Monthly Archives: February 2015

No six-workout week this week, only four. I could have made it a 5-workout week, but yesterday I just couldn’t be bothered to go to Pilates. I’m strongly aware of the irony – last week I thought I was going to miss Pilates because of a meeting, and I was furious, this week I had the opportunity to go and was *meh*.

Tomorrow the gym is closed for training because we’re hosting a GBPF London divisional. I’m refereeing, and I’m really excited. It’s going to be hard work, and a long day (I have to be ready to go by 7am tomorrow, and I’ll probably be home by 10pm if I’m lucky) but I can’t wait. It’s going to be the first time I’ve refereed at a competition at my home gym which I’m not actually lifting at. Gonna wear my full uniform and look sharp.

Anyway, I’ve finished up my 3 weeks of volume squats & bench. Last night I squatted 5 sets of 8 @ 60kg, which was pretty killer. My legs don’t really hurt today, but I was very out of breath after each set last night. I find it really hard to regulate my breathing on such long sets.

I also benched 4 sets of 8 @ 42.5kg, then dropped the weight down to 40kg because I was bouncing a lot of the reps off my chest. I suspect this bouncing is part of the reason I’m better at sets than singles – obviously you can’t bounce or heave the weight off your chest on a paused single (if you heave it, that’s a red-light offence anyway). So for the last set, I did 8 reps @ 40kg and paused each one. And god it was awful.

So now I’m wondering what to do after volume. More volume, with more weight? (Sets of 8 squats with 65kg maybe). Or, more paused squats? I did 5 sets of 3 @ 70kg with 2-second pauses on Monday, and they were great – I’ve been doing a few paused squats alongside the volume because I love them. I also think I ought to do more paused bench in sets, as I did last night, because I can’t keep bouncing the bar off my chest! I know some powerlifters only ever bench paused.

I guess the world is my lobster at the moment, since I’m not competing for ages.

I do think that the volume work has affected my conditioning, though. I’ve not been performing well in conditioning class at all; for example today we had to do sandbag clean & press, and a few months ago I could handle the 20kg sandbag for at least half the reps, today I could only manage the 15kg one. Hmm.

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On exercise and mental health

I often see fitness fanatics (or just people who like to workout) on social media tell others with depression, and related mental health disorders, that if only they exercised, they would be cured. Aside from the fact that saying this is really fucking ableist, I also think it’s downright dangerous & wrong.

I won’t deny I feel better in the short-term when I’m working out regularly. I can go into the gym angry, anxious and over-thinky, but come out a picture of Zen-like calm (sometimes even ecstatically happy). And that’s great! It really is. But it might not happen to everyone, not everyone can even get to a gym (or take part in some other form of exercise) in the first place, and even if it did happen to everyone, that’s not a reason for people to preach exercise to random strangers, like it’s a magic cure-all.

(That’s nice)

(Oh that Deepak Chopra!)

There are definitely studies which show exercise can help alleviate mild to moderate depression (here’s a report on one) and you will find hundreds of people who can anecdotally tell you that working out makes them happy. And again, that’s great.

But for others, exercise is not a cure-all. In fact for some, it’s not an option. And for me personally, while I feel great after I come out of the gym, the effect is temporary and I will never “cure” my depression with exercise. In fact, I often think I won’t be “cured” at all, in the way an alcoholic is never “cured” – you can only ever learn to manage your symptoms, and they can come & go depending on circumstances. Personally I had 10 years of taking anti-depressants and 6 years of twice-weekly psychoanalytic psychotherapy, both of which helped me manage for a long time, but I don’t think I’m “cured” forever.

So when I see fitness bloggers or other healthy-living gurus preaching that, if you’re depressed/anxious/have other MH issues, all you need to do is take up weights and drop gluten/sugar/red meat/whatever and you’ll be *magically cured*, I get angry. It’s irresponsible – in the same way a holistic health guru telling a cancer patient to ditch chemo for coconut water is irresponsible.

You may be a person’s personal trainer, an experienced fitness writer or athlete (or even Life Coach) but you’re not their GP and if you’re talking about very real mental illnesses that can (and do) kill, you need to take responsibility and care with what you say.

And if you’re a person with mental illness, please please talk to your doctor (or other professional) before you choose to rely on diet & exercise to manage your illness.

But at the end of the day, there is NO SHAME in deciding that exercise isn’t enough, and you need medication. All the cardio, deadlifts, gluten-free treats and almond milk in the world are no match for clinically-trialled drugs and professional help, if that’s what you need.

6-workout weeks, week 2

I’m at the end of my second six-workout week and I’m feeling a bit mixed about it. On the one hand, I feel pretty good and not as sore as I thought I would do; but on the other hand, I found Friday’s conditioning session nauseatingly hard and not, I think, because it was an unusually hard session.

I also don’t know if I did badly in conditioning because I did volume squats the evening before, and if I’d done something a bit more “normal” (i.e. low-rep higher-weight squats) I wouldn’t have fared as badly.

On Thursday, though, I felt like a frickin’ goddess, and I put that down to having a McDonald’s breakfast (with my first ever double McMuffin!). I thought I was going to miss Pilates at lunchtime thanks to meetings being moved around last-minute (FFS!) but I made it; and in the evening I went to BGWLC for volume squats.

B-PIaL_IIAAabnf

I recently upgraded my iPhone to a 6, and was blithely unaware for almost a week that it includes a pedometer which had been quietly recording all my steps. This is pretty cool but also, well, it’s definitely nudging me to move more. Normally I’d catch the bus home from the tube station after gym, but on Thursday I thought I could make that magic 10,000 steps goal if I walked home instead. So I did, and racked up over 11,000 steps during the day, but I suppose it’s not surprising that I was physically wrung out on Friday!

If the IOS step counter is accurate then I do about 4500 steps on my way to the station in the morning. I often get the bus home in the evening but maybe I’ll stop doing that & walk instead. I kinda like these nudges, but then again, I don’t want it to drive me crazy (as tracking my calories with an app often does).

Training-wise, I’m now up to 4 sets of 8 squats @ 60kg, and 4 sets of 8 bench press @ 42.5kg (NB this isn’t like an “absolute max” or anything; I don’t train to failure often). Next Thursday & Saturday is 5 sets. Tomorrow I’m going to do a few paused squats and maybe some heavier bench. One of the world’s greatest mysteries is that I can bench 42.5kg for 8 and 45kg for 5, but my 1-rep max is still 52.5kg! I think I’m built for bench reps.

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post since last week and it’s just not happened. Despite the ranty tone of my last two posts I’m actually quite chipper at the moment – just busy.

Last week I racked up an impressive six workouts over the week, resulting in me feeling… oh christ, so sore. On Monday I went lifting; Tuesday was a spin class; Thursday was Pilates & lifting; Friday was conditioning and Saturday was lifting (anyone who says Pilates is “active recovery” but not a workout is invited to try Pilates at an MMA gym!)

Lifting has been, I admit, kinda boring of late. As I’ve mentioned before, I find lifting without a competition goal to be a bit pointless, and I’ve felt directionless. On Monday I pretty much just played about as I was helping train two new ladies. I don’t mind training newbies at all, but I struggle to get a decent workout in myself when I’m doing it. Staying on at the gym after they’ve finished to do my own workout isn’t an option, as my coach likes to close up by 8.30pm, and besides – I want to go home!

I asked my coach what I can do in this sort of blaaah period until I start training for my next competition, and he suggested trying a bit of volume for a while. So I’ve sorta-devised a sorta-plan for the next few weeks. Thursday is volume squats, Saturday is volume bench, and Monday (today!) will be low-rep paused squats and low-rep bench.

Last Thursday I did 3 x 8reps squat @ 60kg; on Saturday I did 3 x 8reps bench @ 42.5kg; next week I will do 4 sets, then 5 sets the following week etc etc. I haven’t decided how heavy I’m going to make my paused squats & bench tonight; I’ll have a play around and see what feels good.

This week I’m not sure if I’ll make the spin class; as usual, meetings are building up and I can’t always say no to meetings in favour of going to the gym at lunchtime (boooo). But fingers crossed. I really really enjoyed it last week, and came away from the class feeling great (even if my glutes took a few days to forgive me). I definitely want to try to make it part of my [increasingly-packed] routine.

The new IPF kit rules

If you’re in an IPF-affiliated powerlifting federation you will no doubt be aware of the furore over the last couple of months about the new technical kit list.

For those not aware: if you lift in an IPF-sanctioned federation, your kit requirements are fairly strict. The rulebook stipulates technical specifications for personal attire – how thick your belt can be, how long your knee wraps may be, how high your shoe heels may be etc. But as of 2015 the specifications have been expanded to include equipment manufacturers. This means that while your (for example) knee sleeves may have previously met the technical specifications, if they are not made by an approved manufacturer, they may not be used in competition* from now on.

How does a manufacturer get approved? They pay the IPF a fee.

The IPF approved list is here.

As you can imagine, this has caused uproar among many lifters. Equipment lifters have been using for years is suddenly not legal, and new lifters who may have bought expensive equipment now find they can’t use it. The entry costs for new lifters have increased, because not only do you have to pay subs, competition entry fees and travel to your competition etc – now you may have to buy equipment at a premium. An approved belt like (e.g.) an Inzer Forever costs a lot more than an entry-level belt from (e.g.) Pullum that newbies might have previously used while they were deciding if competition was right for them.

Quite a few people in the GBPF groups I’m in have said they’ll leave the GBPF for the BDFPA/BPU etc over this. Me, I’m a GBPF ref, and my club is affiliated to the GBPF, so I’ll stay put. But that’s not to say I’m not pissed off. I have that entry-level Pullum belt and I like it; now, if I want to lift in the British Classic this year, I need to buy another (which will cost me the thick end of £100 after postage & import costs) and I need to break it in. All because my old belt meets the specifications in the technical rules but it was not made by an approved manufacturer.

Additionally, I will need a new singlet. I have an Adidas weightlifting base suit, and it’s fine. Except… Adidas are not on the approved manufacturers’ list for singlets. Sigh.

This is where it gets odd, though. Shoes are not mentioned on the equipment list. I have a pair of Adidas Powerlift 2.0 shoes (as do many people). So they’re OK… but only because shoes aren’t mentioned anywhere on the list. But singlets are mentioned, so we can only assume Adidas singlets are not allowed.

Confusing? You bet.

So I am in the market for a new belt & singlet. I won’t need either for my competition in June/July, but I will need them for September. I’m thinking of getting an Inzer double prong, because 1) I’m used to a double prong, and 2) Inzer have a German online shop I can order from, thus avoiding the uncertainty of ordering from the States (import duty etc).

But really, what a pain. What a fucking pain. In my opinion only thing that has driven this decision by the IPF is money – getting more fees off manufacturers. Companies like Titan & Inzer do a lot of their business with powerlifters, so not paying up would be a bad business decision for them. However I imagine they felt stuck between a rock & a hard place in their decision to pay or not.

Adidas Powerlift2.0 shoes

Adidas Powerlift2.0 shoes

Incidentally, talking about my Adidas shoes: I am currently only using them for bench, for which they are brilliant. But I’ve not been using them for squats, which they were actually for. I had intended to use them at the British last year, and again for my November competition, but they just weren’t working for me. I tend to tip forward a bit at the bottom of heavy squats, and with the additional heel height I was feeling very unstable in them. So I went back to my flat Golas for a while.

I have no idea about quad dominance vs hamstring dominance etc (these being things people seem to talk a lot about when they talk about squats) but I did notice that when I squatted in the shoes, my quads felt more engaged. So maybe I’m more glute/hamstring dominant, since squatting in flat shoes seems (or seemed) to work better for me? I definitely have larger glutes & hams than quads.

ALL THAT SAID… I’ve decided to focus on volume & lighter weight for a few weeks (especially while I’m “between competitions”) and I think I might give the shoes another chance. I squatted 75kg for 5 sets of 3 on Monday in them, and I felt OK (but still so out of condition and feeble after my holiday!!); for my next squat session I might do something crazy like 60kg for sets of 10 and see how they feel. I can always swap back to my flat shoes for when I’m running up to my next competition.

The Adidas shoes are GREAT for bench, though. I feel like I have such a better arch while wearing them, I guess due to the heel height. £80 for a pair of shoes to just bench in seems steep but… you take what you can get, eh?!

* Caveat: the GBPF has said (I’m not sure how officially) that equipment from non-approved manufacturers may be used in divisional competitions, but don’t take my blog post as gospel – ask your competition organiser.

A thing about food, and orthorexia, and some rage

I do get frustrated writing on here sometimes (ditto pretty much anywhere else I write) as I forget that unless I explicitly say something, it’s otherwise not implied. E.g. things like my intersectional feminism, my history of discovering fat acceptance & accepting myself before I started lifting. I feel as if what I’ve tried to say just hasn’t come across. So in the avoidance of doubt:

Posts like the previous one, and this one, are basically me saying: “Loads of lifting blogs out there are blogs about how the writer was unhappy with their body and/or had food issues before they started lifting, and how they fought and/or resolved those issues through lifting. For me, I have developed for the first time (admittedly quite mild) food issues and lost confidence in my body because of lifting and the culture surrounding it”.

I just want to put it out there, you know? In case anyone else has developed food issues or body confidence issues because of lifting. Just like I wanted to put my post about endometriosis out there, in case anyone was Googling “powerlifting endometriosis” like I was, and finding nothing.

I say I have food issues – but yes, they are very mild. It’s more like niggles and doubts, and inner conflicts as my FA conditioning causes me to push back against them. I’m not going to pretend those doubts don’t exist, but if I express them I don’t want people to rush in thinking I’m an ingenue or completely unschooled in self-positivity. I went through 6 years of pyschoanalytic psychotherapy, so one thing I’m really good at is self-reflection (sometimes too good).

I write about these things on here to show that having doubts and niggles about stuff you’re otherwise positive about is normal. I just can’t bring myself to be the sparkly fountain of advice and positivity that other bloggers often are.

(Melissa A Fabello basically nails it in this thread)

I read the recent glut of news stories about orthorexia with interest because I think it is a thing; that “healthy eating” is now such a bloated and disgusting monster that people argue about the kind of coconut oil you buy and is it good enough, not just IF you use coconut oil or not (hence my comment about KTC brand yesterday). Among many, many other examples. It has got utterly ridiculous, IMHO.

I am definitely not an orthorexic (although the head weasels love to tell me I should be) but probably more a rage-orexic, when people claim they only care about “health” eat foods that indirectly cause other people to live in poverty and hardship (I guess “health” doesn’t extend to people outside their circle). Or who endlessly go on about only eating pasture-raised animals while promoting the consumption of foods that contribute to the extinction of other animals.

Or maybe I’m a fuck-you-rexic, because every time I see someone going on about the evils of something I consume (like low-fat yogurt) I just want to eat more of it in a fuck-you gesture.

One thing that annoys me in particular is that I get a ton of fitness/nutrition followers on Twitter who seem to be all about leanness and paleo, which I never understand (I try to emphasise the “hello I’m fat” thing in my bio) and then they go & bloody favourite my photos of the kind of foods they themselves would never eat. Are they going “Oh wow yeah, yummy pizza”? If so, I really hate that falseness; you’d never eat that, so piss off, it’s not for you. It reminds me a bit of You Did Not Eat That, which I’m not going to pass any judgement on.

Incidentally, if you want a nice intersection of capital-P Paleo & orthorexia, this is pretty fantastic.

It's probably Obama's fault.

It’s probably Obama’s fault.

Whew, that was possibly my angriest post for a while, eh? Feels good to get it all out though.

Last night I went to Bethnal Green & met a new lady who just started lifting there while I was away. Exclamation point! She seems pretty good so far – can squat with ease & already squatting 40kg & benching 30kg. Many thumbs up! Unfortunately she asked me if I had any nutrition advice (hah) and all I could offer was my discount code for MyProtein & that she should probably ask someone else.

  • Squats: worked up to 5 sets of 3 @ 70kg. Still feeling so out of shape post-holiday!
  • Romanian deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 @ 50kg
  • Dimel deadlifts: 2 sets of 20 @ 40kg
  • Machine rows: 3 sets of 5 @ 20kg each hand; then 2 sets of 3 @ 25kg each hand
  • V-sit ups: 3 sets of 10
  • Glute & ham raises: 3 sets of 10

I had intended to go to my other gym for either a jog on the treadmill or a spin class today (I know!) but as per usual I ended up lunching at my desk.

Holiday in NYC

No post from me for a while because I’ve been on holiday in New York, which was fantastic. Sadly I’m back at work now, and I have a serious case of the post-holiday blues. Damn.

Yes please.

Yes please.

The main purpose of the holiday was to EAT DELICIOUS FOOD and we certainly achieved that. We had fantastic meals at – among other places – Cherche Midi, Bowery Meat Company, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, Tacombi and Mable’s Smokehouse.

Buuut, of course, there was a bit of taint there as – especially towards the beginning of the holiday – I felt some guilt about eating so much. The stupid, sad thing about it all is that I never felt food guilt before I started lifting and reading food/nutrition blogs. In a lot of ways I wish I’d never started reading food blogs, following fitness people online* etc. I wish sometimes I could lift in isolation to all the other bullshit that goes on around lifting (and I guess I could, if I wasn’t also committed to doing things like refereeing, for which I have to read things around powerlifting federations, which invariably brings with it talk of nutrition and leanness etc etc).

Don't mind if I do.

Don’t mind if I do.

Anyhow, my bad feelings did dissipate towards the end of the holiday. I think a change in my routine always gives me a bit of anxiety, even if it’s a nice change in routine, like a holiday.

Obviously I didn’t go lifting while I was away, but I did make use of the hotel’s fitness centre… once. It was just a small affair with cardio machines & some dumbbells (in pounds!). I decided to hop on the treadmill & see how far I could run; turns out I can run for 10 minutes non-stop at least – I would have gone on for longer but damn I was bored by that point. Running for 10 minutes probably doesn’t seem like much to people who run/jog regularly, but given I rarely do any cardio (save for short sprints every couple of weeks in conditioning class) I was kinda surprised. Maybe I should run regularly. Or maybe not!

If you insist.

If you insist.

We also walked miles every day we were there. Not particularly fast (who can walk fast in snow & ice anyway) and my joints did not thank me for it, but we walked. Sometimes I forget that walking counts as exercise.

I got back to the UK on Thursday & went to Bethnal Green on Saturday. I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do, thanks to feeling massively out of shape + having jetlag, but I had a pretty good workout. I carried on with the competition prep everyone is doing for February 28th, but obviously not with my full weights.

  • Squats: worked up to 3 sets of 4 @ 65kg (was meant to be 85kg if I’d not been away). These felt dreadful
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: 3 sets of 7 @ 40kg
  • Bench: 5 x 5 @ 40kg, then one monster set of 10 @ 40kg. I am coming to the conclusion that I’m a far better volume bencher than I am for singles, which is crap as obv volume doesn’t count for a whole lot!
  • Low incline dumbbell bench: 10kg, 5 reps; 12.5kg, 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Landmines, pullthroughs, other bits
Oh, go on then.

Oh, go on then.

Tonight it’s back to the gym again, probably for more squats. I am feeling kinda blah about it, though – I don’t like training when I have no competition in sight, it all seems a bit pointless.

That said, I’m back off on holiday in March and I want to be feeling fitter by then. March is another EATING holiday and I do not want to feel bad about what I’m eating there, so maybe I will feel better about eating everything in sight if I’m back to my normal fitness levels. Maybe.

I won’t deny, I do feel a bit like a Body Positivity traitor feeling this way, though. Urgh. These things are so hard sometimes, you know?

* Incidentally, apropos of reading fitness/nutrition blogs (although I try to avoid it), I was thinking the other day that I feel like an absolute rebel when I eat low-fat yogurt or cook with KTC brand coconut oil (as opposed to one of the expensive brands) because both those things are so demonised by some nutrition bloggers. God. What’s deemed “right” or “wrong” really does depend on who you read, doesn’t it? Hence my reluctance to read ANYONE. (You can pry my cheap KTC coconut oil from my cold, dead hands!)