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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.


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.

I finally went back to the gym yesterday for the first time post-competition. I knew I needed the break but at the same time ugh I was feeling really sluggish & out of shape. Not only from not going to the gym, but also because last week, as I was off work, I wasn’t walking my usual ~2 miles per day – I guess that walk makes more difference than I realise.

So I had Pilates yesterday afternoon at Urban Kings and in the evening I headed to BGWLC for a bit of gym “playtime”. I had hoped to do some significant squats but I feel as weak as a kitten post-competition. Funny how that always seems to happen – I never get very sore post-comp but I always spend the next week or two feeling wrung-out. Anyhow, I did 5 sets of 3 squats @ 60kg, and a whole load of sumo deadlift tekkers with 60kg. Then a bunch of 20sec dumbbell holds with 25kg dumbbells to work on my stupid f’ing grip!!

I’ve spent the last couple of days as grumpy as hell but I feel much calmer today – probably because I’ve been training again! Still, I have that creeping ~dissatisfaction~ with my life again (mostly with my job/career) and I feel I ought to, you know, do something about it rather than just whinge. What I can/will actually do about it remains to be seen, though. Watch this space, maybe.

Sometimes (quite often, actually) I think my blog is dead boring because all I really do is talk about my training and occasionally (quite often, actually) get insecure about my abilities/my size etc. I do actually have lots & lots of ideas for far more interesting blog posts, but to be frank I’m not much of a writer and I don’t think I’d do the subject justice.

For a few examples, I really wish I had the chops to effectively write about:

– Sexism in powerlifting & other strength sports. Hoo boy.

– Dating a non-lifter, which IME is great.

– Time management; you all know I love a bit of scheduling!

– The fact that, despite loving exercise myself, I do not think anyone is obligated to exercise or even be healthy.

I know many other bloggers carefully curate their posts, spend loads of time over them, sit on them & post them at opportune times. I don’t, I just bash them out (often in a quieter moment at work) and post them up. And then I have to come back & re-jig them, fix spelling mistakes etc. All in all, much like I used to use LiveJournal.

Maybe one day I’ll find the time to write something a bit more interesting – and actually write it in a coherent manner! Or maybe I won’t 😉

Saturday: deadlifts at BGWLC

Today I decided to max out my Sumo deadlifts, to see just how much I can pull Sumo vs regular. I’ve only been pulling Sumo for a few weeks, and I still haven’t nailed the technique – and to be frank it feels horrible. My hip flexibility is crap!

  • Light good mornings to warm up
  • Deadlifts (Sumo): 60kg x 3 x 2; 70kg x 3; 80kg x 2; 90kg x 2; 100kg x 2; 105kg x 1; 110kg x 1
  • Squats: worked up to 3 sets of 5 @ 70kg
  • Dimel deadlifts: 2 sets of 20 @ 30kg
  • Hyperextensions with 12.5kg bar: 3 sets of 5
  • Glute & ham raises: 5 sets of 10
  • Band legs curls: 5 sets of 10

After the deadlifts my legs were like jelly, so the squats felt awful. Add the Dimels, and my walk home from the station was torture (“Leg day parking“? Puh-leeze). I think I’m going to ache tomorrow 😦

Scheduling woes

I am quite the grouch today. For starters, I didn’t sleep well last night – I think I’m jetlagged after my holiday (despite attempts to fight it off over the weekend). Sunday nights are a bad one for me to miss sleep, as I have work until 5.30; then gym 6ish-8ish; then I stay on at the gym to help out my coach; before finally getting home at 9.30pm (if he gives me a lift home) or 10pm (if I get the tube). Then I eat dinner with my boyfriend & go to bed, usually to a bad night’s sleep – eating late makes me sleep poorly!

I am also a grump because I want to do more conditioning, but I’m struggling to fit it into my schedule. There is a kettlebells class at Urban Kings I’d like to go to on Tuesday lunchtimes – but it’s a 60 minute class, which adds up to a 90 minute trip to the gym (if you factor in walking to & from the gym, changing & shower). Like most people who work, I have an hour for lunch max. Why schedule a class for a full 60 minutes at lunchtime? I guess people manage to do it, but who are these people?!

There is a 50 minute kettlebells class there on Thursdays, but since I have heavy bench & chest on Thursday evenings, it doesn’t work with my schedule. Sigh.

So yes, I am grouchy that I can’t seem to fit in all the stuff I’d like to do. I am, I admit, jealous of people who don’t have to worry about things like lunchbreaks & working hours 😦 Then again, my jealousy is a grass-is-greener thing – if I didn’t work, then I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in financially. Swings & roundabouts!

(If you’re wondering why I’m thinking about going to a kettlebell class as opposed to just working with KBs on my own – it’s because I have no idea how to use KBs and want to learn properly. We use them in conditioning and I’m a complete klutz with them – I know I will end up injuring myself one day. And besides, I pay for that gym so I can get tuition, you know?)

An alternative would be doing a boxing class on Tuesday evenings, 6-7pm, but that involves adding yet another late night to my week. My boyfriend only sees me in the evenings on Tuesdays & Fridays, taking another hour away from “our” time isn’t something I want! I need some time to relax at home.

Ugh, decisions decisions.

Do you struggle with fitting in all the gym time you want, with your work & other commitments? How do you schedule your time?

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!

Improving my squat with yogalates

About 6 months ago I joined Urban Kings, a gym near my work, to have a secondary gym to go to during the day, when I’m not training at Bethnal Green WLC. One of the classes there that worked with my schedule was yogalates with Veronique, and I decided to give it a go, mostly because Wednesdays are quiet for me, it was convenient, and hey – after 30+ years of being sedentary, it seemed like a good idea to try to get more flexible.

It turned out that I love the class, and try to go every week as a result – plus it has had an unexpected bonus: I have broken my squat plateau since starting yogalates, and I think that’s down to the class.

Back in November 2012 I set a new squat pb (in competition) of 85kg, then (as so often happens) my squat totally plateaued. Plateaus are pretty much to be expected when you’ve been lifting for a while and your newbie gains are long gone. I of course continued to follow my programming & do all my assistance exercises, but no dice. I attempted a new squat pb in June 2013 at the Greater London Clubs championship, but buckled under 87.5kg. My weak point was my upper body – under 80kg+, my lungs felt crushed and I was bowing down into a “squat morning” at the bottom of the lift, totally unable to keep my head & chest up. Not good.

Back to the yogalates class. I found the first few pretty hard – one of Veronique’s main moves in the class is side planks, lots & lots of side planks. Guess who couldn’t do side planks? I struggled at first to do the side planks on my feet, having to use my knees for most of them. However, on 31st July I managed to do ALL the side planks and then it was onwards & upwards in every class.

And guess what? My squats started to improve in training.

The first thing I noticed was that I gradually stopped doing “squat mornings”. I could keep my chest & head up throughout the lift when squatting more than my bodyweight. Once I realised my form had improved, we decided to push the weight a bit. Being a non-novice lifter, I don’t often up my weights by much during regular training, but I felt able to say “Hey, let’s add another 2.5/5kg” on the last set and know I was going to make it. Eventually, I squatted 90kg in the gym a couple of weeks before the British Classic in October, repeated that at the Classic, then squatted 92.5kg at the Greater Londons in November & 95kg at my club comp last week. That’s 10kg in 6 months, after lifting for 4.5 years.

Adding 10kg (or just over 11%) to my squat might not seem like much, but bear in mind that my newbie gains are long gone, and pbs tend to be few & far between when you’ve been lifting a long time. I’m certainly not going to sniff at it!

So what happened? The short answer is: yogalates helped me find my core. In the past, when my coach said “get tight” before a lift, and people talked about tightening their core, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I did ab exercises, sure, but I didn’t know how to brace my core well. After doing yogalates for a few months, I can now tighten my core effectively when I need to, and I have the confidence to know I won’t (or, am not as likely to) buckle under a big weight on my shoulders.

Here’s how I set myself up for a squat now: I take the bar quite low on my back & step out of the rack. When the referee gives the command, I empty my lungs of air, then breathe a really deep breath right into my stomach & against my belt. Then I tighten my upper & lower core: the upper core feels like shutting a pair of doors around my ribcage; the lower core feels like I’m drawing my navel into my spine & holding it there. Then I squat, and blow all the air out of my lungs on the ascent, keeping the core tight. I only let go once I’ve been given the rack command & can replace the bar.

I’m now feeling really confident that a 100kg squat isn’t far away. I’m hoping to replicate that 95kg squat at my next competition in June, and (hopefully) add a little more at the same time. 3 numbers, baby!