Category Archives: Training

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.

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.

Just a quick one today…

I think this is the shortest turnaround I’ve ever had between competing & starting prep for my next competition. 8 days! I barely feel like I’ve recovered, and I was expecting a couple of weeks of “just playing” in the gym, but nope – new program started on Monday, and I was thrown straight into the deep end.

For the next 3 weeks we’re going to be doing sets of 4 squats @ 80% & sets of 7 bench & 70% on Mondays; then sets of 4 bench @ 80% & sets of 7 squats @ 70% on Thursdays. Week 1 we do 4 sets, week 2 we do 5 sets and week 3 we do 6 sets. Saturdays will be deadlifts.

So on Monday I did 4 x 4 @ 82.5kg for squats, and 4 x 7 @ 40kg on bench. The bench was easy (I probably should have gone up) but the squats were awful. My coach wants me to tuck my elbows in more to try to stay more upright, but I was finding it hard on reps 3 & 4 of my working weight and falling back into my old habit of bending over on the way up. Maybe one day it’ll stick.

It’s 7 weeks or so until the next competition and ideally I’d love to nail that 105kg squat & 130kg deadlift, but I will be happy just to get a good total and qualify for the Classic next year.

British Classic -1 week

[Content note for more weight talk]

Only a 8 days to go now (this time next week I’ll be refereeing!) and my training cycle is almost over. Only thing left to do is choose my openers & practise them on Monday.

I am very very pleased with how my bench session went on Thursday. I had 3 singles with full commands scheduled, and I was hoping for maybe one at 55kg. In the end I got all three at 55kg (120lbs), and all felt so good. I followed it up with a 10-rep set at 45kg. I don’t really know what’s made my bench so supernova recently – I did widen my grip a little a couple of months ago, and I’ve been working on striking the barbell just below my bra strap – maybe this is what’s made all the difference? It has definitely lessened the bar path, since I can get a decent-ish arch (and I have a big chest!)

I have been having stress dreams about my weight, though. I’ve not been anything like as obsessive about my weight as I was in previous years, which is nice from one point of view, but on the other hand I have no idea how much I weigh and it’s obviously stressing my subconscious out!

Me on 11 September 2014

Me on 11 September 2014

I recently got Timehop on my phone and yesterday it threw up a picture of me 1 year ago. If you’ve been reading a while you might remember that before the last British, I went overboard with my diet and tried low-carbing for 6 weeks or so. You might also remember that I was utterly fucking miserable and my digestive system basically stopped (fun).

I have really mixed feelings about this photo. On the one hand, I look skinny, and obviously I still have social conditioning that says therefore I look “good”. On the other hand, I can remember very clearly how unhappy I was; I was living on a diet of meat, eggs, vegetables and Califig laxative because otherwise I couldn’t poop. Good grief.

So that photo is kind of hard. I remember posting it on social media and people saying “You look great!”, which gave me a boost at the time because it was a reinforcement that what I was doing was OK. But on the other hand, I was too afraid to drink a 300ml glass of juice in case it made me over 72kg! Utter madness.

I feel conflicted at the moment, though, because I’m eating “normally” and trying not to worry about my weight. But if I go all the way to Bournemouth, stay in a hotel for 2 nights and wind up too heavy to compete, I’m going to be so cross with myself.

My goodness, this stuff is hard sometimes. Part of me wishes I hadn’t told everyone I was going to the British, because if I don’t compete that shit is going to be embarrassing. On the other hand, if I go and I weigh in at 71.9kg (which would be ideal!) then I will know I can make weight without fucking myself up mentally with food.

British Classic -1.5 weeks

I was going to wait until I was only 1 week out from the British before doing my next entry, but I should probably blog more often, right? Even though I’m hardly training at the moment. It feels a bit ass-backwards that as I come up to a competition I train less, but that is powerlifting for you.

So on Monday I had my last heavy squat session before the competition. As you know my squat has been going pretty poorly at the moment, so I’m not expecting miracles on the day. However, I am expecting to get 100kg because that’s my current personal best (and what I squatted at the British last year) so I have to at least match it.

Scheduled on the board was a triple at 90%, two singles at 95% and then heavier singles if wanted. As my current pb is 100kg, my percentages are nice & easy to work out. So I did my 90kg triple & one single at 95kg. Then my coach decided to put 100kg on, which I’m glad about as I haven’t squatted 100kg for a while (not since my last competition) and I need reminding how it feels. 100kg went up really well – not too much leaning over, so that was great, big confidence booster [:thumbs up emoji:]

I had intended to leave it at that, but my coach wasn’t having any of it & stuck 105kg on the bar. Yikes. I had a long rest then gave it my best shot, and I started coming up… but my butt shot up before my chest & I lost it. Shame!! But on the bright side I now know how 105kg feels (heavy!) and I feel so much more confident about my squat on the 20th. Sometimes failing a heavy squat is the personal pep talk you need!

Tonight I have my last heavy bench session, so on Monday we just did sort-of heavy bench. I intended to do 3 doubles with 50kg, but 50kg felt so good that my coach got me to do 3 doubles with 52.5kg. Then we did 3 singles with full commands & stops at 50kg, and I got all three (the last one was a bit messy, but I got it).

Tonight we’re going up, so I hope I can get 55kg – although even the tiniest bit of added weight on the bench can make me totally screw it up. I really want 55kg at the competition and I have to feel confident I can get it.

Bodyweight-wise, I was 72.8kg on Monday night (after a full day of eating) so that’s fine. I just need to keep it all on an even keel for 10 more days!

I’ve been looking at maps of Bournemouth & surrounds and have identified supermarkets etc, so I can get light food (i.e. non-restaurant food!) on Friday & Saturday, plus supplies for Sunday. It’s going to be a bit of a pain in the arse, but I can do it. I’m so glad I’ll have my car, so I can do my own thing. Plus I discovered a Nando’s on the outskirts of the city, so I can get my traditional pre-competition meal of chicken & rice if I need it!

British Classic -2 weeks

I only have a week of training left before the British & it’s all getting a it real now. I’m a bit fretful about being a hotel from Friday – Sunday (I lift on the Sunday) and not having access to a kitchen. I’m going to be eating in restaurants on Friday night & all day Saturday, so I need to plan ahead and make sure I can find places to eat plain-ish food. What a stress! Probably the best thing to do is find a supermarket and buy all my food from there. I’m glad I decided to take my car (instead of ride-sharing or taking the train) because I’ll have more flexibility.

I’m feeling a bit more confident about my deadlift after Saturday’s session. We had to work up to 3 heavy singles, so I decided to stick the weight on & see what I could do. 120kg felt good & fast, so I put 125kg on for a new gym personal best and (to my amazement) got it. So I went 127.5kg for my next and…got that too! I was going to stop there but my coach thinks I have 130kg in the bag, so we put it on. I got it about 5 inches off the ground but it wasn’t going to pas my knees. Still, I didn’t even think I’d move it so I’m not unhappy. If I can get 127.5kg again in 2 weeks I will be very happy indeed!

Now I’m wondering what on earth to open with on the deadlift. I had originally planned to go 110-120-??? but now it seems a bit pointless to bother with 110kg. I guess I’ll see how I feel on the day. 115-122.5/125-??? maybe?

This week I only have two training sessions – both squat & bench on Monday & Thursday. I won’t be deadlifting again before the competition.