Twin Ports Raw Open 2017 Recap

The Twin Port Raw Open 2017 was my third meet-a-versary and it was what I expected. I weighed in at 85.81 kg and competed in the Masters 1 84+ class. I went 7 for 9 and ended with the same total I had at MN Women’s State Championship. I took gold in my class. I qualified for the USAPL Raw Nationals in the Masters 1 84+ weight class. And I came away with a PR in my deadlift – 358 pounds.

But what does it mean? What journey did I take to get here?

To me it means that I have proved I can set a goal and reach it. What was my goal? To match my performance at MN Women’s State Championship. But why was that my goal? Shouldn’t I have tried to improve? Yes, but…

You have to understand that I LOVE the Twin Ports meet more than any other I compete in for a few reasons: one, it’s in Duluth, MN. Duluth is my favorite city in Minnesota because it is a gateway to my favorite lak: Lake Superior. If you live anywhere in Minnesota and haven’t been to Duluth I am sorry and you should remedy that right away. Two, it’s such a well run meet. Joe Warpeha runs a magical meet. I mean it’s rainbows and unicorns magical.  If you haven’t competed in it you haven’t lived. Three, it’s the anniversary of my very first meet in which I took bronze in my weight class and powerlifting took gold in my heart.

But there is ONE drawback: it’s between the Minnesota State meet and USAPL Raw Nationals. There’s something about competing in the State Championship meet that is romantic and cool and then there are Nationals which I want to compete in every year I qualify. Training is kind of back-to-back-to-back for these meets and I don’t devote as much recovery time as I should between training cycles. So yes, I want to improve, but it’s not necessarily going to be reflected in the numbers I put on the board. And I’m ok with that.

Now that we’ve got THAT out of the way, how did I really do? I mean really do?

I’d love to say that I feel like I kicked ass and took names but really I felt like I did ok. I would have loved a heavier squat and to at least have tied my PR in the bench. And to be perfectly honest I would have loved a bigger deadlift. But I’m happy with what I did, especially considering the start.

As I’ve said, this meet is well run – on par with Nationals in my opinion. I arrived (with my weekend roomies) a little before 7am, weigh in time. I had slept poorly the night before and was experiencing surprise menstrual cramps. I was tired and cranky and had to wait for my weigh in time – I was in the middle of the lot numbers – so I found a couch to nap on.

I eventually did get weighed in – 85.81 kg. Definitely over the 84 kg cutoff, just as I expected and it was NOT a bad thing. It just meant I was going to be competing in the 84+ weight class for state records only. All the Masters 1 lifters were in the same medal class so weight really only mattered for records.

I was in Flight B so I waited for Flight A to be done with their second squat before I went to warm up. This is normal meet day protocol – wait until the flight ahead of you is done with their second attempt and go warm up. I probably should have gone earlier or found a different bar to work in on for warm ups. I was helping the women ahead of me – they were lifting lighter so it made sense for them to do their warmups before me. Unfortunately this was a BIG mistake. I squatted the empty bar to warm up my joints and did 60% of my opener for four reps. I was walking up to the monitor to see where they were in the lifting order when Bonnie enters the warmup room saying “Donna, you’re up. They called your name.” Shit. How had I missed that?

Well folks, that’s when I sprinted to the platform. Cardio is good you, right? We got to the lifter area and they were calling the woman in front of me. Where was she? Was she in the same situation as me? And as her time ran down I had to calm myself and amp myself up at the same time. One warmup was better than none, right? And my opener of 281 is a gimme so I knew I could do it. But I was still nervous as I walked to the bar. What if something happened because I hadn’t warmed up all the way?

I shouldn’t have been nervous. I walked out to the bar, cleared my head and started my routine.  Stop about a foot away from the bar. Look at bar, set shoulder, clear my head. Right hand touches bar, then left. Fingers wrap around and slightly shake the bar to set the position. Lunge to the bar, ducking head under and coming up with shoulders positioned under the bar. Walk forward and position myself under the bar. Tighten the traps and lats and begin bracing. Feet under bar, wiggle hips to adjust tension and position of bar. One, two, three. Stand up with the bar. Head down, watch my feet. One step back, two steps back, three steps foot position locked. Steady bar. Look at head judge. SQUAT. Breathe in, brace, breathe in, squat down. Down, down, down. Feel the bottom. Up, up, up. Push your knees out. Squeeze your glutes. Stand up. Lock out. RACK.

First lift done. Nothing to worry about. That old adage about your opener being something you could do for three reps on your worst day? Totally stood up to the test. Now I was in the game.

The second attempt was memorable only for the fact that I missed 292 for depth. No big deal – I at least knew where I needed to go for my third attempt. All I had to do was remember to feel the “second click” in my right hip before I came up again. And I nailed it at 303 pounds. Not a PR, but good enough to help me remember what I can do.

After my bench performance at State (which was AWESOME, if I do say so myself) I wasn’t expecting anything huge. I went 2 for 3 in bench – missing my third attempt of 188 pounds. Should I have not gone all out and attempted to match my previous PR of 182? Maybe. But I decided to push myself a little harder and missed. Oh well – there’s always my NEXT training cycle to hit it. I suppose you’d like to know the lifts I DID make: opener at 165 and my second attempt of 176 – nothing to sneeze at but I’ve done better.

And then there were deadlifts. I remembered the squat warmup fiasco so I made sure I was in the warmup room in plenty of time to get them all in and STILL managed to be short on time. I had planned on taking one last pee break before deadlifts (lifting heavy makes me wanna pee) but there wasn’t time.

Now this is kinda my lift. It was after watching me deadlift that Jen Sinkler asked me if anyone ever called me Donna the Destroyer. So I knew this was gonna be good. I WAS a little nervous about having an opener of 325 pounds. But I also knew I could do it. But 325 pounds? That’s a lot. Oh well girl, that’s what you have to do to be the best you, right?

So, my opening deadlift went something like this: warmup, walk to the backstage area and wait for my turn. When I’m three out walk in front of the curtain and start mentally preparing. This means tuning into the background music and tuning out what is happening in front of me. Two out. Put my belt on. One out, walk to the chalk bowl. Chalk my hands. Sway to the music (I don’t really dance). Then I’m up. My name is called. Slowly I walk to the platform. I step up, take a moment to latch my belt. Tight. Step up to the bar. Right leg in position, then left. Look up and passed the audience. Set my lats, brace. Bend over to get my hand position – right hand into position on the bar then left. Straighten my legs, brace and breathe. Get into starting position and PULL. Up goes the bar. Down says the head judge. Follow the bar down and DONE! First attempt good.

My second and third attempts were awesome as well. I pulled 341 and then 358 – which WAS a personal record for me. I must say I was quite pleased with myself for that lift.

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358! Yay!!

So I finished the day with a 303 pound squat, 176 pound bench press, 358 pound deadlift, a 837 pound total, a GOLD medal in my age class, qualified for Raw Nationals in the M1 84+ class AND 7 new MN State records. No big deal. It was a good day and I did what I set out to do.

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Final Results
Minnesota State Raw Records R-M1A 84+ Total Donna Adams 380 kg
Minnesota State Raw Records R-M1A 84+ Deadlift Donna Adams 162.5 kg
Minnesota State Raw Records R-M1A 84+ Bench press Donna Adams 80 kg
Minnesota State Raw Records R-M1B 84+ Total Donna Adams 380 kg
Minnesota State Raw Records R-M1B 84+ Deadlift Donna Adams 162.5 kg
Minnesota State Raw Records R-M1B 84+ Bench press Donna Adams 80 kg
Minnesota State Raw Records R-M1B 84+ Squat Donna Adams 137.5 kg
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Training Days

How long does one train for a powerlifting meet, anyway? Well, in the case of me and my 2017 Twin Ports Raw Open training cycle it was 45 days spent in the gym. Forty-five days of ups. Forty-five days of downs. 

I know I’ve written it somewhere but this is a special meet for me. It’s the third anniversary of my very first powerlifting meet. The one that started this whole journey. So while it took me 45 days in the gym and three calendar months of active training for this meet I’ve actually been training for it for over three years. 

What am I talking about? you may be asking. I’ll tell you: my current training cycle was built on my last training cycle which built on the previous training cycle and so on and so on until you reach March of 2015 and my very first training day of my very first official powerlifting training cycle. 

Ah, the memories. Ok, I don’t really remember it but I do know (because data trails) that it was a squat day. And the 4 x8 squats were performed at an average of 123 pounds (not quite sure how – maybe it was supposed to be 125?). Which is amazing when you consider that my first training set of back squats this cycle was at 245 for 10×2 and my last set of training squats was at 280 for 3×3. 

First squat session 2015

First squat session 2017

In the day to day training I often forget how far I have come. As with most people I focus on the next goal and forget the intermediate goals I reached and surpassed that got me where I am today. I focus so intently on the now that I forget that this is a journey and every day I train is bringing me one step closer to a new goal and every training day passed has helped me surpass my old goals. 

I went into this training cycle with the biggest goal of making this a fun meet. I already qualified for Nationals in my chosen weight class so no pressure there. I was just going to have fun and enjoy my third meet-a-versary with Team Green at my side. 

Until my training cycle didn’t produce the gains I thought it should.  Even though I had no expectations (HA!) to beat my last performance. Because contradictions are an athletes best friend. 

It wasn’t the programming. In fact I kind of love my programming (even when I’m cursing JVB and her ideas of fun). It was me. My previous meet (Minnesota State Women’s Championship) was so good that I wanted my training to keep the feeling alive. But it didn’t. I felt weak. I missed or didn’t attempt lifts because I got in my head. And I did the unthinkable: I compared myself to others and their progress. And my progress stalled. 

I think I’ve beat that feeling but let me tell you it’s been brutal. Weeks of feeling weak. Weeks of being ok with feeling weak. Weeks of NOT being ok with feeling weak. And the. This week. I’m not sure if it was the weekend break of whitewater kayaking or my head finally settling, but I feel strong. I feel more confident about my training days. I’m content. 

Day 45 was working up to my opening attempts. And I did it. Just fine, thank you very much. I’m resting and recovering this week, looking forward to lifting again on Saturday, my meet-a-versary. 

Opening attempts

Week Six, Day 22

I just completed the 22nd workout of my Twin Ports Raw Open 2017 training cycle and I’m finally feeling it. All it took were some heavy weights and a little reflection. Man, I think this gets me EVERY training cycle. 

What was up? To start with I started a new training notebook (I filled my last one in February at the Minnesota State Women’s Championship) and didn’t have any reference with me for my lifts. Also, my memory of my last training cycle was that it was pretty much all smooth sailing – everything felt good, my low days didn’t leave me feeling like shit emotionally, I didn’t have weird aches and pains,  and the new training program suited me perfectly. 

Last page of my first training journal

I think one of the biggest reasons it has taken me half my training cycle to get here is that I hit a low point emotionally and had trouble coming out of the hole. <– See what I did there? Squat metaphor. I think means I’m officially a powerlifter. Anyway, back on track. Once in the hole I couldn’t see that I was making progress, things felt hard and heavy and I had aches and pains I didn’t like. No matter what they said it didn’t feel right. No matter what I knew it didn’t feel right. 

Maybe it was the rainy start to spring, the dry winter, too much pressure on myself, I think part of it was that I wasn’t talking about my problems with anyone. Once I started talking to people things started to shift in my brain and I now realize that my training is going just fine. In fact, being the data nerd that I am I started looking back at my last training cycle, the one that felt so good, and discovered that not only am I doing fine but I’m lifting more now than I did at the same point last cycle. 

Here are the comparison pictures. The left is my previous training cycle and the right is my current training cycle. I must admit that I’ve made progress. 

First day logs
10×2 deadlifts
6×3 Deadlifts
5×3 Bench
Day 22: 5×3 Squats

The moral of my little story? The best way for me to get out of my hole is to talk about it and just stand up with the weight. <- I did it again, finished with a squat metaphor. I know I’m going through some shit right now but when I keep it bottled up I can’t see the good that is happening around me and the progress I’ve made. So I’ll keep talking about it. 

I’m looking forward to Day 23. And hopefully I’ll tell you all about it! 

Up Next: 12 weeks to Twin Ports

It’s my favorite time of the year again. It’s training for the Twin Ports Raw Open time. This is the third anniversary of my very first powerlifting meet and I am so excited. It’s hard to believe that I only found this sport in 2015. A lot has changed since I started my first non-meet training cycle at the gym: I’ve competed in seven powerlifting meets, set and broke 28 MN state records (currently hold 10 in two weight classes), and competed in a National level competition. 

That’s a lot for a newbie athlete who’s still learning the ins and outs of training cycles, powerlifting jargon, and feels like she doesn’t know what she is doing half the time. 

So what’s my focus for this training cycle?  Get stronger, for one. Get solidly into the 84 kg class, for two. I HATE water cuts so I’m going to try and avoid that going forward. Only 12 pounds to go. And I guess learn how to balance other hobbies with powerlifting training (hello kayaking, archery, bicycling, and others). 

How am I going to get stronger? Once again I am following the training of my very talented coach Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake. Our last collaboration was stellar. I’m still amazed at the gains I saw in my last meet. Though this first block of the cycle seems to include a lot of eccentric movements. Slow is not necessarily my style – but I think I’ll learn to love it.

Training will be four will be four days most weeks – Monday, Wednesday, Friday and s means two bench days, one squat, one deadlift and yoga on the side. I guess that’s one of my focuses for this training cycle: weekly yoga to keep me a little more bendy. Powerlifting is such a singular plane sport that it’s nice to have an hour devoted to stretches and twists to keep me well rounded. 

Ooh, and how will I cut the weight? I’m not quite sure. I’ve got a couple templates I’ve followed in the past, so using them and having a meal prep strategy should help. Cutting out the wine and cheese should be good for me, too. And maybe the bread. God I hate giving up bread. But if it helps me perform better…

And the last focus? On other hobbies? That one is going to take more time and effort to figure out. Maybe better time management and meal prep will help here. If I don’t have to come home and cook I may be able to do the gym AND something else in the evening. And weekends will need to be parsed wisely. There are only so many days of spring and summer…

Well, that’s enough rambling about my next twelve weeks. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

New Training Log

Training Day 1

Training Days 2 & 3

Recap: MN Women’s State Championship

My latest meet has come and gone and I’m left sitting here with a hard-earned bronze medal thinking about where I started and where I’m going from here.

My first powerlifting meet was the Twin Ports Raw Open on May 30, 2015. I was so nervous – about wearing a singlet, lifting the weights, I didn’t trust that I knew what I was doing or that I even trained right. I didn’t know anything, I was shy and had a fear of failure and didn’t know how to talk other powerlifters – they all knew what was going on and I wasn’t in on the secret. I didn’t let that stop me from doing my best. On that day my best was a 248 pound squat, a 154 pound bench press, and a 292 pound deadlift. I took Bronze in my age class and set some age/weight class records. Since that day I have grown in many ways but my essence has remained.

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2015 Twin Ports Raw Open Totals vs. 2017 MN Women’s State Championship Totals. The numbers have changed but the passion remains the same.
I’ve posted the recap and numbers previously, but here they are again with a little more depth and substance.

The 2017 MN Women’s State Championship meet was truly one for the books. First off, there are now so many women competing in USAPL in Minnesota that we warrant our own championship meet. There were 70 women competing across the spectrum and it was a sight to behold. This group of women is competitive and driven to do our best but we don’t forget that everyone competing has put in the same effort and has the same goals: to be better than before. We cheer everyone on and get excited for each other’s victories. 

My training was pretty much spot-on and going 8 for 9 with the miss due to a technicality was incredible. I weighed in at 83.69 kg to make it just under the 84 kg cutoff. Just where I wanted to be. 

My squats were 275, 297, and 303. I rocked 275 for 3 white lights. No big deal. I squatted and stood up with 297 but was called on a technicality – I didn’t hit depth. Oh well. I had the lift so Coach JVB and I called an audible and I went for 303 pounds for my final attempt (my goal was 314). I squatted and stood up and lo and behold it was good – 2 white lights. 

That squat face, though.
Next was bench. I have been all over bench this training cycle and man have I improved. I have been stuck at 165 pounds for so long I didn’t realize how much I wanted the plateau to be over. I opened with an easy 154, jumped to an impressive 170, and finished solid as a rock with 182. And as a side note, once I realized that my 182 was going up I slowed it down to savor the moment. This was a 17 pound meet PR AND a 2 pound lifetime PR – WITH GREAT FORM!

182 pound bench press. Yes, I did break my plateau.

Finally we got to the Deadlift. Oh the Deadlift. It has a tendency to be a fickle beast but this time I prevailed. Opener was easy at 319. OPENER. Next was 341. This was a little harder and it did roll forward a bit. Because of this we called another audible and I went for 353. And it was GOOD. And a 3 pound lifetime PR and a 16 pound meet PR. 

And this is the face that earned me my name.
I got it.
Another look at that face.
But I didn’t fall over.

All this earned me a 380 kg total (836 pounds) and an age-weight adjusted wilks of 354. I’ve qualified for the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals and I’m tickled pink with the results. I took the bronze in my division and broke three State records in the Masters 1 84 kg class: squat, deadlift, and total. Apparently I have to work a little harder to get the bench record.

The best hug of the day. Thanks JVB.
Did I just do shot I think I did?

All this was great but there was something else special about this meet. Not only were my biggest supporters there (yes, I’m talking about you, Mom and Dad) but one of sisters and her girls were there to cheer me on, too.  This was pretty special because kids these days are crazy-busy and they gave up a Saturday (the first session was from 9am – 3pm) to watch a sport they knew very little about. They quickly learned that this sport has amazing GIRLS as well. Eight year-old Myla knocked their socks off and may have inspired them to give it a try. So excited for the next generation of lifters!

Team Destroyer at the ready. Thanks for cheering me on!

So yea, this was a pretty good day. 

Wanna see me flex?
Masters 1 Podium – Lara, Michelle, Donna
Coach JVB starting her long day.
Fans.
Traci and me getting our selfie on.
Never too serious
Team Green always represents.
The gang plus Geno.
Look! We’re medal twins!
Yep, they’re real.
Because of course acro-yoga.
Until next time…

It’s all over but the waiting 

Today was my last heavy day before next Saturday’s 2017 MN Women’s State Championship meet. My training cycle is over and now I’m on rest and recovery for the next week. 

This was by far my best training cycle, mentally speaking. I think coach JVB and I have cracked a code that was elusive and now it’s all up to me to make it happen. As I’ve eluded to in the past this cycle was broken into 3 blocks, each with its own characteristics. 

Block 1 was an extension of sorts of my hypertrophy training. There was lots of volume at lighter weights, really working on building my muscles. 

Block 2 shifted to lifting the heavy shit. I loved this block. Each week I got to work up to a heavy single of the three lifts and each week I was able to remember that I can lift heavy. Strength was being built. 

Block 3 continued with the heavy theme with less volume and more intensity. And with intensity came focus and a little more mental clarity. 

And so we come to today, my last heavy squat day. I’m not going to lie, squats have been a trouble spot for me in the past couple of meets. But I’m feeling good about my progress – I’ve successfully squatted 300 pounds and whether or not I make that at the meet I’m happy. I’ve overcome so many negative thoughts to get here and I’m excited to see how it translates into action. 

A little high on depth. It may have squeaked by.
A little lower. Will still need to watch depth.

Not only have I made strides on getting my head in the game with my squats, but my bench has improved tremendously. To me the bench press is the hardest and most mystifying of the big three. The technique needed to complete the lift (especially in USAPL) is tough and to top that off with needing to strengthen muscles not normally used its hard to get the weight to move. But I did it. As of this writing I have lifted 15 pounds more during this training cycle than I did at Raw Nationals last year. That’s a heck of a jump for bench. Needless to say I’m pretty pleased. 

Not successful. Failed to stay tight in my brace.
Stayed tight and locked it out. Consistency paid off.

And then there’s the Deadlift. What can I say about one of my favorite lifts? Just that I keep improving my total. Slow and steady and consistently I’ve been pulling my weight. I won’t be surprised if I hit 400 by the end of the year (I’m not shooting for that next week but I’ll come close to double body weight). I’ve learned more about bracing and tightening my core and engaging my lats and all the good things. Now I just have to apply it. 

Rounded back and loose brace made this attempt a learning experience rather than a success.
Straight back and braced canister made this a sweeping success!
The hardest part of the coming week will be my meal planning. I still have 5 pounds to cut by Friday so I’ll be watching my food and water intake and getting that weight down. I’m grateful that I have a nutrition coach helping me out otherwise I’m pretty sure I’d miss the weight class cut off. I so want to be in the 84 kg weight class. 

And right now? I’m enjoying a soothing epsom salt bath, relaxing my muscles and willing the week to be over. I just wanna lift and show you what I’ve got. And if you are in the area, why not stop by and cheer me and #TEAMGREEN on? 

#UPowerful Virtual Powerlifting Meet

With my vacations come and gone it is time for me to get serious about my training again. Or is it?

I did spend two weeks learning what the gym was again and what my next six months of training will look like – high volume hypertrophy training, please. My goal is to build all the muscle and get stronger along the way. But I had to stop along the way and participate in my third #UPowerful Virtual Powerlifting Meet. Because what better way to plan where you’re going by than by seeing where you are?

The #UPowerful virtual meet is brought to you by the awesome Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake and Jen Sinkler as part of the Unapologetically Strong strength program they launched last year (btw if you are looking to get into powerlifting or just get stronger this is a GREAT option for you). This virtual meet is the culmination of a 12-week online coaching program JVB runs for her clients to test their newfound strength but it is open to all comers. Each time one is announced I’m among the first to enter because who doesn’t like to see how strong they are – or to see social media light up with strong, powerful women?

The rules are simple: during the designated meet week you are to complete each of the three competition lifts (Barbell Back Squat, Barbell Bench Press, Deadlift), film your best attempts, post them on social media with the hashtag #UPowerful, and log your results for scoring. I’ve been posting my attempts using my other social media accounts (you can see my videos here or here) but will recap here for simplicity:

  • Squat 1: 270 – made it
  • Squat 2: 285 – made it
  • Squat 3: 300 – made it
  • Bench 1: 150 – made it
  • Bench 2: 160 – made it
  • Bench 3: 170 – missed it
  • Deadlift 1: 310 – made it
  • Deadlift 2: 335 – made it
  • Deadlift 3: 350 – missed it
  • Total: 795 (holy CRAP that’s a lot of weight! Only 4 pounds off my meet record)

What did I learn? Lots!

For my back squat I learned that I need to trust that I can stand up with the weight when I hit competition depth (hip crease below parallel or knee) so I have to work on keeping tight in the hole and driving up. I was able to stand up with 300 but the depth needs to addressed. I also learned that I have found the (current) optimal placement for the bar on my back to make even 300 pounds feel relatively light as I walk out position. This is kind of a big deal because as I am more comfortable with the weight on my back I will get more comfortable squatting low to depth.

For my bench press I learned that I do indeed use leg drive (thanks for pointing this out, JVB) but if I’m not set properly at the top I can’t get the bar off my chest. I’m still not as consistent as I can be on setup. I’m also going to work on foot placement – from what I’ve read I want to set my feet closer to my hips and point them more forward so I have better leverage when I do my leg drive and feel like I am really using that advantage to help move the bar (not to mention keep my butt on the bench).

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Top: successful setup with eyes below bar. Bottom: unsuccessful setup with eyes in front of bar.
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Top: Successful top of press, arms aligned with bar; Bottom: Failed attempt with arms forward. Are my wrists bent?

For my deadlift I learned I am not tight enough at the start of my lift. Really?!? To help me overcome this I am going to learn to brace and breathe at the bottom just before the pull. This is going to be HARD for me because it is opposite of how I setup now AND I have problems breathing (that’s a topic for another post). It will be like learning to deadlift all over again, retraining my body and learning to feel the correct muscles firing.

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Failed attempt: lats not engaged, not braced tight. This is setting up at the bottom so it looks better than when I setup at the top. Let’s work on this.
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Failed attempt, setup at the top and grip and rip from the floor. This may not be my forte and we’ll be working on this in the coming months.
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Successful attempt but due to angle it’s hard to tell what my initial setup was. Were my failed attempts more fatigue/brain driven or are there structural setup issues to address at all weights?
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Another successful attempt at sub-max weights. It might have been the narwahl vs. unicorn socks I had on that helped with this particular lift. Or I’m just strong enough to lift this with brute force.

I’m excited to hit the gym next week and start working out the kinks in all my lifts. I’ll be sure to keep you updated with my successes and failures along the way. In the meantime, have fun and do a search on social media for the hashtag #upowerful. You will be blown away by the strong women you see!