Get out of my head!

I thought I was over it – that feeling of anxiety about the amount of weight on the bar. But this week I realized I’m not. Squats, deadlifts, and bench (to an extent) have me pausing in reflection instead of asserting myself and just lifting.

I am cautious by nature. I take my time acclimating to new experiences and approach change slowly. But I had assumed that knowing my goal (a 400-pound deadlift, 300-pound squat, and beating my previous 159-pound meet record for bench) would make it easier for me to increase weight on the bar and be appropriately assertive (or aggressive) when lifting.

Last week I had a massive deadlift PR: 3×5 sets at 315 pounds- beltless. So this week (with my eyes on 400) I thought a 3×5 at 325 pounds beltless would be a breeze, or at least very do-able for me. I loaded the bar, chalked my hands and stepped up to the bar. Hah! I was only able to pull one rep without my belt. One. It was kind of a let down. My heart sank a little because I wasn’t able to continue without a belt. Somehow I forgot that I just lifted 325 pounds. By myself.

Instead of dropping the weight I put my belt on and began again. One. Two. Annnd three. I was able to pull 3 reps but they felt heavy and hard. One of my Movement coaches (David Dellanave) asked me what RPE (Rated Perceived Exertion) it was, whether I had anything left after last lift. In my head I didn’t. It felt like I could have ground through one more rep, still shy of the 5 reps in my programming. It just felt heavy.

My second set went up easier, but I was exhausted by the 3rd rep. (Side note: David thought my initial RPE assessment may have been skewed because of the ease he saw in the second three reps.) By my third set it was all I could do to lift because I had decided it was heavy (sometimes it IS heavy – especially when you are seeing stars) and my final lift was a grind. I got it up and locked out, but it wasn’t my easiest lift.

And then there were the squats. The lovely, difficult, heavy squats. It was much the same as the deadlifts earlier in the week. Last week I was doing sets of 5X3 and this week it was sets of 4X3. My first set at 265 pounds was beltless and HEAVY. My second beltless set? I didn’t get the third squat up (yay for squatting inside the rack with safety bars set). So I put my belt on and everything was  much lighter – with better form. Slight disappointment that I couldn’t complete the sets without a belt, but happy to come to the conclusion (thanks Mark) that any squat up to 250 pounds can be done beltless but above that, belt on.

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Why was it so much harder this week? I’m blaming the fact that I’ve got numbers running around my head, messing with me. I have it in my head that each week I have to be at least incrementally better at my lifts than I was the previous week – without a belt. And each week the weights get heavier and my mind gets more anxious – “what if I can’t lift what I did last week?”, “what if I can’t lift more than I did last week?”, “why do I need my belt?”, “I am not progressing fast enough” and so on.

So, how will I get over it? I don’t know. But I know I’ll have help.

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I am Oni.

My package arrived at the post office on Monday. It was registered mail. I couldn’t WAIT to rip it open. But I had to wait until Saturday – I would never get to the post office before 5pm on a weeknight. Ever.

Saturday mornings are bench day 2 and mean I need to be to the gym by 10am. The post office (in it’s infinite wisdom) does not open until 9am. I live 30 minutes from the gym so this meant I needed to be there soon after they opened or face a long line of people in my situation. I arrived at 9:10 and watched the clock tick away as ONE person worked the line – there were already 10 people ahead of me.

Slowly the clock ticked, slowly the line moved. There was an appearance of a second postal clerk, but she moved slowly with a couple false starts. Finally it was my turn! I handed my slip over and waited some more. She returned with the package, I signed a form and headed to my truck. I would have to wait to open it – it was past 9:30 and I couldn’t miss the gym.

I benched. How much? I don’t know. I was busy thinking about the package waiting for me in the truck. I was giddy and just wanted to finish so I could rip into it – the anticipation was high. As I got into my truck I opened the box and there it was: my new singlet.

When I agreed to lift in the 2016 USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals I didn’t realize I would need to get some new IPF Approved Equipment – specifically a new singlet (the #TeamGreen Adidas singlet isn’t on the list) and a new belt. You may not know this about me, but I am kind of a fashion snob so all of the big players on the approved list disappointed me – their singlets were sooo boring and predictable – black, red and black, blue and black. There was no “wow” factor that made me want to rock one at Nationals. I kept looking at the more obscure brands, brands I had never heard of before and one caught my eye: the Bukiya SAKURA-Oni.

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It’s black. It’s pink. it’s ME!

While the singlet does have style (seriously, have you SEEN the Inzer singlet?) it had another selling point for me: while I was playing on the site deciding whether to buy it I saw this in the navigation: WhatIsOni_Button and I had to click on it. What it  lead to was nothing short of AWESOME

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What’s Oni? “Oni” means an ogre. The symbol of the strength in Japan. Our products are powerful like Oni!

Ogre. Symbol of strength. I was sold.

On the surface being compared to an ogre may not seem like something to be happy about. I mean, LOTR fans would definitely prefer NOT to be compared to ogres, but I since I am also a SHREK fan all I could thing was: I AM an ogre – just like Princess Fiona and all her bad-assery.

This got me thinking: Fiona definitely had a split personality. She knew what it was like to be the “ideal” woman AND a “monster” who doesn’t fit the mold. At first she was repelled by her ogre side, afraid she would never fit in but she eventually learned to embrace her strength and found that being strong was a gift and she could love herself no matter whether she fit the ideal. And in many respects I AM Fiona.

I have been leaner than I am now but I have never been stronger mentally or physically. I know how to use my strength and how my strength is and always has been an asset. But it has been a journey to fully embrace this version of me. As often happens, life got in the way of the ideal and I made some choices and changed. How I changed led me to The Movement Minneapolis and my coaches and helped me embrace MY ogre side. And I am happy to say I am excited to see what else it can do.

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I am Oni.

Next up: my belt.

Failure IS an option

I’m trying some new things during this training cycle: lifting to my potential every week, lifting as heavy as I can without a belt, and asking more questions. This means there will be times I hit everything I try and times I fail. And for me those failures are teaching me more than my successes ever could. I am learning where I have weaknesses and what I can do to improve – I am learning to be better.

I haven’t always embraced failure. In fact, most of my life I’ve used the phrase “failure is not an option” as a motto of sorts. I would work as hard as I needed to work in order to achieve a goal I knew I could achieve. I rarely pushed myself beyond my comfort zone (though I have climbed many intriguing cliff walls and kayaked many rapids-filled waters) and I was OK – this meant I never failed, I wasn’t a failure. And being a failure is one of my biggest fears.

But at this time in my life playing it safe isn’t an option. I need (read: want, have the desire to) to push to do more, listen to the people coaching me that I can do it and I will be safe if I fail. Wow. Failing safely is something my many people have told me about but I couldn’t embrace. I couldn’t be seen as less-than and not in full charge of what I was doing. But I’ve grown in the past few years to see that failure is a learning moment – no matter where or how it occurs.

During my last training cycle, one of my coaches at The Movement Minneapolis (Mark, for those keeping track at home) would look at me and shake his head when I went to put on my weight lifting belt if the weight I was lifting didn’t warrant it (it was something I could do for an easy 3 reps). He was trying to get me to work on my core strength which would help me get stronger and be able to lift more weight. This was great, but I was still playing it safe – only putting as much weight on the bar as I knew I could lift successfully.

Over the last four weeks (Yikes! four weeks of my training have gone by already!) I have been working on doing my squats and deadlifts belt-less. This has made previous “light” weight squats seem incredibly heavy. Twice I have failed at a weight 40 pounds less than my previous meet PR – and I shouldn’t do that, right? WRONG! Previously squats at that weight were done with a belt. Now, without a belt I am learning that there is more I need to concentrate on – building my bracing technique, core stability, foot placement, and so much more!

(There is ONE caveat to this: I have never been afraid to fail at bench pressing because it is so new to me. But it didn’t mean I liked failing. I would still play it safe with the weight I put on the bar.)

Failing has actually expanded my horizons. I am comfortable knowing that when I fail I will learn how to improve and make myself better. This is true in my non-powerlifting life (really, is there such a thing?) as well. I’m still a bit risk-averse but I am experimenting with the freedom that knowing failure IS an option brings. I don’t dread asking questions, or doing something “wrong” because I will take time to learn and improve from all my experiences.

I’m excited to learn the next steps for improving my squat, which along with my deadlift has always been “easy” for me. To make them even easier is my new goal, one which will require more failures to see what works. Each failure points me to the direction of better, each success helps me question if I can do it even better next time.

As they say: Failure IS an option. And sometimes its the best option out there.

 

LISTENING…does the body good.

During the second week of my 12-week training cycle I was pumped to start increasing the weight on the bar – I haven’t lifted really heavy since my last meet in December. My training schedule plan is Monday – deadlifts, Wednesday – bench, Friday – squats, Saturday – bench day 2. But as we know life isn’t always as neat as this and I knew I was going to be out of town Friday so I needed to reshuffle my scehdule: Monday – deadlifts, Wednesday – bench, Thursday – squat, Saturday – bench day 2. This should have been an easy shift, not too many training days in a row, nothing missed, some recovery time to get on track for my week 3 schedule.

And then BLAM! Thursday I woke up with a sinus-thingy. Not just a stuffy nose but full-on sinus inflammation, too. It HURT to put my sunglasses on when the first sun in days graced my face. UGH! But I thought “I can do squats with this – it’s just my nose.” I wasn’t ready for what followed: nausea and throbbing, sinus congestion. I fought it all day, trying to quell the voice inside that told me to shake it off and work through it. As I was driving home I was finally realistic with myself: squats – any exercise really – were a bad idea. So instead of going to the gym I went home, drank some AWESOME Ginger Honey Crystals, ate dinner and slept.

I was anxious when I woke up on Friday. It was Adventure Day with my sister and nieces (yes, they trumped squat day) and I didn’t want to be miserable – or worse, have to cancel – on our loosely planned adventure day. But the sinus congestion had gone and I was able to enjoy all the adventures – including stops at my favorite place in Minnesota: the North Shore of Lake Superior. It was a chilly day but the final gasps of a runny nose couldn’t stop me from enjoying it all.

Saturday morning came and I felt good. I went to the gym and squatted heavy, just like I intended to last week. I felt good and even if I still had some lingering sniffles I was feeling pretty good. A 6×3 at 245? In my second week of a 12-week cycle? I’ll take that. And I’ll credit my early Thursday night and restful adventurous Friday with helping me feel so much better by Saturday morning.

I was reminded while listening to a Barbells and Bonebroth podcast today (shout out to my coach, JVB from The Movement Minneapolis) that we actually build muscle while recovering so taking a day off when I’m not feeling it is like free muscle for the week (yea, I know that’s a stretch, but a girl’s gotta try). Listening to your body and heeding what it is telling you is always a good idea – and a lesson I will continue to practice.

What is remarkable about this is how often in life we don’t listen to our bodies and “just do it” or “git ‘er done” and don’t allow our bodies the chance to do what they do best: get and keep us healthy. And one of my goals for my training is to keep listening to my body so I stay healthy and get as strong as I can through this cycle – I have to start treating myself like the Athlete I am.

 

Donna the Destroyer.

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This name was unofficially bestowed upon me during the 2015 USAPL Senior Powerlifting Championships by one of my coaches during the squat session and solidified during the deadlift session. I’ve embraced it, not for its potential negative connotation but for the positive impact powerlifting has had on my life.

I came to the sport of powerlifting during a time of transition in my life when I needed something to help me believe in myself and my own strengths again. And boy oh boy, did I LITERALLY find the right thing! I had known for a while that lifting heavy made me happy, but while I was training for my first powerlifting meet I realized how much joy I could find in that metal bar and those plates.

Until I began powerlifting I categorized myself as a ‘weekend warrior’: a generalist with hobbies such as rock climbing, kayaking, bicycling, and hiking. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been fortunate to climb Devil’s Tower (3 times) and spent 5 years doing multiple climbing trips (up to 5 a summer) to the Black Hills, but I didn’t put myself in the category of ‘athlete’. Nope, it was a hobby that I really loved and excelled at but not my true calling.

I was introduced to my true calling when I was working out a Crossfit gym. While I can take or leave (mostly leave) the bootcamp style workouts – burpees, jumping jacks, running – it was the weights that made me stay. The first time I stepped up to the bar and lifted it (I think it was a press of some sort) I fell in love. The feel of the steel in my hands and the weight of the bar going up was like the weight of the world falling off my shoulders. For those minutes I was zen. Each new lift I learned (and I learned them all) I felt my power grow. The first time I pulled a 300 pound deadlift was unbelievable. I was hooked.

Then an injury and life circumstances took over and I quit lifting for a while. Almost a year, actually. Until one day someone at my new gym (Movement Minneapolis) asked if anyone wanted to do a powerlifting meet. Oh how I wanted to do that meet! Circumstances being what they were I couldn’t commit to training with enough regularity to warrant competing. But it didn’t stop me from training with the rest of the gym members. I learned so much – from my very first bench press to being told my ‘arch was so pretty it belonged in Paris’ to learning how strong I am compared to the athletes I was training with – even though I didn’t compete in that meet. And I didn’t know it then but that was the start of my powerlifting journey.

My first meet was the 2015 Twin Ports Raw Open in Duluth, MN. It was the last Saturday in May and it changed my life. I had been training for 12 weeks, preparing myself for competing. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the intense feelings of pride and strength that welled up inside me as I took to the platform for my first lift – a 215 pound squat attempt. That feeling of zen returned, the crowd (including my very proud mother) faded and it was me and the bar. Hands in place, shoulders under the bar, stand UP. Three paces back. Reposition feet. Look up, nod to the head judge. SQUAT was the command. Sit back and down, knees out, bottom position. Look up, knees out, elbows up, STAND, hip thrust. Lock out, look at judge. RACK was the command. With the help of the spotters the bar was walked into the rack and set down. I had completed the very first lift in my very first meet and I was fine. I knew what I needed to do and I did it. I took third in my class that meet with a 248 pound squat, 154 pound bench press, 292 pound deadlift, and a 694 pound total AND set four Minnesota state records for Women’s Masters 1a 84+ class. I had found my calling.

Since that first meet I have competed in 3 additional meets and have medaled in two and continually break my own records. Each meet I learn new things about myself including, and this was a big one, that I’m an athlete. Maybe it’s because I’m taking it more seriously than previous goals, or that I’m competing and winning, but there has been a mindset shift. Instead of seeing myself as someone who does something as a hobby I now see myself as a capital A-Athlete, seriously training for her next adventure (which is the 2016 Twin Ports Raw open) and planning to qualify for the 2016 Raw Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia.

Powerlifting has allowed me to destroy the old myths I had been hanging onto – I’m not an athlete, women should be small and demure, women are the ‘weaker’ sex, and so many more. My inner strength has increased as the weight on the bar has gone up and I find myself exerting myself in ways I hadn’t before: telling my boss what I need, making solo vacation plans for myself, taking up all the space I need.

I’ve learned the power of myself and will continue to destroy those thoughts as they pop into my head. I AM Donna the Destroyer.