A “less-than-ideal” training situation

Hey, it’s been a while. Somehow last week I lost a bit of steam when it comes to writing, mostly because I started running a calorie deficit and everything felt like hell. My body is pretty irritated with me, like one might be with a too-rigid parent, for not giving it what it wants when it wants it. But, as one does when all the joy is sucked out of one’s life, my body is complying. I feel sad about making my body bend to my will because I love my body’s unexpected free will, but I have to drop some weight to make it into my qualifying weight class at contest. The calorie deficit means that even last week’s deload week felt like rotten bananas and old garbage.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I DO NOT RECOMMEND being in a calorie deficit while also peaking for strength. Don’t do it. Be better than me.

So then, as if the weakness wasn’t bad enough, this weekend I spent about thirty hours changing my work office around. That meant lugging heavy furniture up and down a flight of fifteen stairs and moving books, bookcases, desks, and tons of paperwork for hours straight. Most of the time I went long spans of time without eating or drinking water. I worked a sixteen hour day on Sunday, including three hours at IKEA. Only one of those hours was spent in line! Someone told me I should call my union rep on myself for forcing myself to work a double with no lunch breaks.

IMG_1609I think that if Buddhists went to hell it would probably be filled with assembling IKEA furniture- it’s an odd combination of meditative and terrible. Buddhists, or maybe engineers. Like, it’s satisfying to see a design take shape, but my poor fingers and back from hunching over and screwing in tiny screws!

So, naturally, come Monday’s programming I was toast. Not only did I not get to sleep until 1:30am and then back awake at 7 to fix more stuff in the office before my work day started, but when I hit my first set of squats below my working weight I felt like I was lifting elephants. I added 20# to that to hit my working weight and I couldn’t even get through the first set. I even peed a little on my last attempt! That is rare for me.

It was also a sign to pack it in. A few things were happening at the same time. One, my body was sore, cramped, and neurodisconnected from itself- I couldn’t “think” of how to fire my glutes or quads, I could hardly feel my abs, and I couldn’t “remember” how to brace (hence the pee, I think). Also, I was at the gym in the evening which is unusual for me. The flow is different, the vibe is different, the people are different, and I felt different. I couldn’t get my grounding.

Plus both Mars and Mercury are retrograding so everything’s a little bananas.

So I picked up my shit and went to the grocery store. Another aftereffect of spending all weekend at the office is that I didn’t get to meal prep so I’m having to do it piece by piece. That meant going to Trader Joe’s on a Monday evening with all the post-work zombies (myself included). As soon as I picked up my heavy grocery bag and headed to the car, my body said NOPE and I knew my heavy lifting was seriously done for the next day or two.

(Don’t worry, I didn’t get injured, just a stubborn NO cried forth from my bones.)

I’m taking the next couple of days off and focusing on stretching and mobility, and will get back on the donkey on Wednesday- it’s peak time for Nationals! Stay tuned!

Searching for meaning in my training

It’s funny when the same thing comes up again and again, over and over. This time, it was about my growing strength.

The first conversation was with my classmate, to whom I found myself saying “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been.” “Ever?” He said. “Yes, ever. This is the strongest I’ve ever been in my life.” It felt good to say that and mean it.

My body has been ready for this my whole life: To be strong. I have become tired of not being able to carry my own weight, to feel burdened by my body and its history.

The second time it happened came from the other direction. My coach and I were talking about various aspects of training, including the fact that my body is recomposing rather than losing pounds (meaning, the eating plan I’m on has me gaining more muscle and losing more fat, but the pounds are staying about the same). He said, “That’s actually a really good place to be. You’re the strongest you’ve ever been.” “It’s really true,” I said.

My whole life, I’ve felt like my body was capable of being really strong, thick, powerful, and capable. I’ve never been much of a dancer (although in fourth grade I did a school-wide performance where I interpretive danced to a Eurythmics song). I’m not particularly nimble or sproingy by nature. But I am a damn good deadlifter, and can carry five giant bags of groceries all at once. (#TrainingLifeGoalz)

But this training program I’m doing right now, where I’m training for a specific goal rather than just putting in work, does something to me psychologically. It gives me a purpose, a meaning to the work I am putting in. I tell myself it’s about the contest in September, but really I think I just need a purpose outside my immediate situation to help me keep track of the long-game. To stay in the immediate feeling is too much, too overwhelming sometimes. If there is some kind of destination, even though that destination is not the “end”, it helps me keep going when the accessory work gets boring and the lifts get heavy. Having a long view takes the pressure off of having to be good at what I’m doing right now. It reminds me that there is something else I’m lifting for.

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust concentration camps, expanded on Nietzche’s idea of having our own “why” in life: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Frankl’s life experience led him to understand that if one can find meaning in their situation, one becomes more prepared to survive it. Witnessing the lives of the people in the concentration camp where he lived, the sickness and the misery, he noted that those who maintained a sense of meaning– be it keeping family and loved ones in mind, or in Frankl’s case, writing a book on scraps of paper that he kept hidden in his bedding– stayed healthier. People need a sense of meaning in order to keep going.

Though I am in no way trying to compare our situations, Frankl’s experience and mind has helped me through many dark times in my life. Training is by no means a “dark time,” but it certainly challenges me to put my all into everything and survive what feels like a momentary potential of death or serious injury. It is a psychological game as much as a physical one, and teaches me to trust my body, trust my coach, trust my history, and trust myself to show up for these moments where the implement feels heavy, scary, and overwhelming. It’s a small laboratory which helps me experiment with how I might handle the more terrible things in life.

We are now in a situation in this country where children are again being stolen from their parents (this happened with impunity to Black people and Indigenous people for centuries here, and it is happening again) and locked away in camps. Hard-won rights are at risk of being lost, and it’s being plainly exposed that those “rights” are built for some but not for all. Like the right to bear arms. Philando Castile was a licensed gun owner and shot in front of his partner and daughter because the officer was racist. This is our country. We can’t pretend it “doesn’t happen here.”

The meaning we find in it all has to come from somewhere. If my body is strong I can be strong for the people who need me. I can think more clearly about my actions and how they support or antagonize my white supremacist indoctrination. I can know more readily where I am located in this system. I can survive my own white fragility and turn my anger to where it needs to go: Toward finding alternative systems, alternative structures, and an end to the way oppression plays out over and over again in this country built on bloodshed, genocide, and terror.

I can carry my own weight when I’m strong, so I can better help carry those whom I have wounded by my structural position over generations as a colonizer. That is my bigger purpose, the long game: It is Audre Lorde’s words, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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“What is this fresh hell?” – Guest post!

Today’s post comes to you from my training partner Rage Butterfly. She and I both podiumed at California’s Strongest Woman (women…wimmin really) in April and are training to compete at Nationals this September. Here’s Rage Butterfly’s take on her training progress!

I just spent way too much time wading through the Internet freak show, keyword “women and bulging neck veins”.  I could care less about my own bellowing and Jim Carrey faces while working out, but the THING that popped out of my neck today while deadlifting was seriously alarming.  You know that ropey kind of vein that looks something like this?

Well, actually, mine doesn’t vibe like that at all, just in shape only.  I wish this new vein was quietly confident, patient, profoundly forceful.

Ah, nope. This vein is thinly-veiled agitation, testing the boundary of my fragile sun-damaged neck skin.   I could see it bulging out in the mirror from across the gym.  The meandering form is so beautiful in a river, yet surely portends imminent death in a human neck, yes?

”Don’t  hold your breath, your veins will pop.”

“Don’t hurt yourself.”

“You don’t really need to be that strong, why push it?”

I picked up a barbell for the first time about three years ago, and really, lifting has only taken off in the last year for me.  With zero background in strength sports and a fairly cautious, phlegmatic nature, I am in a constant state of alarm over the trauma and odd adaptations that happen to bodies that regularly pick up very heavy, awkward objects.  So, I exercised due diligence and waded through enough information online to mollify my concern that I would exsanguinate through my neck the next time I sneezed.   (You might think I tend toward the dramatic.  In fact, I am fairly stoic.  I’m simply highly susceptible to imagery, and what kept coming to mind was the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.  At least it made me laugh.)

Ah, but I digress.  Some of you may still be reading this in the desperate hope that you just might find out some useful information for your training.   Well, let’s see.   Ropey neck veins aparently have something to do with the musculature getting bigger and kind of pushing the veins out to the surface, and then if you don’t have much fat to cover the spectacle, you’ve got yourself a bulging neck vein!  Congratulations.  It apparently won’t kill you, and it generally goes back into its cave when you’re not playing so hard.

Perhaps this is more useful?   The last time I PR’d my deadlift I actually felt as quietly confident as that meandering river above.  For several months I had been putting down layer after layer of imagery, mentally rehearsing what I wanted to happen in those particular five seconds of competition at California’s Strongest Woman in April.   I had actively practiced being open to the possible magnitude of the lift.  When I stepped up to the bar, the lift had essentially already happened in my mind, hundreds of times.

I’ve been fishing about for a working image to get my head wrapped around Strongman Nationals this September.  So today’s little vascular drama has conveniently given me an opportunity to welcome in a new mental picture I can use in the coming months to build up my head game.

This river is a powerful meanderer.

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.  -Ranier Maria Rilke

Watch Rage Butterfly kick ass at CSW 2018!

Introducing: Log clean and press!

Here is a video of me doing my first set of 3×8 log clean & press (“press” in this case means “get it overhead any way possible”) at 70% of my one rep max.

I do one clean and 8 jerks here, because we’re working on building my overhead strength for contest. My current 1 rep max in log clean and press is 105#, and the log at contest will be 120#.

That’s a long way to go.

A friend asked me, “How is a log different than the regular barbells?” I thought it was a great question that maybe others have, so I’ll share my answer here.

The log is different from a barbell in several ways. First of all, imagine a giant car muffler trying to strangle and crush you. Another friend wondered if it could double as a meat smoker. (Answer: Probably!) After a while, the barbell starts to feel more like a conductor’s baton than an actual weight-bearing implement.

Physically, the log itself is a giant 10 inch cylinder which, in order to hold in the rack position (on your chest between jerks/presses), you have to bend your back and look straight up at the sky. This requires a lot of thoracic mobility and a different orientation for your balance. When pressing with a barbell, you can look straight ahead of you at a fixed point; the sky doesn’t really have that. I once saw a crow flying with a cracker in its mouth, but usually it’s just blue sky ahead. That makes the balance piece much more challenging. Not to mention, the weight is positioned much farther in front of you, so it’s imperative that you keep your elbows high. Otherwise, the log will tip forward, and it will become extremely difficult to press up.

Then, when you’re pressing a log, you’re doing a much bigger loop around your head than you would with a barbell. In fact, with a barbell, you want to minimize the looping around your head by pulling your head back and out of the way. Pressing the bar straight up is key to utilizing the larger muscles in your back and not just the smaller arm and shoulder muscles. The log prevents you from doing this, however, because you’re already in a slight backbend in the rack, so you can’t pull your head back any further. It simply requires a lot more strength in a very awkward position.

And finally, there’s the psychological piece. When you’re in that rack position, you might feel like the log is trying to choke you out. It’s hard to breathe in a backbend with a heavy implement pressing down on your chest and neck. As coach Patrick says, “The log is trying to kill you. Don’t let it!”

For comparison’s sake, my most recent barbell jerk max is 143# (tested in February), and my current log jerk max is 105# (tested in April). So you can see the major difference in weight, at least for me at this point.

Here’s to making it to 120# for reps by September!!

Titanic Lifting: Another name for Strongman

Just a quick note to share a thought I had a while back while training.

As it stands, the sport I’m currently competing in is called Strongman. Sometimes, if the competitors are all women, it’s called Strongwoman. But neither of these sit right for me for reasons I’ve already explained.

So a few months ago, I thought of a better name for Strongman: “Titanic Lifting”. It’s a bit clunky, perhaps, but the name comes from Atlas himself. A Titan who lost the war with the Olympians, Atlas was forced to spend eternity holding the sky upon his shoulders. Now we pick up concrete stones, call them Atlas stones, and lift them onto a platform for time.

We have Olympic lifting, right? Why not Titanic lifting?

Check out a piece I wrote about Atlas stones and psychoanalysis here, which is where the name “Titanic Lifting” first came to me. As always, I’m curious about your thoughts. Feel free to message me here.

Last chance for t-shirts!

Just a quickie note to let you know that if you want one of these FABULOUS shirts with our slogan “float like a rage butterfly / sting like a tenacious bee” (with deep appreciation to Muhammad Ali) they will be selling until July 18, and then they will be GONE!

LINK HERE: TEESPRING

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Buy a shirt and help Rage Butterfly and Tenacious Bee get to Nationals! Plus you’ll look fabulous.

How I balance life with training

In a recent post, I talked about how I have turned exercise from a form of self-punishment into something that provides me with containment, self-care, and encourages self-love. That transformation did not come easily, and there were several things I learned in the process. I’d like to share with you the most important lessons I have learned so far.

  • I pick a sustainable schedule for my lifestyle, including times of the day and days of the week, and stick to that. Even if all I can muster on the day-of is showing up and stretching, I stick to it. If I find that I consistently am unable to stick to that schedule, or it’s burning me out, it’s not the right schedule for me. I’ve discovered that some of the best gains are had with a 3- or 4- day a week schedule because I have time to recover (that’s where the muscles are made anyway).

  • If I wake up in the morning feeling headachey, sick, stressed out, exhausted, or starving, I take a day off. I eat well and abundantly. If I have a food craving, I satisfy it. I stay in bed instead of go to the gym. I take an epsom salt bath. If I can, I go for a walk in nature. I go to analysis if it’s scheduled. I write. I take it slow and easy. I eliminate extra things in the day like social events and errands that are unnecessary. I drink lots of water and consume sodium. I drink electrolytes. I have learned that this is what overtraining feels like in my body, and it is communicating to me that I am over-doing it.  I have learned how to listen to that message and take it seriously.

  • If I don’t “feel like” going to the gym, I go anyway. I train anyway. *This is a different feeling than the overtraining feeling of actually being sick and headachey and starving. The “I don’t feel like it” is more of an emotional experience than a physical one, though it may have physical manifestations. It has taken me YEARS to figure out the difference, but now that I know, I am always honest with myself about which feeling it actually is and respond accordingly.

  • I remember the long game. If I am actually training for a competition, I commit in advance to an exercise and recovery protocol with my coach who works specifically with me to track my body’s response to my program. If there is no competition, I am not training: I am exercising. Exercising is for well-being and health and to support everything else in my life. Showing up at the gym becomes about building on something for the long haul. I remember that if I lower my intensity but keep showing up, my work will accumulate and I will have more strength and skill down the road.

  • The number one thing for me as a Masters athlete and as someone with a very stressful job is to prioritize recovery. I keep a workout schedule that gives me built-in days off to rest so my body can make use of the work I’ve put in. A consistent couple of days off can do wonders for my long-term health and my performance at the gym.

  • This also includes eating. If I’m training for a competition, I do my best to keep my diet abundant with plenty of protein, a variety of carbs, and my favorite fats to keep me satiated and to keep the food delicious. I do my best to cut out most alcohol and sweets and chips unless I am in a position where the craving is sending me a message about giving myself what I need. I don’t see cravings as bad. I see cravings as a communication that I am not getting enough of something. IT IS OKAY TO HAVE ENOUGH. On this note, I take the time to food prep once a week so that I have a better chance of feeling like I always have enough. This feels to me like a form of self-love: To provide myself enough of what I need.

For me, over time and trial and error I have found activities and sports that I enjoy and will keep putting the work into. Sometimes I go through cycles: Swimming in the summer, squatting more in the winter, more CrossFit in the spring, a couple of weeks completely off in the dead of winter. There are so many things to do with your body! I’ve learned that what you love and enjoy may change as you change and grow. It’s an ever-evolving relationship with movement and your body. Soak it up as best you can while you can.

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Sometimes, for those of us who drink, a beer is absolutely necessary. Pictured: A beer with a large foam head next to the book “Killers of the Flower Moon”