Back to Work: Where a Swim and a Sauna Becomes 150 Kettlebell Swings and Carb-Loading.

This post is going to be a little all over the place, just like me right now.

Part of my sanity-preservation as a solo-practice midwife in a high-service practice (read — I´m on call 24/7 and my phone rings and pings all day every day) is to take about 6-8 weeks off of call every summer so that I can rest, take a vacation or two, recharge, finally clean out all of my closets, and get my attitude on straight again.   For those of you not in small business this is otherwise known as two months unpaid leave. The last baby I delivered in my practice was on June 27.  Just got a call that let me know I will be back in the baby business later today because one of my clients is in early labor. Back to work.

I´ve switched my powerlifting training up a bit.  Right now, finances and time dictate that if I´m going to powerlift it´s going to be with either a self-designed program or with some kind of out-of the box online program.  I had started with Starting Strength, and had beautiful, glorious, newbie gains with it but they have slowed down a bit now that I´m about six months in .  That´s to be expected — I started this process with an ok fitness base and I had lifted before in high school, so my form wasn´t too far off.  

What I need now in order to make progress, I think, is some hypertrophy training, so my next out-of-the-box training program is going to be Juggernaut.  I really like the idea of working with a little bit more volume (when I add in some assistance exercises) and it feels better to work with a sub-maximal load and be making lots of lifts until I can´t work any more instead of trying to hit a new max every session and failing on my first or second or third rep.  Also, things that do need technical help, like my squats, get lots of reps in this phase to practice with under reasonable loads (exhibit A, my Tuesday workout with 50 squats at 85lbs.)

So, Juggernaut has one main lift a day for four days a week and then has assistance exercises worked in. For right now I´m being really flexible with those as my body feels heavily fatigued or tweaked by new loads.  Tuesday´s workout was just the squats.  Thursday I thought I´d bench press and then do some lower-body assistance stuff like leg presses and turkish get-ups.  

One other thing that this means is that my workouts are on a different schedule than the rest of the family, so I´m moving them to the mornings and then tagging along with them and doing easy stuff while they are at the gym.  13 loves to swim and has been pretty consistent about it, so I´ve been hopping in the pool while he´s there.

It feels good to swim again.  You can dig through the archives for a post about my complicated feelings about swimming, but a few more trips to the pool and I am almost exclusively positive about it right now.  

When I was a teenager and swimming 3-5 hours a day I had killer hip mobility which translated very nicely to ballet class and impressing people in yoga.  One of the things that I hope will come back with more frequent swim workouts is mobility in my right hip.  It has been limiting my martial arts progress for a bit and I´m hoping that a few hundred thousand yards of breaststroke will work the rust out.

Circling back to our headline, though — the one bad thing about swimming is that I haven´t worked out a low-tech, low-cost way to be connected to my phone.  So now that I´ve got a baby lined up on the runway,  I can´t go to the pool.  Even sadder, I can´t go to the sauna.  

I´ve developed a small addiction to the sauna, which is ironic, because in real life I absolutely hate being hot.  But the sauna is like a big, fat reset button for my brain chemistry (this is backed by research) and also seems to help me recover from my workouts better.  Plus my skin loves it and, well, vanity.

So, I´m chasing my workout and baking endorphins by doing some kettlebell swings today.  I´m completely overjoyed to report that swinging a 30-lb bell feels way too light now, so I´ve moved up to the 50.  Whoa.  I can’t quite manage it for 200 swings in a row yet, but I´m cranking out sets of 25 while unloading my dishwasher, touching up my toenail polish, eating rice and hot sauce, and whatever else I´m supposed to be doing when I´m going to work in an indeterminate amount of hours and have no idea when I will finish and come home.

For my personal reference and your curiosity, this is what I´m doing these days:

Monday — rest day

Tuesday — lift, martial arts class, easy swim or stretch, sauna

Wednesday — easy swim, sauna

Thursday — lift, easy swim or stretch, sauna

Friday — lift, sauna

Saturday — martial arts class

Sunday, martial arts class, lift

This feels good right now and even though it looks like a lot, I´m enjoying it.

One Plate, Two Plates, Three Plates, Black Belt.

I’ve got a lot of shit on my plate right now (hahahaha, I made a pun).  

I’ve got four babies to deliver in the next four weeks, I’m going to a conference in Toronto for a week with a few thousand other midwives (and pinkhairedchickenmama, yay), my kids have alltheendoftheschoolyearshit and I’m renovating my kitchen.  I’m basically shoehorning in building ikea cabinets and installing paneling and painting and rearranging stuff in boxes in between everything else I’m doing.

So, I’ve not been the best about getting into the gym, but I’m using my time wisely — to set goals.  I had superfastnewbiegains like a lot of beginning powerlifters and got real excited about what might be possible for my future.  But I’m trying to adjust my expectations and set up something a little bit more realistic.  I also don’t have a competition to go to before next year, so I won’t be able to gauge my progress by how I perform at a meet.  That’s ok, because it helps discourage me from trying to pile on too fast.

I have a love affair with the 45lb plates.  I like to give them a little squeeze every time I put one on a bar.  If I ever do competition, I think I’ll feel the same way about the reds, maybe even more so.  But for now, I’m in the land of the imperial at the YMCA and so I’ve set my goals by those plates.

 

I want to bench 135, or one plate.

I want to squat 225, or two plates.

and I want to deadlift 315, or three plates.

That just seems, well, so neat and tidy, doesn’t it?

Those goals are different levels of achievable.  Deadlifting 235 right now feels like I am using every last bit of energy and reserve and willpower to reach the top.  Benching 115 for three feels heavy but solid on the first and then mighty shaky by the third.  And squatting 150 feels like I could do a ton more, but I’m inching up slowly because I don’t have a great spotter available to me and dumping the weights on the safety bar would not only earn me the side-eye of all of the Y employees, it would be embarrassing, which is much worse.

I weigh 265 lbs.  So those aren’t huge goals for my body size, but I’m also an old lady.  You’ve got to climb your own hill.  Also, I’m coming to respect that some of my goals won’t be achievable for five years or more because that is how powerlifting works.  (WATCH OUT M2 LIFTERS 2022.  YOUR ASS IS GRASS).

So, maybe I can hit these goals by next spring?  Or at least some of them?

It’s really hard to judge what I should be able to do by looking at other people.  There just aren’t that many fat old lady powerlifters.  I’m occupying a weird space right now.  I think my training weights would break two of the three state records for women my age and size and yet, I’m nowhere near being competitive (or even qualifying) for nationals.  And the meets tend to have just four or five women total, not even in my age and weight class.  So, I start with my plate goals.  Then, maybe when I meet them, I can set the bar higher (hahaha, another pun), and go for 1, 2, 3 red plates.  That would be impressive.

One other little thing:  the black belt.  I’m going tomorrow to my dojo to watch the black belt testing — judo, jujutsu, and iaido.  My martial art is iaido, which is a kind of inner martial art that uses both wooden and metal swords to cultivate strength, balance, self-control, focus, and agility.  I’m an ikkyu, which is the last stage before shodan, or first black belt.  I’m setting my intention right here and now — I’m looking forward to the future and earning that shodan for myself.  It’s going to take a ton of work, but I have time this summer.  After the four babies, I have eight weeks of only quarter-time work. Eight weeks is not enough time to earn a shodan and not enough time for my plate-stacking, but it is enough time to set focus, set intention, and get a running start.  I commit to training in iaido 4-5 times a week and lifting 4 times a week.  I will sleep and eat well.  I will stretch and practice good self care.  I can do it.

Swimming — Slaying my Fat Unicorn

I did a swimming workout yesterday.  I think, overall, I swam about 1500 yards in somewhere around 40 minutes, in intervals, with a lot of chatting at the end of the pool and screwing around in between.  I love to swim in the ocean, in Great Lakes, and in pools messing around with my kids.  I have not one but two scuba diving trips scheduled with 13 this summer.  We’re diving shipwrecks in Tobermory and off the coast in Key West.  

But swimming for exercise has been something that overwhelms me.  I swam competitively in high school.  Very competitively.  I trained with people who became Olympians, I went to national competitions, I trained six days a week for up to five hours a day.  

And then one day, I just stopped.  I decided I wanted a normal teenage life.  I quit right after I turned 17 and didn’t do another pool workout, well, until yesterday, nearly 30 years later.

Last summer I tried.  I bought a summer-long membership to the masters swim club and then sat on it and didn’t go to a single practice.  I think that being in the group and facing how slow I would be, how weak I had become, was just too big of a demon to slay.  When I was thinking rationally, it seemed pretty logical to assume that I wouldn’t be the first person who had ever participated in a masters sport who had once been really good at something and then somehow gotten old and fat in the decades that followed.  

I think that one of the things that I was really self-conscious about was sharing a lane.  if you are swimming two or three or four people to a lane in a practice and you are a lot slower than everyone else, you get in their way.  It isn’t the same as running in a group and falling behind — you’re actively creating a traffic jam.  And somehow, some kind of body shame around being fat and out of shape was really getting in the way of me occupying my own space and claiming my right to not be fantastic at this on the first day.

Let’s call it the Fat Unicorn Syndrome.  Fat athletes are assumed to be slow and low-skill at their sports.  Lots of people are slow and low-skill at their sports.  Example A, approximately half of my softball team last summer, most of them young and skinny.  I didn’t have much self-worth invested in that — I signed up for the beer.  Fat Unicorns, though, break the rules, by achieving great physical feats despite their fatness. They run half-marathons, crush the Athena class in the triathlons, find their way onto the crew boats, do the multi-day bike trips, etc.  

I totally struggle with participating in a new venture unless I can be a Fat Unicorn.  Especially if I’m on a team or in a group practice where my incompetence affects others.  The truth is that unless we are going to spend the rest of our lives not trying new things, we are going to do things that we are bad at.  I spent the first two years of my martial arts career trying not to fall over, but now that I’m nearly five years in, I’m training for my black belt.  But I think that for some of us fat athletes, there is this extra internal mental pressure. “If I am not instantly excellent at this, people are going to assume it is because of my fatness, and they are also going to assume that I will never be good at it.”  And the heavy weight of people’s low expectations gets in your own head and sets up barriers that certainly seem real.

Stopping swimming for me is absolutely connected to my weight gain in my mind.  I ate like a swimmer when I was actively competing — probably 6000-7000 calories a day.  I was constantly hungry and ate a ton of crap.  So when I stopped, the weight just piled on.  It took me a good ten years to figure out what healthy eating looked like and that helped me stabilize — at about 240 lbs.  So, not doing swimming is tied closely in my mind with “letting myself go,” and with every bit of shame and regret I have about being heavy.  I’m working on those feelings.

But I swam yesterday.  And because I’ve been powerlifting, I had some new core strength and stability that I haven’t had recently.  My heart was pounding after just a few laps, but I didn’t feel that kind of deep exhaustion or weakness or instability that you feel when you try something new and your body isn’t quite ready for it.  It felt, well, just fine.  And I swam on my own time, in a lane with somebody about my speed, then later with 13, who is markedly slower than me.  But I like to think that I made space for him too, to figure out his own pace, his own distance, and his own skill.  We’ll keep going, at least until we hit the shipwrecks this summer.

Training Together, Staying Together Still

13 has discovered a love for assisted chin-ups.  As I was trying desperately to grip the bar during some heavy deadlifts yesterday, he was happily cranking through a set of one million chin ups and flying through the air.

I get it. The thing that I hate the most about chin-ups/pull-ups is the way that even one rep feels like I might separate all of the limbs from my body.  There is something really great about pulling up your body weight freely and easily, even if it is with a lot of help.

Speaking of deadlifts, I’m really struggling with the lack of deadlift space in my little gym.  I managed to work in a set of deadlifts in between a bunch of teen boys — I was working the same weight as they were, but the fact that I was performing them in front of them, with them hanging out and watching, meant that I was super self-conscious and rushed my setup and my grip.  The result was that the lifts were total garbage.  But closing time was creeping up and I just wanted to get them in.  I wish there wasn’t a constant crunch for space.  Or maybe that I felt a little more comfortable claiming the space that is there.

 

 

What I Did Instead of Working Out on Sunday

When I was training for my half-marathon, I was in the middle of building my midwifery practice and it wasn’t a rare occasion that I felt like ass because I was running on a sleep deficit that was stretching across several days or weeks.  You see, if you work 30 hours in a row and then come home at 6am and crash and get a three hour nap before you have to start taking care of your kids or go back to work again and then you sleep 5 hours a night for the next six days, you don’t ever feel awesome.

I knew that I wanted to be fit and I knew that my life wasn’t going to change anytime soon, so I just decided to power through.  I made a rule that I had to do the run/bike/HIIT class that I had planned for the day unless I was actually working at the moment that they were supposed to occur.  I became the queen of discipline.

That was some dumb shit.

Dear readers, could you guess what happened next?  It took another year, and a marathon, but then I totally crashed and burned. Shocking.

So, this weekend I found myself in the familiar territory of having a few workouts scheduled (an iaido class, a bike ride, a powerlifting workout).  I missed them all.  I worked most of the day on Friday and then worked from 1am Saturday to 3am Sunday, then from noon to 6pm on Sunday.  You know what I did for the rest of Sunday?  I held down the couch.

In that three day weekend I got to be part of two amazing births, including helping a mom have a healthy baby girl after she’d lost two previous children to a congenital disorder.  I was a big ball of ugly crying when that birth was done and everything was joyful and triumphant.  The stress of carrying the desire for a happy outcome on that one made me even more wore out than normal.  I understand that for most people working 30 hours in two days would be enough to be wore out. It’s not my everyday normal, but it’s my normal.

It would seem to make sense to skip a workout after having your body and mind thrown through the grinder, but it is something I have to make a conscious effort to allow myself to do.  I’m feeling a little different about fitness these days — the weightlifting and short, high-intensity cardio I’m doing leave me less flattened than long, steady-state cardio workouts did and so I don’t have to force myself to do them.  I’m not really using my willpower to get to the gym.  And I’m not punishing myself when I don’t get there.

A funny thing is happening — when I rest and drink enough water and have enough recovery time between workouts, I can do more.  (I realize this is not rocket science, but allow me some grace for figuring out human physiology 101).  And it’s exciting to go to the gym and totally crush my goals.  I know that my progress will suffer if I skip a week or two weeks or a month, but it’s actually ok to take care of myself and enter my workouts healthy.  This is my new balance with my crazy life.  Last night I hit PRs on all my lifts and tried a few new accessory exercises (and had gas in the tank to do them). I still expect to work myself up to a heavy training schedule, but I’m also planning to be more holistic in my approach — seeing nutrition, rest, and strength and cardio work all as part of training and all equally valuable.  I’m already a champion napper.  I think I have a good start.