Giving up

Friendship ended

I’m a week out from what might be my last powerlifting competition for a while. As you might expect I’m not really looking forward to it, and I almost withdrew from competing; but I’m going to do it because if nothing else it gives me a chance to set a qualifying total for the next British Masters.

I’ve gone through several “I hate powerlifting” phases over the last 8 years but this one feels a bit different, a bit more. I think my feelings towards the sport started to change at the 2017 British Masters in March, which I enjoyed but was definitely different to how I was expecting. And now I’m a week away from the All England the whole training/competing cycle feels like an unbearable chore.

I’ve been told that now I’m 40 I can’t expect to lift the same as I did as a senior

I am completely au fait with the “compete against yourself” mindset but it’s hard to stay true to that when your whole training is set around competing against others. Plus, I’m not currently beating myself anyway – my gains all slowed down/stopped a while ago and now that I’m a master (over 40) they’re going backwards. I’ve been told that now I’m 40 I can’t expect to lift the same as I did as a senior, but I didn’t expect my decline to happen only 5 months in!

So I’ve done a bit of soul searching. I considered changing my program, changing my coaching, changing my gym, quitting powerlifting full stop etc etc. But after talks with a few people including my coach, people at the gym and an IPF International referee at the British Masters I’ve noted a few things:

1) This is meant to be a hobby. It’s meant to be fun.

2) It’s not just lifting I do at the gym, it’s the social media, it’s refereeing. A lot of people think powerlifting is just lifting & competing but it’s not (for me anyway).

3) I shouldn’t do the aspects of powerlifting that make it un-fun for me. I should just do the things I enjoy.

4) It’s completely possible to be a referee and not a competing lifter. It’s even possible to be a referee and someone who doesn’t lift!

I’ve had a lot of guilty feelings about stopping doing the things I’ve committed to do at the gym, but as my coach reminded me, no-one ever asked me to do them and if I don’t do them it’s not my problem. This is really far outside my way of thinking – normally I’m the sort of person who takes stuff on and feels awful if she can’t do it!

This is meant to be a hobby. It’s meant to be fun.

Throw into the mix the fact that as of June 2nd I’m starting a new job, which will be a lot more intense than any job I’ve had in the last 5 years and will involve a lot of travel. I can’t really commit to doing things at the gym if I don’t know what my movements will be month to month, and I may not be working a regular 9-5.30 while I’m at home anyway.

So the upshot is:

1) I’ve quit doing the social media stuff for the gym.

2) After the All England I’m not competing for a long time (I will aim to get my QT for the British Masters but I won’t commit to doing it until closer to the time).

3) I’m going to do the aspects of powerlifting I enjoy: refereeing and hopefully more coaching.

4) I’m not going to train for just powerlifting any more; I’m going to do more varied “fitness” things because that will be easier to do if I’m going to be travelling around / not able to get to my usual gym regularly.

The coaching aspect is the most difficult of these – my gym won’t be holding more ladies novice sessions (which is where I’ve been coaching) so if I want to coach, then I have to figure out some way of doing it myself. As I’m not a fitness professional this is easier said than done!

Overall I feel relieved and excited. I’m sure there are people out there who will think I am giving up – after all, one of the big mantras on powerlifting is “never give up”, right? But at what point do you admit that plugging away at the same thing for eight years and not improving isn’t making you happy? And am I giving up anyway, if I’m still committed to being a referee? (I still want to go for my international referee certificate in 2018 or 2019)

The funny thing is there are plenty of people out there who will tell me I shouldn’t care what others think (they’re right of course) but I bet there is a good proportion of them who very much care what others think of them (cough Instagram numbers cough) and who will also think that you should never give up. I kind of feel like I can’t win there!

I haven’t decided on any goals yet for my attempt to fall back in love with the gym again, but I have some ideas: jog 5km without stopping; do some bodybuilding-style workouts so I can actually build muscle (8-10 reps etc); more Yoga/Pilates; more mobility; try to do the splits (!). I think it’s going to be fun and best of all a change of scene.

2016 roundup

2016 is nearly over, so it’s time for a bit of a roundup!

Unfortunately 2016 really hasn’t gone as I hoped. My aim for this year initially was to get a 290kg total, later revised to 300 so I could qualify for the British Classic in my last year as a senior. Instead, I’m ending the year having only competed twice (I usually compete 2-4 times a year), neither time nationally, and with a 285kg total – a measly 2.5kg increase on last year.

I’m not as disappointed as I could have been. As the 72kg senior class QT for the British Classic is now a whopping 325kg, any hope of me doing that competition has now gone out the window. I’m a bit sad to not have the prospect of any more senior classics, BUT as of January 1st 2017 I’m a master, so I get a whole new set of competitions to enter!

The QT for the 72kg M1 class is 227.5kg (at the moment) so I’m safely in. And so, perhaps a bit prematurely, I’ve already booked my plane ticket and hotel for Belfast, so I can take part in my first British Masters in March!

All I need to do now is get over my injuries. 2016 has been a year of injuries – first I hurt my foot doing cardio, luckily only minor; then I injured my left hip running, which meant a few weeks off squatting. Right now I’m nursing an injured right QL, which seems to have pulled my entire lower back & both hips into spasm & out of alignment. I’m seeing a physio, and have decided to abstain from squatting & deadlifting until Christmas to give my back some time off.

In the meantime, I’ve been getting into spinning, using the leg press for the first time and concentrating on my bench press. I’ve often heard it said that the best thing for improving your bench press is more bench press, and right now mine seems to be moving in the right direction. My best competition bench is 57.5kg, and I really want 60+ in March. On Saturday I did board press, hoping for 70kg but in the end working up to 75kg (165lbs!) for 2×2.

My bodyweight this day was 73.5kg so that’s more than my bodyweight in my hands, and let me tell you it feels scary!

In powerlifting-related news, I am now a British Powerlifting National Referee. In practise this was little more than a formality – I’d completed my 2 years as a Divisional Referee & officiated at enough national competitions. But it means I get a new tie, and a newfound sense of power!

So my plans for 2017, so far, are:

  • Try not to lose it too much when I turn 40 in January!
  • Compete in the 2017 British Masters (hopefully not coming last)
  • Take a few Greater London M1 72kg records
  • Organise some more “Introduction to Strength Training” sessions at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club
  • Not injure myself so much – take better care of my body, get more massages and eat some protein!



British Powerlifting coach, level 1

This past Saturday & Sunday I took the British Powerlifting (the new name for the GBPF!) level one coaching course, and happily passed, so I am now a “powerlifting coach” in name. I’m a little bit skeptical of calling myself a powerlifting coach as it’s merely a certification, and everyone knows the real meat of being a sports coach is in your experience and results.

I’m hoping this is the beginning of an exciting new phase. I know I’m never going to get to go to an EPF or IPF  championship as a lifter, but I do want to go to one someday – why not as a referee or a coach? In October I will have been a divisional referee for 2 years, so I can apply to become a national referee & from there an international referee. And with my own coach being world-standard (he was an official coach at the IPF World Benchpress earlier in 2016) then I can learn from him and hopefully become great myself.

But, first things first! Without getting ahead of myself, I plan to co-run more of the women-only sessions that BGWLC very successfully ran earlier in the year. We also plan to hold beginners’ sessions for under-18s and more sessions for over-50s. I might even get paid for doing them 😉

As for my own training: it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped recently as I injured my hip while running, so I haven’t been able to squat at full power for a few weeks. But my bench is going great guns – I benched 52.5kg for 5×5 last week, which is huge considering my 1RM is only 57.5kg. And the osteopaths at the British School of Osteopathy are sorting my hip out with some massage & stretches and TLC.

I’m still aiming to compete in November at the next Greater London divisional, although I don’t need to as I’ve already qualified for next year’s British Masters. I’ll see how my hip feels in a month and then make my final decision.

Long time, lots of updates!

It’s been a shockingly long time since I updated here! And so much has happened. I believe last time I posted, I was still doing my remedial squats; since then I have competed again but not added any kilos to my squats sadly.

I did a competition last month in which I was hoping to get a 290kg total. Unfortunately my squats & deadlift didn’t go to plan (I wanted 105kg and 130kg respectively) but I did get a new bench personal best & total personal best. I finished with 102.5kg squat, 57.5kg bench & 125kg deadlift for 285kg total at 71.6kg bodyweight.

I’m not going to any national competitions this year, but I will be doing a divisional competition in November. Then in January I’m 40 (eek!) which means I’ll be eligible to compete at the British Masters in March! It’s in Belfast next year, so a road trip (or plane trip) is in order with my other masters pals!

In other news, I wrote a blog post for So She Lifts about creating a female-friendly gym environment. I was inspired to write this after volunteering at 3 women-only sessions at my gym, designed to introduce women to powerlifting without any pressure. I think the gym will be doing more of these sessions, maybe once every two months – it all depends on whether we can get people to volunteer to coach.

I also changed jobs! I got utterly fed up with my old job and am now working at a tiny startup. I was a bit nervous about moving away from corporate life & back into startups as I was worried my work-life balance would suffer. But my new employers are very cool and relaxed about working hours, so I haven’t missed a gym session yet.

Because I’ve moved offices I had to leave Urban Kings (the MMA gym I was a member of) and have joined a cheap Fitness4Less gym near my new work. I’ve done a few bodypump-style classes there, as have discovered that I don’t actually mind running on the treadmill so much (shock horror!). So far I’ve worked up to trotting at 6.7km/h for 30 minutes non-stop! Amazing! I’ve literally never run for that long in my LIFE! Seems aged nearly-40 my cardio fitness is better than ever :bicep_emoji:

What I’ve learned from doing remedial squats

I’m still doing remedial squats. Squat 101. How to squat – the basics. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t enjoyed this process; last night in the gym I felt pretty demoralised when I compared myself (still squatting 60kg on the box after nearly 2 months) to everyone else (happily squatting away bigger weights, box-free). I know you’re not meant to compare yourself to others, but that’s not always easy when you’re in a competitive environment!

To recap, my coach is having me re-learn squatting to try to correct my poor form. He thinks (and I know) that I won’t squat more than my current best of 102.5kg with the form I’ve had previously. If I’m going to qualify for the senior British Classic again, I need to squat substantially more – preferably 110kg+. So back in March he said I would be squatting light weight, on a box, until I have completely nailed good squat form.

So here’s what I’ve learned from having to re-learn how to squat.

Unlearning my old squat technique has been hard

Seven years of lifting mean I have pretty strong muscle memory for how I used to squat. I’m now using a wider stance and concentrating on breaking at the knees & sitting back. Before, I used to tuck my bottom under as I squatted, and exaggeratedly sticking my butt out feels so odd – it also makes my lower back feel quite vulnerable. But that should strengthen with time.

I’m a bit worried about how well my new stance will translate once the box is taken away. At the moment, I’m placing my feet in relation to the box – once that visual cue is gone, will I remember where to put them? And of course, will I remember what being at depth feels like!? I’m currently not performing a full box squat – I’m more grazing the box with my bottom to establish what the correct depth is. Hopefully my body will remember where that is (eventually).

I hurt in a whole new set of muscles

Not surprisingly, the fact that I’m now trying to squat more with my legs and less with my back means my legs hurt more. Especially my inner thighs. My inner things used to hurt anyway, but now it’s like oh this HUUURTS.

Where I fasten my belt has made a big difference

This is an odd one. I am very short-waisted (and short) so my standard-size Titan Longhorn belt takes up most of the space between my hips and the underside of my boobs. I used to push my belt down onto the top of my hips, as I felt it provided the most lower-back support. But once I started squatting on the low box (which is really low), I found the belt cut into me at the bottom of the squat in a way which was intolerable. So I pulled the belt up to just under my boobs (it’s almost like an underbust corset!) and have found that I can squat much more comfortably and hit depth.

I have a question mark over whether this means my belt will provide much meaningful support to my lower back when I’m squatting heavy weights (so far I’ve only squatted 60kg), but I suppose I’ll have to try it & find out.

I still wear my belt pushed down onto my hips for deadlift.

It’s embarrassing, and a bit demoralising. Or should that be “humbling”?

I think the done thing is to say this experience has been humbling, but I’ve also found it really embarrassing. I’ve had people say at the gym things like “Are you still on the box?” which I know isn’t meant to embarrass me, but it kinda does. And my pride takes a dent whenever someone new comes to the gym and sees me struggling to squat 60kg for five reps, when I could squat 80kg for fives with my old technique.

Oh, did I mention? Using my new squat technique, 60kg feels like 80kg. It feels so heavy. So not only am I squatting lighter weights to work on my form, I’m also squatting those lighter weights because I just can’t squat as much as I used to. Waaaaaah!

It will be worth it in the long run, I hope

While I may not be able to squat as much as I did with my old technique, my coach assures me I will be squatting 120kg with perfect form once this process is over. Honestly, I’ll be happy with 110kg. Or 107.5kg. Or just anything over 102.5kg! Powerlifting is a marathon, not a sprint, after all.

Remedial squats

I’m in my third week of remedial squats, aka. Squats 101. My coach has been talking about getting me to do this for a while, and now that my next 3-lift competition is a long-way off (July) we have time to devote to it. I won’t deny, I’m finding it hard and a bit embarrassing!

For the last 3 weeks I have been squatting a huge (not) 40kg on a low (below-parallel) box, with as perfect form as I can manage, for sets of 6. The first couple of sessions I did this, the DOMS I had were immense. Honestly I never thought I’d feel so sore from such light squats. But I can definitely feel different muscles working – I’m doing my damndest not to tip forward, and to use my legs (not my back) to drive myself upwards. Last night I did my 5th session like this and all but the last 1-2 squats in each set were perfect. Whether or not I can stay so perfect when I’m squatting off the box with more weight remains to be seen.

My programme for the next few weeks at least is going to be –

Day 1: low box squats; bench (I am currently doing 5 sets of 7 with 45kg, which is exciting – I really hope to get 57.5kg+ soon); deadlifts

Day 2: half squats (high box squats above parallel); narrow bench

Day 3: as day 1

Going back to Squat 101 has been a bit depressing, if I’m honest. This time last year I was squatting sets of 8 with 70kg, and now I’m doing 40?! I think if I was a newer lifter, or younger, I would probably have refused to do it. But I have to trust my coach, that he knows best for me. Even if I’m a bit embarrassed when new people come into the gym, see everyone else squatting loads and me doing baby squats. The fact that I’m currently benching 5kg more than my squat, for reps & reps, is also a bit of a mindfuck!

But, fingers crossed it all works and I can finally squat more than 102.5kg (with better form – or not!)

I might be doing my first single-lift competition in May – bench press only. Should be a bit of a fun distraction and not as stress-inducing as a full power competition.

Greater London divisional, 27/2/2016

It’s a pretty disgracefully long time since this competition, and I should have written it up ages ago! As usual life has run away with me. I had actually forgotten all about my “Competition Fatigue” post until I logged in to post this entry, and I think that competition fatigue definitely did a number on me. I didn’t do very well at this competition, and a lot of that is probably down to negative mental attitude.

I had been hoping for a 285kg total, to get me a qualification for the All England this year (so I could do at least ONE national competition in 2016, since I may not get a qualification for the British). But I came away with 277.5kg, worse than my last two competitions. Oops.

Squats were the worst. I just can’t seem to hit depth any more. I opened on 92.5kg and got red-lighted for depth. I had intended to go for 102.5kg as my second, but because of my opening failure (which always puts a crimp on your day) I took a relatively safe 95kg for my second, which I got. I then went for 102.5kg as my third, and again got red-lighted for depth.

At this point I decided I hated powerlifting, which I do (some of the time). But I soldiered on. I was hoping for a new bench pb of 57.5kg but as per usual I couldn’t get it off my chest, so 55kg it was.

Deadlift was better, though. I went 115kg / 122.5kg / 127.5kg for a new pb and I got all three! The 127.5kg felt really good and I think I have a chance of getting 130kg in July. The lift was caught on video and I’m a bit worried I might be heading back into hitching territory, so I need to watch out for that. But it was definitely good to get *a* personal best!

I have only been back to the gym once since the competition as I felt I needed a whole week off. I’ve sort of lost my motivation for lifting again (which happens every now & again) but I know it’s going to come back… eventually. Next competition is in July and I will try to aim for that 300kg total.