Monthly Archives: January 2014

Training log, 23-01-14

Just a training log today. Last night was arms/chest day (night?) at the gym.

Bench press: 35kg, 2 sets of 7; 40kg, 2 sets of 5; 45kg, 2 triples; 35kg, one set of 10.

I’ve decided that if I’m going to move on with my bench (which has been either plateaued or progressing too slowly for my liking), I have to start taking more risks. Last night there were no weights on the board, just reps & sets, so we could choose our own weights. When I saw 2 x 3 up there, my thought was “OK, I’ll do 2 triples at 42.5kg, because I know I can do that. 45kg will be too hard”. Well screw that Laura, stop saying “too hard”. So I did 45kg and guess what? It was fine! In fact, the first two reps in each set were almost easy, only the last one was a struggle. Booya! Considering my 1RM is a measly 50kg (paused), I am really pleased with that.

5 sets of 6 “bench press pullups”.

No, I had no idea what bench press pullups are either. Turns out they’re often called rack chins or inverted rows, and look like this:

invertedrow2 (Image from workoutlab.net)

I didn’t get my chest to the bar for any of the reps, despite giving it a damn good try. These were exhausting. Good fun though!

Dips: 3 sets of 10. Last week I attempted dips between two bars and managed to hurt my right wrist (along with having a really pathetic range of motion), so this week I just did tricep dips on a bench with my feet on a box.

Tricep pushdowns (15kg): 1 set of 10, then 2 sets of 30. Ouch.

Barbell curls: 15kg, 3 sets of 10

Side bends: 17.5kg dumbbell, 3 sets of 10

Landmines: 2 sets of 10, just with a 20kg bar.

Today I’m going to conditioning, then I’m off on holiday tomorrow! No workouts for at least a week + pancakes for breakfast every day! Good thing I’m not competing anytime soon…

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Programming, and a training log

One thing you’re not going to find on my blog (for now, anyhow) is talk about different lifting programs; you know – 5/3/1 vs Smolov vs Cube etc. I read a lot of lifting blogs that debate the merits of different programs, I find them interesting and wonder if I should be trying out other programs but… I don’t use them. In fact when people ask me what kind of training regime I have, all I can say is… whatever my coach puts on the board that week.

I have in the past considered trying out a program of my own, but it seems almost churlish to train in a gym with a coach and not follow that coach’s program, right? I think I did about 2 weeks of 5/3/1 with Big But Boring (BBB) before I swapped back to my coach’s program because I was jealous of the cool stuff everyone else was doing! I do actually think that my bench might benefit from a round of Smolov Jr, but again, I’m not sure how to fit that in with my other training sessions there. And I also think it’d be a bit rude!

That said, I can see elements of established powerlifting regimes in our training. When I first started, 5/3/1 was the thing. At the moment we’re using a lot of percentages, Ed Coan style, and our accessory work has flavours of EliteFTS in it. Overall, I don’t question – I just get on with it, as I trust our coach to know what he’s doing (after all, we have British champions training at BGWLC)

Anyhow, last night I had paused squats again. This was my 3rd week of paused squats; in week 1 I did 5 x 5 @ 55kg; in week 2, 5 x 5 @ 62.5kg; week 3 was 5 sets of 3 @ 70kg. I was supposed to be doing 80% or 74kg, but I didn’t feel quite up to that. In the end, the 70kg was OK – hard going but not utterly impossible. I enjoy paused squats because they really make me think about controlling the descent & keeping my shape at the bottom. I think a few reps went over into the dreaded “squat morning”, but overall they were good.

After that, 6 single rack pulls at 80-90% + chains. I chose 100kg (86%) + a pair of 13kg chains, with the rack at just below knee height. These were supposed to be for speed but… yeah, no speed. They felt heavy and slow,and I almost gave up after 5.

Accessory work was machine rows, wide-grip pullups (I still need the heaviest band for these – sigh), glute + ham raises, reverse hyperextensions, upright rows and standing cable crunches. Today my lower back feels destroyed!

Recipe – Jambalaya

My boyfriend, Matt, is a great cook and Jambalaya is the first thing he cooked for me. In the 2.5 years we’ve been together he’s made it for me loads of times; and now we live together it’s become a regular comfort-food staple.

This recipe is, as far as I can tell, gluten-free (using a gf chorizo). I guess it could also be made primal with a low-nitrite chorizo; the rice could also be substituted for quinoa if rice is not your thing.

[NB. I’m pretty rubbish at knowing if things are paleo/primal!]

Jambalaya

Serves 2

Chicken (about 1 breast or 2-3 thighs per person) cut into chunks.
1 Chorizo (cheaper/fattier is better, more expensive ones don’t have enough fat in
them) cut into slices.
1 courgette, sliced
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
Handful of fresh or pickled jalapeños, sliced (to taste!)
Chipotle Crush seasoning (from Chilli Pepper Pete) or a similar chipotle seasoning
1 jar of decent Passata.
1 mug of rice (Basmati works well)

Heat up a big frying pan and throw in the Chorizo chunks. These should start to render down and you’ll get a nice orange oil in the pan – keep the chunks moving or they’ll burn. Then add the chicken and lightly seal it in the orange oil.

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When it’s all sealed, throw in the rest of the veggies to soak up the last of the oil. Give it a couple of minutes and then turn the heat down and pour in the passata. You might want to add a tiny amount of water too (to rinse the last of the passata from the jar). Then add some of the Chipotle Crush seasoning to taste (a teaspoon full should be plenty for most people).

Let that simmer down gently for a few minutes, then add the rice. Let it sit on the surface rather than mixing it in straight away. Allow it soak up as much of the liquid as it can, before finally mixing it all together after around 10 minutes. Then, it’s a matter of simmering the jambalaya on a low heat, testing the rice every so often and checking that it doesn’t all sink to the bottom and burn onto the pan.

You may need to add another bit of water to the pan if the rice isn’t cooked but the liquid in the pan had been absorbed totally, as you don’t want it to dry out.

Cooking should take 45 minutes – 1 hour, from start to finish. The longer it takes, the more flavour the rice & chicken will absorb.

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Serves 2 hungry people (with scope for leftovers!)

How & why I started powerlifting

Disclaimer 1: this ended up being a little jumbled, as I can’t get my thoughts 100% clear on it. Please feel free to ask me to clarify anything in comments!

Jennifer from Wine to Weightlifting requested a post from me about how I got into powerlifting. I can go one better and write about the hows and some of the whys!

It’s coming up for five years since I started at BGWLC, so things are a tad hazy now. However, I was regularly documenting everything in my LiveJournal back then, and looking back I can see I did my first session on April 22nd 2009, where I did 20kg box squats, 20kg bench & 40kg deadlift. But how did I get there?

At that point I had been seeing a personal trainer at my work gym for a couple of months. I was 32 and started seeing her because I was feeling very unfit, I’d never exercised before, didn’t know how to exercise and (dare I say it) I thought I was fat. I initially told her I wanted to lose 2 stone (28lbs).

I started doing pretty regular training stuff with the PT – jogging (outside & on the treadmill), weights machines, other cardio bits & bobs etc. It was OK. I signed up for a 5k, all the usual beginner cliches. But I didn’t really love it – especially not jogging (I was never able to “run” – my fastest-ever 5k time was 41 minutes, and that was me moving as fast as I possibly could without dying).

I did a little bit of free-weight work but not much, as we were limited by the equipment in my work gym. I decided, somehow, that I really fancied learning how to lift weights properly. I don’t recall where this idea really came from, but it had been there for a while. And I wanted to be taught, formally – not to just sign up at a better-equipped gym & try to figure it out myself. So I had a bit of a Google and came up with Tower Hamlets Adult Education’s Weight & Power Lifting classes.

And now for an interjection. I did NOT want to start weightlifting because of all those “get sexy, lean and strong” images out there. In fact, I didn’t even know that rhetoric & those images existed when I started lifting – and if I did know, I don’t think I would have started lifting. Honestly.

Let me back up a bit. I have always been a bit…weird regarding gender. Sure, I’m a woman & all that, but in my 20s I went through a period of really really hating being a woman and would have given anything to be something else. I think if I had been exposed to Twitter, easily-consumed feminism and the fact that gender essentialism is bullshit in my 20s, I would have been a much happier person. But I wasn’t, and as a result I loathed anything “stereotypically female” for a long time.

So when I decided I wanted to lift weights, I wanted to lift weights because I wanted to be more like men. I wanted to lift weights to be more aggressive, more intimidating, bigger, scarier. If I had seen articles about how weightlifting can make women more sexy, attractive to men, whatever, I would have rejected it off the bat. I didn’t want to be more like a woman – being a woman was, for me, less than desirable. My inspiration was people like the WSM competitors – big, strong, and yes – pretty scary-seeming; not the lean, sexy, passive, submissively-posed lady fitspo image that’s so prevalent now. My idols have pretty much always been male.

So when I see people saying they don’t want to lift because they’re scared of being “manly”, it doesn’t resonate with me. I started lifting because I wanted to move away from being perceived as feminine. I already worked in all-male environments, so this was just another step in that direction, right? I wanted strength, I wanted bulk, I wanted to be intimidating – all traits that my mind associated with being manly.

Luckily, it’s a few years later and I’ve wised up to the fact that being a woman doesn’t mean you have to be feminine (stereotypically or otherwise), passive, sexy, attractive, etc etc. I can be bulky, aggressive, intimidating, whatever, and it doesn’t stop me being a woman (in my eyes anyhow). Down with stereotypical gender bullshit! Thank god for Twitter & feminism 🙂

So back to April 2009. While I started working out with my PT with the goal of losing 2 stone, that fell by the wayside pretty quickly. I think I realised after a few months of working my ass off with the PT that losing weight wasn’t going to happen – and maybe I didn’t want it to anyway. I signed up to BGWLC thinking I was signing up for (what I later learned was) Olympic weightlifting, but turned out both Giles (the WL coach) and Martin (the PL coach) were there on the day I signed up. Martin took one look at me – short, round – and decided I should try powerlifting, which I’d never heard of. The rest,as they say, is history!

So if you ever wonder why I’m uninterested in talking about lifting weights making you leaner/sexier; why I don’t chime in with saying “lifting won’t make you bulky/manly!” etc, maybe this helps explain why. Powerlifting has not only made me stronger & more confident, but it’s also made me more comfortable in my skin because it has not made me sexier/leaner/more attractive, and that doesn’t matter! I embrace the bulk, and big muscles aren’t necessarily “manly” (but what’s wrong with being manly anyhow?). For me, powerlifting has brought fitness without the aesthetic obligation.

Disclaimer 2: If people want to use lifting to make themselves more attractive, that’s cool – there are zillions of articles telling you how lifting can do that! Just not here 😉

New year

It was my birthday 2 days ago, which means that I start my “new me” January a bit later than most. Who wants to be avoiding cake & booze on one’s birthday, after all? I was 37, which I know is not very old, but I do feel a bit freaked out about it. Maybe it’s not so much my age but the feeling that time is going very fast indeed! Still, in 3 years’ time I will be in the Masters age group for competitions!

Last night was the first day of term at Bethnal Green, and we had 7 new lifters in total – including 3 ladies! I stayed behind after I’d finished my workout to help train 2 of the ladies, which was fantastic. I think I’ll be doing that regularly on Mondays from now on, even though it means not getting home until nearly 10pm.

For my own workout, I had more 2 second paused squats (5 reps @ 60kg, then 4 sets of 5 reps @ 62.5kg); more speed pulls off a block (8 singles @ 72.5kg + chains) and more pullups. I actually looked forward to the pullups this time! I still need to use the heaviest assistance band to do them, but hopefully I can swap to a medium band soon.

I am not planning to compete until June, but I’ve started thinking about getting my weight down before then (since it is the single most stressful pre-competition thing I have to deal with). After Christmas I was 74kg, which is only 2kg over comp weight. I’d like to gradually squeeze off those 2kg and keep them gone for a while, so I’m not dealing with crash-diet horror at a more critical time.

That said, I’m off to Florida for a holiday at the end of the month, and I always seem to put on weight in the USA!

In other news, I have submitted a talk to a conference about powerlifting. I am both really excited about the prospect of doing it (assuming it’s accepted) and utterly terrified that I will have to do it (assuming it’s accepted). I have only ever talked in front of small groups of 10-20 people, not a whole conference with a lectern & stuff. Yikes.

Training 2nd-6th January

I haven’t done a training log here for a while. I took 2 weeks off completely over Christmas & New Year, partially due to commitments and partially because I just needed a break to get my head straight. I’ve trained 4 times so far in 2014 – 3 lifting sessions and one conditioning – and while I was pretty feeble for the first couple, I seem to be getting my groove back.

On the 2nd January I did some light squats & benching; although the squats (5 sets of 3 @ 50kg) didn’t feel light!! I seem to have retained more strength in my arms, though, and benching 3 sets of 5 reps @ 35kg felt just fine.

On 3rd January I went to conditioning at Urban Kings, which was awful. My endurance is very poor at the best of times, and was just worse after my break. I came very close to being sick while flipping the bodybag. I think I might need to go to a kettlebell class, at least once, as we use kettlebells in conditioning all the time and I just don’t know how to do a kettlebell C&P properly (I end up bruising my forearms & hurting my wrists).

On 4th January I went back to BGWLC & did some light deadlifts (although once again they didn’t feel light!) – 5 doubles @ 80kg; and some heavier bench – 5 triples @ 40kg. Both sessions at BGWLC were just “play” sessions, with no programming.

Last night was the first session back on the program. Everyone is training to compete at Woking Power in March, for the GBPF South-East Open. I’m not going to compete but I’ll follow the program anyway. I’m not sure what our coach has used for the basis of the program – recently we’ve been training using Westside principles, but I think this program might be a bit more EliteFTS. Who knows, though – I don’t spend any time studying different training regimes, I just do what’s written on the gym whiteboard!!

So last night I had 5 x 5 paused squats (2 sec pause) @ 60% or 55kg. I thought these would be awful as the 50kg regular squats I did on Thursday were hard; but they were OK – the first 2 reps of each set was fine, the following 3 kinda hard. I’m enjoying paused squats as they really make you think about keeping your core tight & your form good at the bottom.

Then deficit deadlifts, 8 explosive singles @ 60% or 70kg. Apparently I’m not explosive enough 😦 Something to work on.

Then chin-ups. Hahaha. Yeah, I’ve never done a single chin- or pull-up and I never train them, never. I tried to swap these for hangs (since I’ve only recently been able to hang for 10s – yes my grip is that poor) but no dice. I ended up doing 3 sets of 5 wide-grip pullups with both the heaviest resistance band and someone assisting me. Rubbish!

Then dumbbell shrugs: 2 sets of 10 with 15kg dumbbells, followed by 1 set of 20. I know my traps could handle more weight, but my hands can’t.

All in all, a really good workout and today I feel appropriately sore. I was worried I’d feel feeble for ages after my break, but I think I did pretty well last night.

The benefits of powerlifting (according to me)

Last week I was feeling a bit uninspired for things to write about on my blog, and @davegw on Twitter suggested I write about the benefits of powerlifting. I was a bit skeptical at first because I don’t lift for weight/fat loss or to “look great naked” (I look great naked anyway, thanks – just not your stereotypical white Western ideal of “great”!) – and besides, there are 10000+ articles out there already on the benefits. But he urged me to reconsider, because a post on my benefits of powerlifting might make an interesting alternative. So, here are the things I perceive as benefits:

The social aspect

I think many peoples’ idea of a gym is a place where people stick their headphones in, get on the treadmill & zone out. Neither of the gyms I go to – BGWLC & Urban Kings – are like that.

At BGWLC, we train as a squad (even the newbies), we talk to each other and I’ve made some really great friends. I’ve not been training at Urban Kings as long, but I get the impression that the atmosphere there is the same – people go to the same classes week after week and socialise together outside the gym.

Making friends can be hard, especially as an adult in London, so this is a huge benefit for me.

I read a lot of Crossfit articles which seem to suggest this social/tribe mentality only exists at Crossfit boxes, and it doesn’t – you just need to find the right gym. Commercial big-box gyms usually aren’t it. If you feel lonely at your Fitness First or LA Fitness, try another gym & see if it has a better social scene!

Routine

I am a creature of habit & I like to know where I will be & when. So powerlifting with a coach & partner(s) suits me well, as I have to stick to the timetable otherwise I let them down. This might not appeal to everyone, but it does to me!

Being strong is just cool

Just that, really. I like being able to pick up heavy stuff, and I look forward to being able to pick up more heavy stuff. Uninitiated people hear you can deadlift Xkg and go “oooooh”. It’s nice.

Getting bigger

I know, 99.9% of articles about women lifting weights say “You won’t get bulky!” but I started bulky and I’ve STAYED bulky. I like being big(ger). All my powerlifting idols are men (as are pretty much all my life idols) and while I know I won’t ever get as impressive as them, I like taking part is a sport where size isn’t frowned upon. OK, so it is kinda frowned upon for ladies, but fuck that gender bullshit! MOAR BULKY LADIES PLS!

My favourite big bits (gym-honed, not food-honed) are my traps and my arms. My arms are large but lacking definition, though, and I’d maybe like a little but more. But my big traps are the bomb. And as for my behind…

Butts

… I know, I’m being a bit hypocritical here. But hear me out. I have always had a very large bottom – what can I say, I’m a big girl. And yes, squatting does give you a larger, more shapely butt (mine has stayed large but gone from kinda flat to perfectly rounded).

But what all those millions of articles telling you (women) to squat for your butt’s sake DON’T tell you is… squats give men big butts too. No, really. I guess it’s just not talked about because patriarchy. So if you like men with big butts and cannot lie, or are a man who likes the idea of a big butt, powerlifting is for you. If you don’t, just wear a longer t-shirt.

Confidence

I have never really lacked in confidence, but powerlifting has definitely given me more. I mean, if you can stand in front of a hundred people wearing The Outfit(TM) and pull those awesome lifting faces, how can you not be confident?!

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Sexy.

If it wasn’t for the confidence powerlifting gave me, I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to do a talk at Ladies Who Code, or walk into the (all male) grappling class at Urban Kings & take part without even a second thought. Getting up close & personal with big, sweaty men? No biggie. I’m a freakin’ powerlifter, man!

So tell me: what are your benefits of the sport you do? Or what do you hope to achieve through doing it?