting to the routine to “work” was tricky, difficult, cumbersome even. But once the routine finds its spot, it feels just like when you’ve got the bench press in the right groove. It flies up smoothly and you leave feeling with a spring in your step. (No additional plyometric work required).
Extra satisfaction being sought from a sesh with the bar?
Here’s what I’ve found helps: Get as consistent as you can – same setup (hitting the bar at the same spot each time for the bench, getting that same spot for the low/high bar before you embark on the squat, same grip + stance for the deadlift). Keeping it consistent builds up a solid routine you can fall back on and (provided the routine is setup on the framework of good form + technique), it gets easier to track when things are off.*
*Proviso: routine is good but to avoid building bad habits, it’s not a bad idea to seek expert advice from a coach/more experienced knowledgeable lifters on best positioning, form, technique etc, especially if your training sessions often resemble monologues and selfies (i.e. you train solo).
The routine of lifting week after week, kept (and continues to keep) my head in one place and reminds me that even when things feel close to exploding, doing my routine squat, bench, deadlift (and my fav strongman lifts) helps me face the world just that little bit more.
I don’t want this to sound woo-woo-this-is-my-new-age-approach-to-lifting, but rather show how there are indeed transferable “uses” from lifting dem weights. Because real life (unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you see it) doesn’t revolve purely on PBs on the platform or comp day.
*I’ll be practising what I preach for the next 10 weeks as I prep for GPC Nationals 2016 – just got my invite to compete in the U56 women’s’ category so here’s to all the routines!!
Two months into the year and the season has started. Not the season of giving. The season of comps
(=competitions but hey we <3 our abbrevs). Within the strongman circles, we have seen the qualifier competitions for the Arnold Classic Australia within the country (and check out the results so far – strong AF women around the country! The comp season has kicked off for most powerlifting federations as well. The GPC affiliated powerlifters are well and truly in the midst of prepping for their respective state comps and nationals (*full details outlined here: www.gpcaustralia.com).
There’s also the big one, you know – Proraw 8. Big numbers are expected here, and similarly at the Arnold Strongman Australia (both on the same weekend). So yeah, the Arnold Classic Australia is set to a pretty pretty big event on 18th – 20th March.
If any of this has made sense to you, it’s likely that you’re knee-deep into a training program with the goal of hitting some decent PBs at your comp of choice. I’m in a similar boat (competing in Proraw 8 and GPC Victoria States) and as the weeks get closer and closer to comp, the nerves kick in 0.0001% bit more.
"Curls don’t get the girls; big deadlifts do"
I’ve watched heavier weights start popping up (eek!), conveniently avoided certain lifts (sorry coach, secret’s out) and watch the program focus predominantly towards the main lifts, with selected accessory lifts thrown in to help on weak points. But even then, the accessories decrease as comp day gets closer and closer. And there are logical reasonings for the latter – programming reasonings. From what I’ve gathered, to allow the body sufficient recovery and to maximise #gains, the focus is shifted towards getting more skilled and stronger in the main lifts (as opposed to getting really, really good at curls 2 weeks out from a powerlifting comp). Curls don’t get the girls; big deadlifts do.
But seriously, don’t take my word solely for it, check out what some of the guys in the industry have said on programming (*Nb: focus is on powerlifting): Juggernaut Training Systems, Chad Wesley Smith & Strength Theory, Greg Nuckols
It makes sense though, as you get closer and closer to D-day, the focus should be on getting stronger and more skilled in the very lifts that you will be tested for. So, whilst accessory lifts have their benefits e.g. variety, strengthening weaknesses, the aim of any program should be for the athlete to execute the main lifts better than when they started, and to have the stronger results show on comp day.
In my circumstances (powerlifting comps), the goal within the next few weeks is to (back) squat, bench and deadlift heavier weights for my 1 rep max on the platform come comp day. Not a front squat, not a rack pull, not a slingshot bench, and not an AMRAP. Personally, I have found that as the tonnage increases week by week on the main lifts, recovery is pushed to the limits even further. I can’t afford to be sore and fatigued from doing (insert accessory work) when I need to be fresh my heavy squats later in the week.
In the initial weeks of a training program, a heavier volume on accessory work isn’t such a bad idea. Especially if it’s for a 3 lift comp, then a bit of variety at the earlier stages really doesn’t hurt when one is to be benching, squatting and deadlifting week after week for 12 weeks. (Yes it can get a bit monotonous...). But as comp day approaches, I find that there’s enough to focus on the main lifts itself – weight attempts, equipment (monolift, fat squat bar etc), little technical details (form, cues etc), that anything else risks being a distraction to the end goal.
Time generally isn’t on my side as well... 11pm din din times are what I have to deal with and then to get up at 5am for work and repeat that several times a week. With limited time and recovery such a precious commodity, I’d rather have more time (and energy) to focus on perfecting my squat, bench and deadlift, staying injury-free vs. getting extra reps on my pullups (and I love doing pull-ups, so that says a lot)
Don’t take this the wrong way; I’m not trying to give accessories a bad rep. Actually, there are some accessories that I’ll never let go even as comp day approaches. My people accessories.
People accessories? Because powerlifting and strongman are competitions where athletes compete as individuals, but (in my opinion) thrive in the respective sports with a solid people support system. Coaches, physios, massage therapists, myotherapists, ostepopaths – and the most important of them all, training crews/partners. These folks assist me greatly in the commission of the crime of getting stronger.
I’m starting to realise that part of becoming stronger in strength sports is being able to handle “breaking” and allowing growth from those “breaks”. Break apart. Break down. Break through. And getting through those “breaks” solo can be difficult, frustratingly slow. The physical “breaks” – pushing the body a bit further each time (e.g. muscular strength) so it can grow, and the not-so-sexy mental “breaks”. Mental breakdowns can be really rough, depending on the root cause (e.g. injury, emotional/work/financial stress) and speaking from experience, the people accessories have done more than they know to help me push past through those “breaks”.
It’s comforting to know that there are folks who understand the highs and lows from training and competing, and can offer support and or advice. That I can have a good laugh about squatting to depth from all angles, or the woes of perfecting that bench arch (shorten ROM yo) or mutual agreement that bench-driven shoulder immobility is a sacrifice to pay when trying to put on the bloody bra. That there are 5 (or more) other people willing for you to push past that sticking point in your squat/bench/deadlift - is truly a great feeling. When you invest so much in a sport where pushing the body (and mind) is essential, the right ‘people accessories’ can truly help you enjoy and learn the most from the lifting journey. It can feel vulnerable, placing some form of reliance on others, so pick your ‘people accessories’ wisely.
So with just over 6 weeks to Proraw 8 and 8 weeks to GPC Vic States, here’s the program: less pullups and curls (sad face), but I’ll be continue to keep special spot for my people accessories.
*FYI some of the best ‘people accessories’ in my book in Melbourne are as below:
Melbourne Myotherapy & Remedial Massage (Chris Heddle & Shaun Bostock)
Functional Strength Rehabilitation (Andrew Lock)
Doctors of Osteopath (Abbas Din)
PTC South Melbourne
Post 3: Happy New Year – too much, too little: Emotion vs. Logic
Dem new year feels. A time when we may perhaps, be feeling a little more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than usual. You know that high; all gung-ho after having sussed out the comps/PBs ahead for the year and brushed aside the painful mistakes from the year just past.
Maybe that’s why starting the new year feels like a ‘fresh start’ (although it’s merely a technical Gregorian calendar thing). We’re moving on from the (painful) errors we made and (making the effort towards) moving onto better things. Out with the old, in with the new as they say. Personally, it feels a bit therapeutic to be able to look at my mistakes in hindsight and laugh/cry/cringe. To acknowledge that yes, I was an idiot at certain times last year and yes, it actually happened and dear God, let’s resolve to never repeat the same errors shall we?
Hindsight can be such a cheeky bitch though. There are things I look back on and I just wonder what was going through my head; “Where was my logical thinking hat?”; or “How do I lose heart and fall off the bandwagon?”.
I realise now (as you do with hindsight), that when you emotionally invest yourself in something significant (e.g. prepping for a major comp, changing jobs, starting a new relationship), the heart seems to override the head. Being objective, logical and rational in making decisions is a heck lot easier said than done. Thus, opening the gates for emotionally-driven errors.
I can look back now and easily pin-point the how’s, when’s, what’s and why’s that led to the errors I’d rather have not made. But I can’t say for sure I would have avoided it otherwise when I had been struck with emotionally-driven, logic-deficient, myopia.
Now that I’ve found the source of some of the problems, it’s only apt that I find a solution. And therein arises the almighty question: Emotion vs. Logic (aka Heart vs. Head). Can you have too much of one and too little of the other? Too little heart may not drive you to pursue something so willingly, too much head..wait what? I digress.
I don’t know of the pages and pages of PubMed approved research publications to identify how much and when it is more advantageous to rely more on logic than emotion.
50% emotion, 50% logic?
80% logic, 20% emotion?
0% emotion, 100% logic?
This time last year, I hit a milestone - flipping the big boi 300kg tyre >5xBW of a beast! Was a good (hot)day @strongmelbourne □. I remember when I first started lifting, I'd be lucky if I could even scrape any rubber off the 200kg toy from the ground. The funniest part too is the only reason I gave the 300kg tyre a go was I couldn't be arsed to get out the lighter tyre, and the big donut was already there. So, here's to big donuts □□□. Because PBs appear in all sizes, shapes and forms. Often when you least expect it.
And this applies, hell, across all facets of life (not just lifting). The Goldilocks balance of “just right” – may be easier said than done. I find certain circumstances do well with more emotion than logic (e.g. stop overanalysing the lift and just fcking pick up the barbell), while others (for example: deciding to have longevity in the sport rather than chasing rapid, short-term gains) do better with taming the emotions and utilising more rational thinking. But my barometer of emotion/logic (heart/head) may very well look nothing like yours. My definition of “balance” is not necessarily an ideal yin/yang for you.
In an ideal world, I’d like to be able to rely on more logic than emotion. Last year alone, my heart (emotions) drove me to dive straight into every other strongman comp in the Melbourne locality, with a couple of powerlifting comps in between. My head (and the rest of my body) were overpowered and well were not too happy; bearing the brunt of going hard out perhaps a little often, a little too frequent. I won’t deny that my heart was for the most part fulfilled, the comps being plenty of fun, and massive personal achievements for me. (And perhaps, if I never pursued these sports with such fervour (heart), I wouldn’t have pushed my body to work as hard). But my head took awhile to settle down - I’m no longer a spring chicken with ample time for recovery; peaking for comp after comp really wears the body (and mind) out after awhile. Comp highs can sometimes be like a sugar rush – massive peak…followed by a bit of a crash.
Heart. Head. Heart. Head. Heart. Head. Nope, I’m still not 100% certain of what balance of the 2 I’d be best to follow. (Or if I were to be more honest – if I’d want a balance in certain circumstances). What I do know is that I’d rather not repeat the mistakes made last year, particularly those fuelled by too much (or too little) of 1 of the 2 ingredients.
One possible approach to use is treating it akin to taking supplements – generally, it’s the dosage that makes the toxicity. The package itself can appear seemingly innocuous – but once you dose up, it’s not a bad idea to watch out for the signs. Or even better, listen to others who have already made the errors so you don’t have to repeat them. You’re not a bigger hero when you make avoidable errors; not even for the Instagram fans who don’t even know your real name.
Here is where I’d insert a happy, feel-good phrase to know when to use your head and when to follow your heart. To not repeat the same stupid mistakes from the year just gone. To make this year a better year. And create awesomeness. Or something along those lines that is equally saturated with saccharin and yet, still fits your macros.
*In other news: I will be competing at the deadlift only competition at this year’s ProRaw 8, Arnold Classic Australia! Wish me luck and that I use the right doses of my head + heart
Between my last post and the time I am now writing this post, I have watched a couple of awesome powerlifting comps, had some really good training weeks (thanks to solid programming and coaching at my 2nd home, PTC South Melbourne) and now I’ve ‘successfully’ managed to make some bodily parts crankier than usual. Not happy Jan.
Cranky niggles may have been attributed to insufficient rest and stubbornness to keep lifting heavy despite the telltale signs. I’ve put my body through a fair bit of strain before, so initially I ignored the signs and just dosed up on the menthol topical creams (sorry gym friends for the deep heat scent).
For awhile I kept it all to myself, but this is possibly what has delayed my recovery. Definition of dum-dum must include not seeking answers sooner from those more learned. Because when you don’t know the answers, it’s generally a good idea (as I have now learnt) to ask folks who are learned in the area, are people you trust and have no hesitation in not sugar-coating their advice (very important). You heard it here from this reformed chicky – put the ego aside and ask when in doubt; and maybe follow the advice too. The latter often works.
After having a bit of sulk I’ve been told: “Your muscular strength is like a bank account V. You can’t keep making withdrawals and not expect a loss – it also needs sufficient time off to rest and grow”. (For simplicity’s sake, let’s not draw analogies as to whether this reference was to a savings account or a fixed term deposit. I mean, c’mon we’re supposed to be meatheads.)
So, I’m “breaking the rules” and not following all of my program (momentarily). No major injuries or niggles, but backing off the rigid structure and volume, so the body and mind can get time off. It’s supposed to “be good ”...
I feel guilty.
I feel weak.
Frustrated that my body can’t keep up with my heart’s desires to get stronger. I’ve been hitting lifts cautiously, seeing the right people, rolling/mobilising/doing all the weird stretchy things for my back so I can get back 100% on the program. I even had all the fish oil capsules (yech). Because from what I’ve heard, progress happens when you’re on the program, not when you’re grinding against the rumble roller.
It’s a hard presumption to shake off – that the “rules” are to follow the program from start to finish, as little divergence as possible. But after many self-pity filled tram rides from mobility dates at the gym, I’ve realised that maybe the reason I don’t feel altogether comfortable ‘breaking the rules’ is because I don’t know the rules back to front, inside out, off the top of my head, like the back of my hand. These rules include but are not limited to: How do you know when to back off the program? What are the telltale signs? When is something a mere niggle vs a fck-it injury? How should one program around little niggles without losing strength yet allowing recovery? Where are all these answers contained and can you look into your crystal ball and tell me how I can hit my next PBs? (Without breaking myself and my bank account, please and thank you).
And the reluctance to not follow all of the program? Because – as silly as it sounds – in my head, any time off programmed training = time where the body is getting weaker. Analogous to the assumption that if you miss your post-workout feeding window - that’s it, you’ve lost your chance to maximise on muscular gains and thou shalt remain small and weak. Yes, it’s a myth and it’s perhaps an example where not all “rules” are correct, and that there are layers upon layers of rules sometimes. Sometimes (as I’ve found out) you need to step back, shut out the noise, to understand those rules better. And yes, that has meant pulling myself away from the big girl squat weights. I’m starting to realise that a lot things fall into place after putting the much requisite time under the bar…but not literally.
So, if there are days where you see me in my corner, crouched with the lacrosse ball and resistance bands - instead of busting out big badass weights – I’m working on my new program. The Patience Hypertrophy Program. Where I’m learning to build the patience to not rush the #gainz and not break myself too much too soon.
Heads up - if you hear some noise in the background, please excuse me that’s just the grinding of my teeth. This patience thing does not come naturally to me.
*Psst excuse the hiatus between blog posts. Being a responsible adult got in the way. Let’s see if this kidult can pull off at minimum, fortnightly posts in between worky work and training!
I bashed someone yesterday.
Yes (not-so) little V bashed someone.
I verbally bashed someone who did not lift in my chosen poisons of powerlifting and strongman. He put forward his thoughts of lifting for fitness (light weights to avoid risk of injury), lots of cardio (running of course), and a gasp of horror at the thought of women lifting (#bulky).
I will be honest – it felt good then to have gone straight into “fight” mode in my verbal retorts. But they may have been emotionally driven and well, perhaps slightly condescending. Gym fascist I think was the term he called me as we parted ways. I am now writing this in hopes of redeeming myself. Confession as the Catholics call it. Because in hindsight, I realise that I based my arguments on the presumption that most people possess at minimum, substantial basic knowledge about lifting weights/strength sports. So ok, I may have not given Mr. Cardio the benefit of doubt.
It is a little like common sense. What a misnomer. To assume that people of different upbringings, backgrounds, holding different values (cultural, moral, political, religious etc), would all possess identical fundamental perceptions of everyday life. I mean tomato – tomato? (Fruit and not a vegetable btw).
Here’s my confession: I find it all too easy to fall in the trap of assuming that everyone is familiar with strength sports. Of the ins and outs: why you need the low reps (to get stronger vs. high reps – to build muscle), why you need to train in a crew (to kick your arse when you feel like wussing out), why you never call someone little (because it is an insult to their #gainz). Being continually surrounded by peers in strength sports (powerlifting, strongman), I have become ignorant of what and how non-lifters perceive our sports. Am I frustrated by the ignorance outside our sports? Of course. But I doubt my hostile condescending responses to the non-lifter will help grow the sports to greater heights. If anything, it will probably add fuel to the fire (and stereotypes) – “There goes another meathead”. “See that rage – she’s on roids.” “Nah, not going near that sport – they’re a bunch of extreme angry idiots.”
I recall a phrase mentioned to me in university: “You don’t know what you don’t know”. I also remember what it was like for me to start out in the sport(s) – I’m pretty sure I asked a lot of stupid questions, and did things that I can now laugh in hindsight. But I had no idea then – that running shoes are horrible for deadlifts, that chalk goes on hands and talcum powder on thighs when deadlifting, that cookie cutter programs will only work to an extent (and then you really need individualised programming and or coaching). Some folks in the sports have been patient enough to show me, and teach me what the sports are all about – I’m trying to remember to give back to the sports, and be patient with those who are now in an identical position I was way back then; unaware of the intricacies of the church of iron.
So this is a reminder, to perhaps be a wee bit more forgiving to the non-lifter and even the newbie lifter: we all started somewhere, some with a little bit more in the iron knowledge bank, some with a little less. If we want to grow the sport(s), then maybe educating the other party vs. snide know-it-all remarks may serve better.
*For penance, I carried out all the deadlift reps – top set of 150kg triples. Snippets on Instagram @vblifts.