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.

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.

 

 

The Family that Trains Together Stays Together

So, I somehow managed to get my whole family doing Starting Strength-style powerlifting workouts.  And three out of the four of us are doing them together.  17 is far too cool to be seen with any of us, but so far he is my best partner in the most important part of the newby-nerdy fitness journey — obsessing over it.  We talk about our gains, about our PRs, about our macros.  We have stopped being fun at parties. We just train in parallel — an hour or two apart.  Him with his high-school bros and me with 13 and 54.  We even make fun of the same dudes we see at the gym.  

17 is a pretty intense athlete in his day job, which largely consists of picking sports he looks really, really good performing so that he can impress his friends, generate wicked snapchat videos, and pick up girls.  So it isn’t surprising that the addictive early gains of starting strength appealed to him.  “I wanna deadlift 400lbs by the end of the summer.”  You and me both, cupcake.  

But 13 and 54 are different and while they’re into it, I have to make sure to be sensitive to the fact that they’ve got unique goals and varying experiences from mine.

13 is a geeky, chubby kid who has always thrown in the towel pretty easily instead of trying to shine athletically in the presence of his big brother.  But he’s crazy strong, probably from spending the last few years of doing judo.  Proportional to his size, he’s probably got the most natural talent for lifting in our family.  But he’s all about intensity and gonzo, then fades as soon as something is consistently hard.  I’ve been trying to nudge him a bit, show him how impressive his gains are, get him to hang in there.

54.  Well 54 is complicated. He’s not an intensity junkie, which makes him set apart from the three of us.  And I’m struggling with being supportive-but-not-patronizing as I talk about climbing your own hill while I’m sliding on a few extra plates between his sets and mine.  I haven’t quite finished finessing the art of negotiating the impact of the aging dude ego on our ability to share an activity that I am way more into than he is.  But he is really supportive of me in general, and I’m really hoping that this is something that we can enjoy doing together.  I think maybe I just need to put more metal songs on his playlist and we’ll be alright.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

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Pinkhairedchickenmama and I pausing on a run during happier times.


Dear running,

I have to break up with you.  Our relationship has not been good for a while.  When we met I was all in, maybe a little bit too soon. Spending time with you gave me a kind of heady feeling, some would say addictive.  But there have been signs since the beginning, red flags if you will, that we are a bad match.  I have other lovers now, and while things aren’t necessarily easier with them either, I just get don’t worn down by the them the way I did with you.  Plus, they’re sexier.  Sorry.  Well, sorry not sorry.

Be well,

Me.

I have a backstory, as lots of people do, which put me in the not-so-unique position of having two young kids and being in crap shape.  I had a few false starts at trying to improve my fitness (including a very fun, but ultimately too time-consuming stint on a competitive rowing team) but found that I couldn’t stay consistent with anything fitness-related because of the constant pull of insomnia, kid-wrangling, work-wrangling, and inertia.

But then I found running.  And because it was something that could be done in my own neighborhood, with no prep time and minimal gear, it seemed doable.  I did couch to 5k four times before making it through the program (should have been my first hint), but kept going and then joined a running group where my embarrassment about being last every time motivated me to gain speed and distance at a reasonable pace.  I ran my first 5k, a women’s only race, and placed a full 15 minutes after my friends.  But then I PR’ed every single race after that, running about one every one-two months.  I started to feel like a fit person.  I was proud of myself.

With the help of an amazing group of people at the Ypsi Studio, I managed to train for what seemed to be an impossible distance, the half-marathon, and ran a very satisfying 2:32 in the Detroit Free Press International Marathon (half-marathon event).  It was a real peak experience and I savored every minute of it.  I felt healthy and strong and capable.  I knew I wasn’t the fastest runner there, but I finished the distance just fine and I did so at 218 lbs.  I was pretty proud of what I had accomplished and felt like my fitness was better than it had been in years.  And it was. Training for the half-marathon took me from someone who struggled to finish a 5k without walking to someone who cranked out 9 and 10 mile training runs and had a bit to give.

Looking back, though, I wonder if it was the running that led to my fitness gains or if the running just benefitted from my fitness gains.  I was running in the mornings twice a week with the Studio running group, then filling out my program with three more runs a week.  But I also was doing bootcamp classes, spinning, and a HIIT workout with the Studio’s owner, Julia Collins.  Sometimes I was doing three workouts in a row — running with the group then staying for bootcamp and spin.  I think that my body responds awesomely to resistance training and high-intensity cardio.  And maybe not so much to the long slog of distance running training. I often felt like my long runs were my least effective days.

This became really obvious when I tried to springboard from my half-marathon success and train for a marathon the next year.   One mistake — I started training too early on an ankle I had broken in a rock-climbing accident.  But really, marathon training was just one fail after another.  As running replaced my other workouts, I actually felt my body get weaker.  My adrenals took a hit.  I began to get repetitive stress injuries.  I had to roll my IT bands every day or they felt like concrete when I ran.  I had absolutely debilitating heel spurs.  My knees sounded like they had a bag of marbles in them every time I went up or down the stairs. I gained 25 lbs.  My long runs were three and four and five-hour-long exercises in sheer will against a constant desire to quit, followed by a day on the couch.

My friends from the Studio and from our running community were super-encouraging on the day of the race and it did feel like a triumph, though strangely not as satisfying as my half and with a time much less satisfying — over six and a half hours.  I could say that I ran a marathon, but, in reality, I wasn’t sure I would ever want to run again.  And, two and half years later, I’ve gathered together all of my false starts in running, attempts to use running for fitness gains again, and I’m officially saying goodbye.

My closure was inspired by one of my neighbors, who has found a new love of running by running races of only a single mile, finding meaning in being fast.  Here is her story:  http://milermethod.com/blog/breaking-up-with-the-marathon

Sierra’s writing about how holding the marathon as the pinnacle of the recreational running experience led her to doubt her body resonated pretty strongly with me and awoke me one step at a time to something I hadn’t realized:  running puts me in a constant battle with my body.  Sierra came to a slightly different conclusion — she decided that her body type was more suited to a faster, shorter race.  I decided that I’m not going to run at all.

I’m now about 270 lbs.  And even if I get down to 218 again, or lower, to my fighting weight of, say, 165-185 lbs, I still don’t think running will be my best sport.  I’m in a head space where I don’t want to make weight loss my primary focus, rather I want performance and strength.  And I’m finding that there are a lot of sports where my weight is not the kind of hindrance that it is in running.  Because even 165lb me is not going to be a Boston qualifier.  I’ve accepted that.  My muscle-y self is not made for it.  And I don’t want to do a sport where I’m thinking that if I could just lose a little muscle weight, I’d be faster.  It’s a battle I don’t want to fight.  Running makes my body my own enemy, and I hate that.

I’m an awesome athlete, when I train consistently, and I sometimes make sick improvements in short amounts of time that surprise me when I pick the right activities. When I was cross-training for the half, I surprised my trainer by pulling 400 watts consistently on the erg and I’m erg training now, trying to get a 5k time less than 20 minutes.  I think I’ll get there by the end of the month.  I can cycle efficiently and tear up the mountain bike trails.  I can swim long distances easily.  But what I really can do is lift weights.

What all of these activities have in common is that having a more muscled body is a strength, not a weakness for them.  I knew that I would excel in weightlifting because I have a long-ago history with it and a little flirting relationship with it from HIIT.  But now that I am working an actual powerlifting program, I am absolutely, totally, head over heels in love.  And I’m crushing it for now.  I feel at harmony with my body in a way that I haven’t for years while exercising.  I’m dreaming big dreams about how far I can go with this sport and, best of all, I can do it in the body that I’m in.  LOVE.

Back on the Beast-Wagon

There have been some recent conversations between pinkhairedchickenmama and I regarding shaking off our stuckness. And just like the ice is leaving the Great Lakes and the ground is thawing all of the way through, so are we shaking off our winter blues and stepping out into the springtime to look around.

She was brave enough to register for one of the hardest trail half-marathons in Michigan and is starting running down the country roads near her farm full of wayward creatures trying to train after being seriously sidelined by illness and injury. She got mobile rural internet access, aka a smartphone, to help track her nutrition. I just finished passing a big belt test for my Iaido training and am going full gonzo into working out with my new gym membership. Truth be told, I’ve got my whole motley nerdy family on a powerlifting program. The YMCA has seen nothing like us.

We’re going to try to write more about this journey, be consistent, accomplish something, be epic, be beastly. Stay tuned.