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!

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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

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.

 

#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!