Special Announcement

I LOVE MY LEGS!

You may not think this is worthy of the headline “Special Announcement” but this is a radically new thought for me. For so long I have HATED my legs – my first active memory of this was in high school (yes, that’s over thirty years ago) and it was “shorts” day. I dreaded it. I hated wearing shorts for two reasons: my legs are short and my thighs rubbed together when I walked causing shorts to ride up. I think I wore the longest shorts I could find so they wouldn’t ride up and my classmates couldn’t actually see my legs. But this wasn’t the start – it’s never the start – of these feelings. That’s a longer and more complicated story of images and expectations set by others… Coming from this point to being able to say, no scream, I LOVE MY LEGS is a big deal.

Thick thighs. I’ve had them all my life and used to HATE them. In high school I rarely wore shorts or skirts or anything tight so I could hide them. I was lucky grunge was the predominant style – I wore baggy EVERYTHING so I didn’t have to compare my thunder thighs to my friends and others who more closely matched the ideal I wished I could have. And now I think of them as THICC THIGHS.

With my thick thighs comes a little knee bump that prevents my legs from ever looking lean. This is an inherited trait (thanks Grandma) and will always be there. But man I hated it. They were never long and lean and the styles I loved (hello 1940s Katherine Hepburn) looked ridiculous on me. But what did I know thirty years ago? How do I feel about these now? Well, they’re just my knees and they help me with so much.

And then the length. Have I mentioned they are short? Short and squat. That’s how I’ve described myself forever. Again, the long and lean styles I loved from the 1940s looked awkward – flared pants with thick thighs? That doesn’t work. But with age came a knowledge and a laissez-faire attitude towards what others think.

But I’ve realized that I love my legs now. When did this happen? Well, I was driving into work one day and looked down at my legs and said to myself for no real reason “I LOVE my legs.” I’m forty-five years old and I don’t think I’ve EVER said that about my legs before. Mostly I’ve derided and hidden them because they aren’t conventionally shaped, they have large, powerful thighs with NO THIGH GAP (is this still something women and girls worry about?), and are relatively short.

But that day I realized that I love my legs. It’s not that I went to bed thinking I hated my legs and woke up loving them it has been a gradual process to be sure. They still have the same attributes they always have but I’ve learned that those attributes make me who I am. They still rub together when I walk, they are still short and I still have huge calves, and they still spread wide on the surface when seated. Nothing about my legs has really changed (well, they are MORE muscly now) but my attitude towards them has shifted.

This shift has taken place over the past several years, especially the last four when I began powerlifting. Yes, powerlifting (you were wondering when that would come up,  weren’t you?). My build seems perfect – thick shoulders to hold a bar, thick thighs and strong legs to help me squat and lift the weight. So while I will never be a conventional body I have learned to LOVE my body because now I know that it is built exactly as it should be – thicc thighs, knee bumps and all.

 

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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!

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

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

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…

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.