Monthly Archives: January 2015

Powerlifting & endometriosis

I have been meaning to write something about my experience of powerlifting while having endometriosis for a while now. When I first started lifting “seriously” (i.e competing & stuff) I Googled endlessly for posts by other sufferers who lift, and didn’t really find much. I wasn’t so much after “cures”, but experiences, you know? To know I wasn’t alone.

So while I’m not a great writer and I’m pretty crap at writing nice tied-up blog posts which make sense, I will have a go at writing something here; in case someone else Googles & can’t find anything.

I don’t really have any answers, though – and obviously I am not a doctor. But this is how I have coped/cope with being a powerlifter with a chronic condition.

[It goes without saying that this post discusses menstruation, so if you find that kind of thing gross, move right along!]

I first started getting endometriosis-like symptoms (dysmenorrhea) when I was about 12.5, and finally diagnosed a few months before my fifteenth birthday. Usually women wait years & years for a diagnosis, because endometriosis is a difficult one to diagnose (and also probably because of patriarchal bullshit in the medical system) but I got “lucky” – as it were – because everyone in my family with a uterus also has endometriosis.

I was put on the pill at 14, which helped to the extent that I could go to school normally (more or less), but at 23 I took myself off it because I felt the hormones didn’t agree with me mentally. I’d tried I think 5-6 formulations in that time, so it wasn’t that I hadn’t persisted. Sadly I know now that my depression & anxiety probably weren’t due to the pill, I’m just wired that way – but I wasn’t to know at the time.

Instead I went on to a regime of antifibrinolytics (tranexamic acid) and NSAIDs (mefenamic acid) which helped initially. It was a lot of pills to take – the mefenamic acild had to be started before my period began, which I couldn’t always predict; I took one pill four times a day and the other three times, which made for a lot of confusion; and if I missed a single dose of either medicine I could potentially end up unable to speak for the pain.

I was on this regime when I started lifting, although the signs were there that it was starting to fail. I suffered from a lot of flooding; plus the other symptoms endometriosis can give you (nausea, bleeding during ovulation, fatigue etc) were worsening. I started lifting when I was 32, and by the time I was 34ish I was pretty much bleeding all month round.

Because I hadn’t started exercising before I was diagnosed with endometriosis, or before I started with my drug regime, I had no idea what lifting without either would be like. There’s no denying that for the first couple of years I was lifting, my progress was slow. I very, very rarely skipped gym sessions because I was unwell, but I do remember being at the gym and feeling so, so tired, in pain, and most importantly violently nauseated (reverse hyperextensions in particular made me feel terribly sick).

Most annoyingly, for me, was that when I started competing it always seemed like competitions would be scheduled when I was having my period. Although to be fair, by this point I was more-or-less having my period all month round *shrug*. But honestly, there are few things worse than having to pop loads of pills in order to compete, then worry about the horrors of flooding when you’re wearing a singlet in front of a hundred people.

When I was 34 I’d finally had enough of the bleeding and the flooding. I asked for a referral back to a gynaecologist to see what the heck was going on. Because of the nature of endometriosis, you can only really “see” what’s happening via laparoscopies (and to a certain extend ultrasounds); I’d had laparoscopies at 15, 24 & 27 at this point, so I wasn’t too phased by the idea of another. I went on to the waiting list to have my fourth laparoscopy; luckily I only had to wait about 3 months.

In the meantime, I was still lifting, and competing; and on the 10th November 2012 I finally – FINALLY – made a 245kg total which qualified me for the 2013 GBPF British. Then at the end of the month I had my laparoscopy, where they excised a bunch of fibroids (which had been causing the almost non-stop bleeding) and gave me – hallelujah! – an endometrial ablation.

In a lot of ways I regret not fighting for the ablation sooner, as it’s made an almost 180° difference to my life. But they’re not usually given to treat endometriosis, and rarely on women without children; so I can sort-of understand why it wasn’t offered to me on a plate. I’m really glad I pushed to get it, though. I had to take a couple of months off lifting to recover, but since then I’ve barely touched painkillers and have ditched the antifibrinolytics entirely. I still get endometriosis symptoms, but no more periods. And I think my lifting has definitely been given a boost: at the 2013 British I only totalled 250kg (10 months after my operation, including the 2 months I had off) but since then my confidence has increased and I’m regularly squatting weights that 34-year-old me would have thought at the limits of my ability.

Is it all down to not having to take the drugs any more, and not feeling so exhausted & nauseated? I don’t think so – obviously a lot of it is down to length of time I’ve been training, nailing technique, no longer being afraid to fail squats etc. But having my symptoms under more control has to be helping.

As I said back at the start of this post, I’m not claiming to know how to cure endometriosis – I just wanted to tell my story, and to say that yes it is possible to lift to a decent level (British standard!) while chronically ill.

I realise there are a whole host of treatments for endometriosis out there which are not medical/surgical in nature. In fact before I had my ablation, I had people on lifting forums telling me to “just” give up sugar or gluten, and I’d feel 100% better. If those things work for those people, then great – but personally getting an ablation, having surgical treatment was right for me. I could have given up sugar or gluten and gone a few months more, before finding out it worked or hadn’t; however for me, having day surgery, 3 days off work and a couple of months of taking it easy was the better option.

[As an aside to my previous post… as usual I feel I didn’t manage to point out that I am still very body positive, but that lifting hasn’t really contributed to my body positivity. I just draw my positivity from awesome plus-size, HAES and fat acceptance bloggers like Ragen Chastain, Gabi Gregg, Bethany Rutter, Hanne Blank etc. I don’t even read lifting blogs very much.]

[As an aside part II, I’m so gutted that these swimsuits by Gabi don’t come in my size. I’d need a 12E/F and the E/F cups start from an 18 :`-( :`-( ]

Well my training has all gone completely Pete Tong*. Yesterday I was meant to be lifting, but a terrible night’s sleep on Wednesday night + awful, awful sinus agony meant I didn’t go. And today I was aiming to go to conditioning but… I got all the way to the station (1 mile from my house) before I realised I forgot to pick up my gym kit.

Although, to be fair, I still have sinus pain today (not anywhere near as bad as yesterday though) so 50 minutes of hard cardio probably wasn’t a sensible idea. I’m going on holiday next Wednesday, and I need to be well.

I feel disappointed in myself as I was hoping to get a bit back in shape before my holiday, because 8 days of holiday food** + no gym means I will come back to London out of shape again. I thought that if I at least was in shape before I went, the end result wouldn’t be too far away from where I want to be. But as per usual, things conspire against me. I feel like none of my training has gone to plan since the end of November!

So my plan now is to lift tomorrow, and do part of what I missed on Thursday (heavy bench) and half of the Saturday workout (volume squats). Then I can do Pilates & lift again on Monday before I fly out Wednesday morning.

(There’s a gym in the hotel we’re staying in, but realistically I’m not going to use it – I never do.)

* Wrong.
** The aim of the holiday is to eat in as many restaurants as possible (since my boyfriend & I are foodies). We have reservations at Cherche Midi only a couple of hours after we land!

Lifting and body positivity… again

Before I went to the spa on Saturday I had an idea of writing a blog post about body image (again – I’m sure I’ve written about that a few times!) because I was fretting a bit about getting into my bikini. Like most people I’m feeling a bit out of shape after Christmas and I wasn’t looking forward to wearing a bikini (I don’t appear to own a swimsuit at the moment!) in front of others.

But in the end it was fine. Yes, I have a big B-shaped tummy (you know what I mean, when you look at it from the side it looks like a B!) but one of the great things about going to a ladies-only session at a spa is that you see ladies of ALL shapes & sizes, all just doing their thing in their swimwear. No-one cares what you look like.

Plus I’m sure the other two ladies I went with wouldn’t mind me saying that none of us look like the fitness-model or Crossfit-babe types you’d believe women who lift look like – if you read the media. All three of us are at the medium-to-larger end of straight sizes (I’m a small plus/”inbetweenie” myself). I have copious belly rolls even when I’m at competition weight (and I feel “skinny”). The main difference between us & the other ladies in the spa was that we all have traps, whereas regular women don’t 🙂

After saying all that it probably seems counterintuitive to say that lifting definitely hasn’t had that much of a body-positive effect on me. Before I started lifting I was pretty much ignorant of body image issues – I knew I was fat, but I was OK with it. Not just because I discovered the fat acceptance/body positive movement before I started lifting, but also because I’ve always been chubby and I just accepted it. I didn’t wear bikinis when I was at my smallest (aged 18 I was probably a size 12/14) because I just knew I was bigger than my friends and bikinis “weren’t for me”. Obviously I know now that bikinis are for everyone regardless of size, but back then I didn’t feel sad that I “couldn’t” wear a bikini. It just… was.

But when I started lifting, that was when I started learning about body fat percentages and weight and leanness etc, and then I started feeling worse about my body. It was as if I’d just been blithely going through life beforehand not realising that being fat was “bad”, and now a veil had been lifted – suddenly weight mattered, and there was this thing called leanness I hadn’t noticed before.

When I was initially lifting I admit I was suckered in to the idea of lifting for weight loss and trying to get more lean, even though leanness is counterintuitive to the things I’ve always liked about my body (like having larger boobs!). I guess I thought that lifting and leanness/weight loss/wanting to look certain way went hand-in-hand. It was almost as if I had to learn all about body positivity again after I started lifting, even though I had been perfectly content in my body before.

So no, lifting weights has not been a conduit for body positivity for me, as it seems to be for so many others. In fact it was quite the opposite. I avoid many lifting blogs as I just can’t tolerate the weight loss/leanness talk. Even the trope about enjoying being bigger/bulkier from lifting on those blogs annoys me, as it’s often still a celebration of being “bigger” that’s simultaneously fatphobic (ie. there’s only one right way to be “big”, and it’s not being fat).

Today I’d say I was so-so about my body image. I have days where I look at my tummy and think “argh”, but it doesn’t bother me enough that I want to do anything about it. I only seem to care about my weight (or, my muscle-to-fat ratio, as my overall weight stays mostly the same) when I am running up to a competition. Right now I’m at least 4 months away from a competition, so I just can’t bring myself to care about cutting back on bread, or eating eggs cooked in coconut oil every morning etc (these being things I do to bring my body to “competition size”). Once I have a competition in my sights, those habits tend to come a lot easier. I think I need concrete goals to kick myself into action. I definitely couldn’t lift if I was only doing it for fun (YMMV, of course – I know plenty of people just do it for overall wellness and/or fun).

Tuesday

  • Squats: worked up to 5 x 5 @ 70kg, with 2-second pause on each rep. I was meant to do 2 sets of 5 @ 70kg, then 3 sets of 5 @ 75kg, but this cold is really kicking my ass. In fact, I’m so snotty that I was having trouble breathing on some of the sets!
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: 3 sets of 5 @ 60kg
  • Good mornings: 3 sets of 10 @ 20kg
  • Machine rows: 3 sets of 5, 20kg each hand with a pause on each rep. I’m so much stronger on machine rows than I used to be!
  • Shrugs: 22.5kg dumbbells, 3 sets of 5
  • V sit-ups, hyperextensions etc

So I have another cold. No really. After spending all of December with a cold, I thought I’d shaken it, but no… I woke up this morning with streaming eyes & nose. Really, life is just so bloody unfair. I’ve been taking my vitamins & everything!

Yesterday was my birthday, so it feels darkly ironic that I apparently picked up some cold germs while I was celebrating. I don’t really appreciate kicking off my 39th year (I turned 38 yesterday) feeling rubbish.

On Saturday I went to York Hall Spa after the gym, with two BGWLC ladies, as a pre-birthday treat. It was fantastic & just what I needed (although maybe I picked up the cold germs there?!) I might start going for a spa afternoon more often, especially given how convenient York Hall is for the gym. I do have a sauna available in my “secondary” gym, but I’m only an off-peak member there so I don’t have as much time in that gym; I’m always rushing back to the office after a lunchtime workout.

Saturday

  • Squats: worked up to 3 sets of 6 @ 70kg
  • Good mornings: worked up to 3 x 3 @ 55kg
  • Bench: worked up to 6 singles @ 47.5kg
  • Seated barbell press: 5 x 5 @ 22.5kg
  • JM press: 25kg, 3 sets of 10
  • Cable crunch: 25kg, 5 sets of 10
  • Pullthroughs, spiders

Monday

Birthday Pilates! Which was unusually tough, and I ache today.

This week is proving to be pretty rough on my body, but progressively kinder on my mind – possibly partially because I’m back to my routine (I crave routine!) and back to the gym. I have a few thoughts about exercise & mental health, but I’m going to save those for a bigger blog post later…if I ever find the time to write another long-format blog post, which isn’t just a list of my training or assertions that I’m still here!

Despite going to bed at my usual time all week, I’ve struggled to wake up each morning. And I’m still feeling the squats I did back on Tuesday – I haven’t had DOMS like this for a long time.

It’s only a few days until my birthday, which I admit I’m not looking forward to. I’ve been mentally saying I’m 38 (or nearly-38) in my head for a while, so it doesn’t feel like such a shock but still…38. Yikes! Funny how age creeps up on you, one minute you’re in your mid-20s and then next thing you know you’re staring 40 in the face! Still, only 2 years until masters now.

I had bench last night, and as on Tuesday I decided to push it and not scale the weight down. I’ve been a bit too willing to take it easy in the past, and I’ve had an idea this week that I want to push myself as much as I can – at least in terms of weights. I will reserve judgement on pushing myself in conditioning!

  • Bench: worked up to 5 x 5 @ 45kg
  • Flat dumbbell bench press: 12.5kg dumbbells, 3 sets of 10
  • Skull crushers: 15kg bar, 3 sets of 10
  • Standing one-arm dumbbell press: 10kg, 3 sets of 5
  • Hammer curls: 7kg 2 sets of 12
  • Side bends: 17.5kg dumbbell, 2 sets of 12
  • Crunches, stretching etc

I had the first workout of the new programme yesterday, running me up to a competition I won’t be competing in (I will be refereeing it, though!) Not gonna lie, it wasn’t a nice workout. I’m still badly out of shape from the Christmas break. I looked at the numbers on the board (squat & deadlift both at 70%) and thought I would probably scale the weight back a bit. But I didn’t for the squats – I did a full 70% on those – and for the deadlifts I only scaled back by a tiny 5kg.

The squats probably looked pretty horrible, and I’m worried I’m not hitting depth properly. The deadlifts were meant to be fast and fast they were not! I probably should have dropped back to 70kg or so. Ah well.

Today I feel pretty damn DOMS-y. I forgot to bring any gym kit with me, otherwise I might have gone to Yoga at lunchtime. I have Pilates tomorrow, though.

  • Squats: 5 x 5 @ 70kg, with a 2 second pause on each
  • Deadlift: standing on 2 mats; 5 sets of 2 @ 80kg
  • Seated good mornings: 40kg, 3 sets of 10
  • Glute & ham raises: 3 sets of 10
  • Standing abs: 3 sets of 10 @ 25kg

Back in the saddle for 2015

I hadn’t been planning to get back on the scales so soon into 2015, especially since I’m currently visibly larger than I was a few months ago (and very few of my clothes fit properly!) but curiosity overcame me after my workout on Saturday. I was 72.0kg – i.e. exactly on my weight class. It’s a relief, but I’m not entirely pleased – if I’m the same weight but larger, I’ve obviously lost a lot of muscle/condition!

It’s funny, to look at me I (or someone else) would think I’ve “put on a few pounds”, but I haven’t. Weight & size are funny things.

I’m pleased to realise I’m secure enough in my body positivity that, when I realised my clothes & bras were too tight, I just pulled an old larger-band bra out of the cupboard & decided not to wear my smallest pair of jeans for a few weeks until I get my condition back. No drama, no biggie.

What I’m not doing well with, at the moment, is the aspects of my self-confidence which don’t hinge on my appearance/body; this is all a carry-over from my least-favourite time of the year (late October – Christmas) and I’m definitely Working On It(TM). Unfortunately most of the positivity-boosting stuff you read this time of year is about your weight/body/size etc, which I have no issues with.

(I’m going to call it “mind positivity” as a direct corollary to “body positivity”, and if that makes no sense to anyone except me then [shrugging lady emoji])

Friday 3rd January was another “play” gym session, but happily I should be starting a new program tonight. This is the program taking everyone up to either the Greater London competition on February 28th, or the British Masters Classic in March; I won’t be competing at either thanks to a holiday I have booked in January, but I’m still going to follow the program. Training without programs gets boring pretty quickly.

So on Saturday I just decided to take things easy & see how I felt after the break (and after the intense conditioning session & did on Friday!)

  • Squats: worked up to 5 sets of 3 @ 60kg. It appears I still remember how to squat.
  • Dimel deadlifts: 2 sets of 20 @ 40kg
  • Bench: worked up to 5 sets of 3 @ 40kg
  • Upright rows: 15kg, 3 sets of 10
  • Abs, stretching etc