* This post was started in 2018 and due to many little things has sat in draft state for a year. I have dusted it off and finished it because that’s the kind of person I am – I like to finish what I start, eventually and in my timeline.
It’s been a while since we’ve chatted, so maybe let’s catch up first. So, what have YOU been up to lately? I do hope you’ve been able to accomplish what you’ve set out to do (or not to do). Me? How have I been? I’ve been well, thanks for asking.
Wait. Maybe that wasn’t completely accurate. Not false, but not completely accurate. There have been many changes happening in and around my life that I have been trying to process for the better part of the past year. I’ve come to terms with some things and will continue to process others. And through it all I’ve continued to grow.
You probably noticed an absence of blog posts last year. This was not because I wasn’t doing things, wasn’t lifting or learning or growing. It was partly because I didn’t think I had anything new to offer, that my posts were a rehash of things others have said before, or things I had said before or just weren’t that important in the grand scheme of others’ lives.
It was also partly because I wasn’t really happy with the progress I was making. I was comparing myself to others out there on the interwebs and seeing amazing feats by people and I felt my progress was too slow, too low, not important. Why should I show people things that others do better than me?
And it was partly due to not knowing what to say or how to say it. Life is complicated and it doesn’t always translate well to the interwebs. How much do I share? How much do I keep private? Do I need to keep this powerlifting related? Can I branch out? Do I need to be more technical? Should I change the format?
So my goal for 2019 is to share more, care more about showing up, and care less about what others think about any of it. I’m going to start 2019 by sharing my 2018 highlight reel:
Not much training but there were snowmobiles and snow. Yay winter!
Same. Winter in Minnesota is long and snowy.
Impromptu visit to Chicago with girlfriends. So much fun to be with smart women doing silly things.
Training begins for the 2018 Twin Cities Open! Lots of videos of lifting. A trip to the Iron Sisters training camp in Madison, WI. This was amazing and I highly recommend it. In fact, I will go again in 2019 if I can swing it.
More training videos. Still working to hit the next milestones. And of course, at least one day trip to Duluth, MN. There is nothing like Lake Superior to refresh my mind and spirit.
2018 Twin Cities Open: 314 Squat, 176 Bench, 341 Deadlift. Kayaking! White water kayak training at Otter Bar Lodge in Northern California. Amazing people, scenery, and kayaking.
Caterpillars, gardening, and kayak symposiums. Oh my! And the beginning of a new training cycle – hello USAPL 2018 Raw Nationals.
My favorite meet: Twin Ports Raw Open! I handled a couple of my strong friends and helped #teamgreen warmup for the meet. Weekend #girltrips with dear friends and a whole lot of training.
Labor retreat to Lake Superior for kayaking, saved a garter snake, and more training.
Training and finally…trip to Spokane, WA for the USAPL 2018 Raw Nationals. Squat: 319. Bench: 165. Deadlift: 347. My squat was my favorite! And then a trip around the Pacific Northwest. I LOVE the Oregon coast and see more adventures out that way soon.
Voting. Lifting. Being.
Training and trips to Duluth and the holidays.
So yes, it’s been a busy year. I’ve done a lot, I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve got a long way to go.
My 2018 powerlifting season is done. It wrapped up on October 14th when I received my 4th place medal in the Women’s M1 84 kg division at the USAPL Raw Nationals competition. This event capped off a year where I re-learned to squat, started to look more seriously at my nutrition, didn’t overly stress about “making weight,” and tried to have a more balanced approach to training and life.
While I didn’t hit every powerlifting goal I set this year I do have some key takeaways:
I squatted 145 kg (a little over 319 pounds)
My total at USAPL Raw Nationals 2018 (377.5 kg) was 12.5 kg higher than 2017 (365 kg) and 25 kg higher than 2016 (352.5 kg)
I made it to the podium at USAPL Raw Nationals this year with more competition than in 2017
Looking back over the four years since I began lifting there have been vast improvements, not only in form but also in mindset. I kind of did my first meet on a whim, fell in love with the sport and continued full speed ahead without thought of where I was going. I loved everything about the sport – training with purpose, getting stronger, competing. And at first it was about being “better than” other people. It was heady stuff, breaking 5 MN state records in my first meet (Squat, Bench, Bench Single Lift, Deadlift, Total). I’ve learned so much since then.
First, it’s not about being better than other people. Really, it isn’t. It’s about showing up and doing the work even when training sucks and you forget how to do anything and feel like giving up. There have been many, many times over the past four years I wanted to quit. And maybe at first I did. But lately I’ve learned that one training session (or one week or one month) doesn’t make or break you. It’s what you do over the long term that determines who you will become. And I’ve taken to listening to my body (mostly) and not shooting for numbers when I’m not feeling it. There’s always next week, next month, next training cycle to get that lift.
Second, don’t stress over the little things. This is much like the first point but expands to include weight classes and meet day weigh ins. My first few meets I didn’t know anything so I didn’t care, I just wanted experience (BEST way to start your lifting career). But then I got greedy and saw I could be competitive in the 84 kg (around 185 pounds) division rather than the 84+ kg division and my focus shifted to cutting weight to make that goal. And my training suffered. I was too focused on what I was eating and not enough on what I was trying to accomplish. Once I settled into a more healthy view of food (I really love food) and didn’t base my worth on whether I hit goal weight my training cycles were better. Again, it’s a “take the long view” approach that works for me. It really is a lifestyle and I need to take it slow and steady or I crash and burn.
Third, don’t beat yourself up over your performance at one particular meet. Sure, feel all the feels and work through your emotions but don’t dwell in that space. When I dwell in that space everything goes out the window – training, nutrition, you name it. I learned this lesson through shooting archery: you can’t re-shoot an arrow that has gone astray so analyze the issue, take a deep breath, reset, and focus on the current shot. Same goes for lifting: you can’t dwell in the missed bench press or deadlift. You have to push through the feelings and hit the next one.
Fourth, always keep learning. Nothing beats this one. Take classes, sign up for seminars, read blogs, talk with trainers, ask questions. The more you know the more you grow. Have you ever gone back and watched video of your first meet or training cycle and then compared it to now? See a difference? Yea? That shows what you’ve learned. Now look at video of the best of the best. See a difference? Keep growing and learning to get there. That’s my plan – keep learning.
Fifth, powerlifting is a marathon, not a sprint. For most people it is impossible to keep the “newbie” gains going after the first few meets. Eventually you find out how strong you really are and learn (there’s that word again) your weaknesses. You get stronger pound by pound, day by day, month by month and year by year. Sometimes you exceed expectations and sometimes you don’t (hello USAPL Raw Nats 2016) but no matter what as long as you are training you are getting better.
Now you may be thinking this seems like a bunch of malarkey (I love that word) but as I look back on my last training cycle and meet I can see all of these points. As I was training I was looking back at my old training records and was astonished at the weight differences and what I was moving compared to my last cycle. And while I was working on my nutrition and making sure I made weight I wasn’t stressing over it. I actually continued to have “normal” meals and allowed myself to have fun with friends and never beat myself up over it. That made all the difference – I went into weigh ins with a laissez-faire attitude and was nearly spot-on. And on the point of beating myself up: I allowed myself to wallow in my missed deadlift attempt but it never derailed me. I worked through my disappointment in the performance and made a plan for meeting my goals next year.
The fourth and fifth points? Yea, I have examples for them, too. Squats have secretly always been my favorite lift. They are technical and scary and what happens if I can’t stand up or hit depth? And for about a year I was having that depth problem. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was happening. But then all the cues from my coaches kicked in and whoa – have you seen my depth? It is truly a thing of beauty. Because I kept learning. And those “newbie” gains? I had them in all my lifts in the beginning but eventually each lift posed its own problems to me that I had to overcome. I didn’t get weaker between meets but I hit my maxes and needed to learn how to work through them – gain muscle, improve technique, rest, whatever. And I know this will continue as long as I am lifting – whether I am competitive or not.
So what does this have to do with you? Nothing. Everything. I don’t know. This has been my journey so far. I’m still new to the sport – I mean I’ve only done about a dozen meets – so I have a long way to go before I cross the finish line. And I’m looking forward to every learning something new every day.
And just because I can, I’d really like to thank my coach, Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake (Coach JVB). She has been with me since the beginning and has helped me with this growth. It has been wonderful having such a role model and cheerleader in this sport. Thank you! And to all the coaches at The Movement Minneapolis – thanks for letting me get all my workouts in and helping me when I asked all the questions. David and Jen – thanks for asking the questions “who wants to do a powerlifting meet?” and “has anyone ever called you Donna the Destroyer?” Without those I wouldn’t be here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!