That’s a Wrap on 2018

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.

2018 USAPL Raw Nationals Minnesota Lifters

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2017 USAPL Raw Nationals 

Whelp, I did it again. I competed in my second USAPL Raw Nationals meet on October 14th. This time I came in fourth in the Masters 1 84 kg division and got to stand on the podium with three incredible women – Alicia Webb, April Grey, and Lorin Blake. You can watch us here and here.

2017 USAPL Raw Nationals Women’s Masters 1 84 kg class Photo: Dennis Krantz

I know you are thinking: so how DID you do, Donna? I’ll tell you: I successfully squatted 292 pounds, benched 171 pounds, and deadlifted 341 pounds. While none of these are close to personal records they are all better than I did a year ago at the same venue and they qualified me for the 2018 USAPL Raw Nationals.

Before I go any further with my recap I want to call out my coach, the amazing Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake. She has been my rock for the past two years, helping me get through personal issues and get over emotional hurdles and giving me the kick I need to do the work. I’ve been following her programming and it’s been what I’ve needed to grow.

I’ll also give a shout out to my gym The Movement Minneapolis and all of the wonderful coaches and teammates there. If it weren’t for my internat stalking of Jen Sinkler and Mark Schneider (yes, I stalked you both) I wouldn’t be where I am today.

And last, I can’t thank Julia Ladewski enough. She had been helping me with my nutrition and making weight since Nationals in 2016. This woman is amazing at knowing how to tell me what I know and then making it stick and actually getting me to follow the plan. She listened to me whine about it being hard to est right to get make sure I was in the 84kg weight class. Kudos to you, Julia.

So as you can see I have an amazing support team and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thank you to everyone who has believed in me and helped me believe in myself. Without you I wouldn’t be where I am today.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

So, how do I feel about my performance? Would I have liked to have done better? You bet. Am I disappointed? No way. I gave it my all and then some and can honestly say it was the best I could have done on that day.

This sounds a little anti-climatic but i can trace this feeling to my first training session of this cycle: I kind of wasn’t into it. Part of me felt I had peaked at my first meet this year (MN Women’s State), part of me was disappointed with my performance at Twin Ports (even though I took gold), and part of me was just plain tired and probably needed a break. So why did I continue? Good question. 

I continued because I had made a commitment to myself and my team and family. I continued because it was expected of me. I continued because I don’t know how to quit. I continued a little out of habit.

But really I continued because I knew it would be good for me and would keep me from falling into myself and into depression. You see, Powerlifting is more than a sport to me, more than a passing fad – it’s therapy. Without a goal I am lost and start listening to the negative voices and worse I start agreeing with them.

Powerlifting in general, and training with a competition goal in particular, helps me quiet those voices, ignore their incessant chatter. So I continued even though things were harder than earlier in the year. I wasn’t at the gym on consistent days, I don’t think I hit all my training sessions, and I was more stressed than usual.

These are not excuses I am making for my performance at Nationals. These are explanations as to why I am pleased with how I did – actually showing up and doing the work despite the chaos. And doing it to the best of my ability.

My 314 pound grind during my final squat attempt is a great example of giving it my all: coming off my training cycle I didn’t even think I could walk that out from the squat but I did, and I squatted to depth and got out of the hole and it wasn’t until after I pushed my hips through that I lost it – I actually shifted my right foot for leverage and I knew it was over. But I gave it my all, I didn’t quit.

I went conservative on my bench attempts and crushed all three of them. Ending the day at 171 pounds may not have been my best bench ever but it got me through Nationals.

And my deadlifts. This is the one lift I have a little sadness around. I was really hoping for great things, breaking the 363 pound barrier I’ve put up for myself. But it wasn’t meant to be.

My first lift went up well, no complaints. It was my second lift that threw me off – 341 is an easy weight for me but that day it felt like a million pounds. My setup and start was all wrong. Maybe switching my grip the month before wasn’t the best idea. Oh well, I did what I had to and got that bar off the ground. Unfortunately that meant I didn’t have enough left for my final attempt (again, a weight I knew I could lift) and I started my lift before my setup was even complete! But even in that situation I didn’t give up – I went down pulling hard.

So I guess that’s the moral of the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals – I didn’t give up. I ended up on the platform and performing better than I had a year ago. I improved myself and really in the end that is the only statistic that counts.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!

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! 

You’re the lucky shit

I just told that to one of my friends. That she’s the lucky shit who gets all of my attention right now. Why? Because she’s training for her powerlifting meet and is worried about what everyone worried about: I’m not strong enough, not lean enough, not this enough, not that enough. And I’m trying to be her #1 fan right now and help her through it. She asked me why I was being so nice, so this is what I told her (edited slightly for any kiddos who may read this):

You wanna know why I’m cheering you on so much? Because I competed at nationals last year and I felt like I was totally an imposter and had no right to be there. But I DID have a right to be there because I worked damn hard. I thought I wasn’t strong enough or lean enough or any of it. But others cheered me on and I did it. So I want to return the favor and you just happen to be the lucky shit who gets all my attention 😘😂

The moral? 

You always have the right to be show up. No matter how much you lift, how much you weigh, how much what you are doing goes against the grain of what you’ve always considered acceptable. 

In fact, I’m so damn proud to call her my friend because this is something that is so outside of her comfort zone. She has committed to the training and is working through her anxieties and its wonderful. She is an inspiration in so many levels – the least of which is competing in powerlifting. She is quietly showing her inner strength each time she picks up the bar and each time she questions why and does it anyway. 

Part of me is even jealous – she gets to experience the power of the community for the first time as a competitor. She gets to feel the empowerment of the women (and men) cheering her on as much or more than they cheer for themselves. To have a stranger hug you at the end of a lift is wonderful, a feeling I want everyone to experience. 

So, when you see me cheering someone at a meet or at a game or in life just remember that at that moment they are the lucky shit who gets my attention – and you’re next!

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

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? 

This month in training: My hormones and me.

This month in training has been pretty awesome (for the most part). I’m loving this training block: on each of the main lift days I work up to 1 heavy rep that I could do for another and then back off to my working weight for the scheduled set/rep routine. It keeps me feeling strong by reinforcing that I can lift heavy and my strength continues to grow. 

Bench

I’ve really upped my bench game. I’ve gone from a meet PR of 165 pounds to a training PR of 180 pounds. 


Squat

What can I say about my squat? It has gotten heavier relative to my size so I’m pleased here, as well. And I’ve got to play with heavy walkouts. Can I tell you how fun it is to walk out 385 pounds and then only have to squat 185? It’s pretty awesome. 


Deadlift

Oh how I love th deadlift. And how it has loved me back. This cycle I have beat my plateau and I’m ready to take it on th road for a meet test drive. All I can say is “I’m a f@&!ing UNICORN” when I deadlift. 

I’m learning more and more about how my body reacts during my cycle and it is oddly soothing. I know now that it’s “normal” to have days and weeks where heavy shit feels like heavy shit and days and weeks where heavy shit feels just right. That these days correspond to the phase of my menstrual cycle is great knowledge – I now KNOW that shit feels heaviest right before and during my cycle and it’s ok to back the weight down and do the prescribed reps as pretty as possible.

Why is this good knowledge? Because I have found that most people, women especially, who are training for a competition feel like we should always be improving, increasing the weight we are moving during each training session. It gets frustrating when the weight on the bar this week or this session feels so much heavier than last week. 

So did you know that it takes longer to recover after a max lifting attempt and that it will be harder to lift as heavy the following week? Yea, neither did I. Or rather, I didn’t acknowledge this fact until recently. Until this training cycle, really. So try as I might, I couldn’t keep the weight from feeling really heavy on subsequent training days after my really good sessions. Now I don’t fight it and when I plan what I am going to lift I take last week’s accomplishments I to consideration. 

How did I come to this realization? Was it just aahappenstance? Nope. There are a lot of resources out there on the interwebs and I happened upon this article from T-Nation on the hormone cycle and female lifters and it was a jumping off point to understand this. 

Armed with this knowledge women can take a step back and ask a couple of questions going into there training session and plan accordingly: 1) did I max out on my lifts recently? and 2) where in my menstrual cycle am I?  The answers to these questions will help you understand why things are feeling heavier or easier. 

I do ask these questions as I plan my warmups and working weights for any given training session. There are many more variables that affect my lifting each day, but these two are key for me. I have a very competitive nature and even if I’m competing against myself I can get easily discouraged when I don’t increase or improve on my previous stats day after day. Now I look at each session individually and check in with myself to see if today is a day to go for it or a day to drive strength gains. 

Since I train for Powerlifting competitions and my training cycles are based on competition dates, I don’t know that I will necessarily adjust my training routine but this is good knowledge to have and I can do micro-adjustments to keep myself feeling strong.