Not so much post-powerlifting

Well, my intention to do less powerlifting and more other stuff hasn’t really gone to plan! I blame it entirely on moving jobs, travelling on business, and working in a temporary office while my new company waits to move into their permanent offices in August.

My new job is fine now, but the first 3 weeks were intense. I had one very busy week in London, then two intense weeks in Estonia (where I only had 1 day off). I did manage to find a gym in Tallinn to work out in, but as I hadn’t taken my knee sleeves or belt with me, I stuck to very light lifts.

Once back in London, things have calmed down a bit. I’m intending to join a new “secondary” gym near my work, but I’ve held off doing that until we move to our permanent office. So in the meantime I’ve been going to my powerlifting gym as usual, and I’ve supplemented that with a session at KOBOX City.

KOBOX is basically boxing fitness, but super-luxe (and super-expensive!). You training in a nightclubby, darkened room on water-filled punch bags, with pumping music. I went last Friday lunchtime and as you can see from my face, it was quite the workout. I loved it! I’m going back this Friday and will attempt to go once a week while I’m still in this office.

But as of August 1st I’ll be about 15 minutes further away, so KOBOX won’t be all that practical. It’s pay-as-you-go so I haven’t subscribed and won’t lose out – I might try to go now & again though. Instead I’m planning on joining a Pure Gym near my new office for spinning/yoga/cardio.

I’m still going to Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club 3 times a week but at the moment I’m not working to a program. I had intended to write myself a hypertrophy program but what with travel & long hours at my new job I haven’t been able to dedicate myself to anything.

Instead I’ve been working off the old Stronglifts 5×5 template, for bench press at least. I’ve worked up to 5×5 @ 52.5kg which I was really pleased with; at the weekend I intend to test my bench press and see if I can hit that magic 60kg.

On squat I’ve been working beltless to try to improve my form and depth. It’s not gone great, to be honest. I can hit depth with low weights, but once I hit 70% (70kg) I lean forward so far that hitting depth becomes really hard. I’m hoping more mobility, and/or a stronger upper back & abs might help me here.

Still I did 5×5 squats with 70kg beltless last week, which I’m really pleased with. I’ve been over-reliant on my belt for too long.

So, I’m just ticking over really. I won’t be competing until December, and I find it really hard to be motivated to train if I have no competition coming up. As for doing other things… I also don’t feel motivated there unless I have something to aim for. And I don’t mean aiming for a certain time or distance for myself – those seem like too-small goals when I’m used to powerlifting competitions! I’ve caught myself Googling white collar boxing, thinking that if I carry on the box fit stuff, wouldn’t it be good to actually, you know, fight?!

Ah we’ll see, eh. For now, I ought to be concentrating on my new job and settling in there! Other sporting things will come along in time, I’m sure.

2017 All England

I competed at the 2017 English Powerlifting Association All-England championships on Monday, as planned (I almost pulled out but I decided not to in the end). I haven’t done this competition since 2011, when I was one of only 3 women taking part (so I took home the bronze); this year there were so many women in the competition that they had their own day.

I weighed in at a super-light 69.45kg which is mostly down to generous scales (I think in reality I was about 1kg heavier). I arrived at the venue at 10.30 but didn’t start lifting until 4.10pm, so there was a lot of waiting around, gradually getting more & more wired as I drank more & more caffeine.

I was in a group of 4 M1 72kg lifters, and while originally I had told my coach that I simply could not come last, by the time the day rolled around I was less bothered about placing and more concerned with going 9/9 and getting my British Masters QT.

72kg M1 ladies

On squats, I opened with 92.5kg, which felt fairly easy but was red-lighted for depth. So that was the end of my 9/9 aim right away (doh). I’ve had issues with my squat depth since forever so I was pretty cross with myself for essentially throwing it all away on my first lift. But my coach decided to put my next attempt up to 95kg anyway, betting that I wouldn’t be so careless next time.

But guess what! I failed the second on depth as well. What the frick. By this point I was starting to panic, as I’d made a real effort to go low on my second squat but it still wasn’t enough. I am going to stick my neck out and say that the referees were being really strict, as I wasn’t the only person to get red lighted for most of their squats (three other ladies bombed out completely on their squats). But it’s a national competition – of course they’re going to be strict.

For my third, we stuck at 95kg and I made a super mega effort to just sit on the damn floor, and finally 3 white lights. Oh my god the relief. I had half intended to walk out of the competition and go home if I’d bombed out, but I managed to retain something of a sense of humour while I was waiting to do my third. After all, I have bombed out before (on deadlifts in 2013) so I knew how it feels to bomb (terrible but not the end of the world). Also I have to keep reminding myself that this is a hobby, not life or death!

On to bench, and I was still determined to get all the rest of my lifts. For bench I went 52.5/55/57.5kg for a safe set of lifts (only one red light!). I was back to feeling invincible!

On deadlifts I was first to go up in each round, as all the other ladies in my class had superior deadlifts. I opened on 115kg, which was easy peasy (I know I can double or triple this on a good day). 120kg was next, again all white lights. Then I put in 125kg for my final lift.

However, my coach & I realised that if I could pull 130kg, and the lady following me failed her final 135kg attempt, I would take the bronze. So we did some strategy and changed my final attempt (which you’re allowed to do twice). I stepped onto the platform with 130kg, knowing I had never pulled that much before, feeling like 125kg was probably my limit but wanting to give it my best shot. And I did it! I swear it was the HARDEST deadlift I have ever pulled in my lift, and the video is hilarious (I develop about 5 chins during the pull and look like my jaw is about to dislocate). But I got it!

130kg deadlift

So many chins

However, sadly (for me) my rival got her 135kg deadlift so I came last. She & I both totalled the same (282.5kg) but she was lighter than me (65kg) so she pipped me to the post.

Still I am glad I competed, I had a lot of fun (despite the hairy moments!) and I got my QT so I can go to the British Masters in December, should I want to do it. I have 6 moths between now & then to do some different training (running! hypertrophy!) and see if I can fall back in love with powerlifting.

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.