A Dainty Diary of Lifting

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Fitness as a State of Mind

I’m not dead. I’m just on vacation from school and life in general. I feel like I left too much of my spark on the platform when I competed, and now almost a month later I’m still feeling a little lost.

What have I been up to? Well, I went to Wal-mart last weekend and bought carrots. I’ve been back to Hostyle Conditioning and seen some incredible signs of progress on my bench. I’ve read the farcical article published by Men’s Health that establishes a definitive guide to the fittest man of all time.

All joking aside, the issue of labeling someone as the fittest man of all time raises an important question: What is fitness?

Despite the fact that I’ve been called a “gym rat” on numerous occasions, no one would ever pick me out of a police line-up for being guilty of the crime of fitness. And if the internet has taught me anything, it’s that the purpose of getting fit is to get super lean, toned, and sexy so that you can feel more confident and get chicks.

But if Brad Pitt abs are the ultimate metric of fitness, then I’ve failed quite miserably. Except that it seems like an indisputable fact that fitness is actually a measure of athletic ability and a person’s ability to be stronger, run faster or jump higher. If that’s the case, then fitness is not a body type, but rather the state of mind necessary to better yourself constantly.

When I say that I’m on vacation, I mean exactly that I am in the frame of mind of taking a break from fitness. I don’t feel fit. The amount of change that has happened in my body over the past few weeks has been quite minimal, and I’m still forcing myself to go to the gym and execute the motions of squatting. But somewhere along the line, the fire that was driving me forward seems to have been extinguished: I don’t sit at my desk all day, counting down the seconds until it’s finally time to deadlift. I eat a box of pop tarts and think, “Meh, I’ll get down to my competition weight later” when 8 weeks ago, all I could think about was shrinking down to 132 lbs! Where did I go wrong?

If you’re reading this blog because you want all of the answers to “How do I motivate myself and get totally ripped in 6 weeks?” you’re in the wrong place. I’ve been trying to ditch my spare tire for over a year. But at the same time, I’m no Morrissey crooning, “Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body ? I don’t know….” because in fact I do know.

At some point in my life, I was told and forced to accept that I will always face barriers when trying to “get fit”. There are professional athletes who face much bigger hurdles than I ever will. Being “fit” is very much a test of will to overcome these obstacles. All of those dudes on that stupid Men’s Health list find a way to make it work. So when I feel like I’m too tired to go to the gym because of school and work and wine, I remember that I can either choose to let all of those things get in the way, or I can choose to stop treating them as excuses. I am the only person who can make that decision for myself.

Actually, when people ask me how I’ve managed to lose weight, my primary response is that I started acting like an adult: I don’t like paying taxes, put I’ve got to do it anyway. I don’t like eating my veggies, but I know I need to do it anyway. I didn’t like working out, but I had to do it anyway. The reality is that sometimes you have to do what’s good for you, instead of what you’d like to do. Luckily, I sucked it up long enough to start enjoying the gym… until lately.

In truth, the fact that I continue to go to the gym 4 days a week despite my mental side trip to Hawaii is reassuring. I may not be in the running for the title of fittest man alive for a couple of reasons, but  when I feel like a fat ass for eating fries with dinner last night, I remind myself that getting “fit” is a journey – and there are peaks and valleys along the way. I may be in a valley, but as long as I keep moving forward, then I am closer to my destination. And I know that when my inner drill sergeant says “Put down the doughnut, fatty” I need to tighten my bootstraps and listen. The mind rules the body.



A Week of Breakfast

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about what I’m eating. I tend to eat the same foods over and over again until I’m sick of them, and then they fall out of favour for a while.

I went and watched Ms. Tali lift at her first meet this weekend. She got me Daryl’s cereal and set a new deadlift PR like it was nothing, so she is officially the most badass person ever. So one of the foods that I’m continuing to live off of is the bee cereal. It never gets old.

However, I do feel like I have an obligation as a responsible adult to eat more than just cereal for every meal. I’m trying to get my eating back on track for weight loss this week, but I’ve been doing LeanGains for so long that I have no idea what normal people eat to get their protein in the morning. I wandered around the supermarket last night trying to find something, and decided to try a Bolthouse Farms Protein Plus smoothie. It was delicious and one of the best impulse buys I’ve made in a while.

This stuff tastes like chocolate milk. When I was fatter, I could easily go through 2L of chocolate milk per day. Chocolate milk is delicious and the fact that it was banned from our house when I was growing up makes it even more enjoyable. Who doesn’t love the nectar of chocolate cows? And while I’m a pretty firm believer in IIFYM, it’s very rare that I can squeeze a cup of chocolate milk into a sensible meal plan.

I was also impressed with the fact that the single serving container boasted 29g of protein. I generally aim for 30g of protein in a meal, so this was a the perfect portable breakfast. Even though I knew that there was more than enough protein to keep me feeling full, I was a bit skeptical about having a liquid breakfast.  I used to find that liquids did nothing for my satiety and only added to my over inflated calorie-count for the day. But with the Protein Plus, I was full until around 11:45 when it was time to eat again, anyway. I’m pretty impressed to have found such a delicious tasting protein smoothie, and this is something that I will definitely buy again.

The other food that was mentioned to me by a friend was Eziekiel 4:9 which is sprouted grain bread. I don’t know why, but for some reason I had always operated under the assumption that this stuff was gluten free and intended for celiacs. Turns out I was wrong. It”s a complete protein which gives it a huge leg up over other breads, and it’s been a while since any bread has factored into my diet so this feels like a treat, too. It tastes like normal whole grain bread, although the taste is a little bit nuttier and slightly more bitter. I’ve been having a slice of toast with some butter, served alongside scrambled eggs, steamed spinach and some cottage cheese for supper. Cottage cheese is another one of those foods that I seem to be eating like it’s going out of style. I’ll have some more tonight with dinner, and I’m going to try some peanut butter on my toast which is going to be totally delicious, I already know it.

And rounding out this week’s parade of breakfast foods, I finally got around to trying a Iogo product. There has been so much advertising for this stuff and it seems to have cropped up everywhere overnight. I’m a slave to the advertising industry so it was only a matter of time. Apparently they are a Canadian company, so not sure how widespread their campaign has been, but their ads are notable because they’re selling yogurt without catering specifically to women or talking about poop.

But since yogurt is never just yogurt in this day and age, I went for the “Nomad” yogurt which basically means it’s drinkable and liquidy. I have to say that I like my yogurt like I like my men: Greek and thick. I will settle for less, but only begrudgingly and so I was bound to be disappointed.  I’ll have to try the Iogo Greko in order to give a fair review, but I wanted something I could pair with a Daryl’s bar in the morning, so portability won. Unfortunately, I was super disappointed with my limp, runny and bland “drinkable yogurt”. The taste was a little too subtle to the point of being non-existant, and I was ravenous long before lunch.

Oh, and since we’re talking about food, I feel obligated to confess that at some point today, I stopped and grabbed McDick’s. I can’t even say I regret it because I usually need some McNuggets every couple of months and I haven’t had any since August. This is why I am fat. It’s also why I can never claim to be even loosely paleo. And usually fast food is just fuel for fatness and doesn’t help me to achieve my goal of being super toned, but I’m going to go kill it on deadlifts tomorrow and then thank the gods of ChickieNobs. I think that’s what they mean by “balanced diet”, right?

Speaking of fatness: I’m going to take some progress pictures this weekend for my 6 weeks of BTFC and if I look even remotely better, then I’m going to focus on staying under 72kg and not worry about losing as much weight as possible before Christmas. I’m kind of starting to like my body, despite my chubbiness. But I feel like I’m never supposed to admit that to anyone, so let’s just keep that a secret. I’ll keep eating and no one will be the wiser.



Femininity in Fitness

It was a dark and stormy night. I was at home by the fire place, curled up with my cat and engaging in some routine cyberstalking, when I stumbled across this comment:

I realize that this is the internet and ignorant comments breed faster than rabbits, but there is something about this particular comment that has been niggling at the back of my brain all day. I’ve written before about how women need to hit the weights hard, and even though this blog is in its infancy, I’m already rehashing the issue of women in the weight room. But we’ve yet to to reach a critical tipping point as a society, wherein we stop perpetuating the idea that lifting will make you bulky, and instead embrace the alternative: girls can lift.

Part of the reason that this comment has stayed with me all day is because I often feel like women are afraid of the weight section because of their own internal anxiety and not because of external pressures. How many boyfriends would love to see their girls take up an interest in the gym? Yet, here is a prime example of a chick who lifts big, is proud of her accomplishments and strangers feel the need to tell her that all of a sudden she is not feminine.

Being feminine implies there value in doing the things that women “traditionally” do. Except that we live in 2012. Women can vote now.

In fact, women can now run for political office and win. Modern women are mothers, daughters and sisters but they are also scientists, doctors, lawyers and engineers. Did we stop being feminine when women started treating us as autonomous human beings? The answer is obviously and resoundingly, “no”. Hell, I can be all of those things and smokin’ hot, to boot.

Now, I could accept that men and women are different, and I could choose to get smokin’ hot doing one of the workouts that Women’s Health tries to sell me so that I can look “traditionally beautiful”. After all, who doesn’t want toned arms and a flat tummy?

Here’s the thing: even girls who love pink possess a brain and the capacity for critical thought, so they have the ability to see that Cosmo’s non-workouts will keep them perpetually weak and unhealthy for life. Whereas the men’s fitness industry seems to benefit from convincing guys they need to get stronger and more swole, the women’s health industry revolves around continual failure, so that we buy into the latest trend in the hopes of finally obtaining that sexy, svelte figure. I dare say that part of being “feminine” is longing for a body that you can never hope to obtain. And if our societal ideal of the female body is waif-like, then just starve yourself and we’ll have a million weak girls who are dying to be skinny. Is this what makes us women?

Yet, lifting is one of the things that we know works for making hot girls even hotter, and it’s when I’m lifting that I feel my most feminine. The only time I’m conscious of being a woman during my daily life is when I step into a weightroom full of dudes. When I competed, I straightened my hair, put on a full face of make-up and wore pearl earrings. No one mistook me for a dude. I was pretty, strong. Or when I first looked in the mirror and noticed that BAM! I have collar bones and shoulders that are super hot, that wasn’t an accident – it was lifting.  Having muscle made me feel pretty for the first time in my life. And it’s not like I accidentally squatted 225 and aww sheeeeit, now I have a penis.

The important thing here is that our ideas of what is feminine evolves; it’s time that ladies appropriated that definition to include being taken seriously at the gym. It’s no longer acceptable for internet hotshots to belittle women who don’t buy into the zumba model. Being a lady lifter just means you can eat more cupcakes and look better in your sundresses. It won’t make you look manly; it will only make you stronger.

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General update on life and lifting

I didn’t post a BTFC update yesterday because I simply could not bring myself to step on the scale. I’ve been feeling a little off kilter since my meet, both in terms of diet and at the gym. Nutrition-wise, I’ve been stuffing my face with junk and in terms of lifting, I’m having a hard time feeling that “spark” to push myself that I normally get just from thinking about the gym.

Well, I forced myself to weigh-in this morning. I am back where I was 6 weeks ago. I don’t feel totally terrible about it. I’ll just call it a carb refeed and start working my way back down. I’m starting to see my weight as constantly fluctuating instead of as a static number on the scale, so I don’t feel totally totally derailed.

But, it’s time to tighten my belt and move on.

I enjoyed a lazy Sunday today, and to make my inaction seem productive, I decided to plan out my week in lifting. I haven’t done this since September, and I know that I’m always much more focused when I have a plan. I just have to go in and stick to the plan and I’m good at that.

I have to say that even though I’ve been feeling wishy-washy, I did manage to set a new 5 RM of 205lbs on Friday. And it felt so easy. But it says something that I couldn’t even feel excited after my squat has been stalled for so long.

And now that my lungs no longer feel like I’ve been smoking a pack a day, it’s time to get back on the cardio bandwagon. I need to do some running if I’m ever going to hope to run 10K in May.

I also started counting calories again today. I think I’m going to give up on LeanGains. I need to eat earlier than lunch and I often don’t get home in time to eat supper in my 10-hour feeding window. Oh well. The more important thing is that I got paid this week for the first time in 6 weeks, so I could actually afford to buy groceries today. The thought of not being able to buy coffee before working out is terrifying. It’s also uninspiring to have to cobble together 100 g of protein from the dredges of my pantry for a week.

Who am I kidding? I have done nothing all day except look at tattoo porn and read fitspo tumblrs. What has my life become?

Wishful shrinking or something like that.

I do really like this tattoo, though:

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On Physical and Mental Health

I’ve been receiving e-mails at work all week alerting me to the fact that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. What better time to talk about some of the mental health aspects of extreme weight loss? The link between mind and body on my journey from fat to fit has been something that I’ve thought about a lot. It seems to me that a lot is said about the diet and exercise aspects of weight loss, but not enough is said about how to support your emotional well-being in the process. A simple prescription to eat less neglects the fact that it’s no easy feat to shift your entire worldview without going crazy.

Now, if there is anyone who needs Mental Health Awareness Training, it was my sullen 15-year-old self. I had a close family member who suffered from debilitating depression and addictions issues – to the point where we spent one Christmas in the psych ward of the local hospital after a failed suicide attempt. There were a lot of things that sucked at that point in my life but I used to wonder, “If everyone else is faking their way through life, why can’t you just toughen up and pretend to be normal?”. Needless to say, my approach to curing insanity didn’t fix anything.

Less than a decade later, when I was faced with unemployment and my own bout of depression, I still had no answers. After graduating from university, I went through about 6 months of not leaving my apartment except to walk to the nearby grocery store. I rarely saw my friends, and when I did I had nothing to say. I dreaded anything except for the 16 hours a day I spent in bed, trying to avoid the world and eating a lot of take-out. I felt like I was totally powerless over my own life. I was simply floating along, a victim to all of the circumstances of my own existence. It isn’t exactly a secret that much of my desire to improve my life comes from the slow realization that I’m lucky that I didn’t kill myself during that period. Now that I’ve made it through, I might as well try and make the most of what I’ve got left in my life. So my initial foray into fitness, zumba, was very much a conscious effort to add some enjoyment to my life.

But some of the philosophy that I harbored in my teenage years still lingers, and in a sense I never really dealt with my mental health issues in the traditional way. I certainly realized that dealing with depression was not a matter of just tightening my bootstraps. But even when I couldn’t just snap out of my haze, I was hesitant to go to therapy or take medication. I believe that I am the only person who can control my mental health, and I think that’s largely related to the fact that I live most of my life inside my head. I’m an ideas man. I sometimes give the impression of being dull or boring because I’m fairly quiet and introverted. It just so happens that I’m so wrapped up in the world of thoughts whizzing around the inside my head. Most of the ideas that flitter across my brain will never come to fruition in reality, they belong only to me and can never be communicated beyond the boundaries of my body. So, it’s a big problem when those thoughts get out of whack and I start contemplating suicide.

Now, it’s well established that regular physical activity can help improve overall mental health, but I think there’s more at play when you start trying to shed all of your excess fat. You spend your whole life being morbidly obese and then you start cleaning up your diet and realize it’s kind of easy, and you start exercising and maybe even enjoy it. All of sudden you’re left asking yourself, “Well fuck, why wasn’t I doing this all along?” So you’re beating yourself up a little bit, and then the scale stops moving and you feel hopeless: maybe porn-star hotness is not so obtainable and you’ll just stay fat forever. And lo, you’ve been sucked right back into the void of dark thoughts that you were trying to claw your way out of when you first forced yourself to hit the gym.

So how do I find my clean, well-lighted place? I force myself to do to yoga, for one thing – and just like a shrink is not for me, I know that yoga is not for everyone, either. I like to joke that stretching doesn’t build strength so that I can slack off on my mobility work, and I’ve been known to say that yoga is too low impact to be considered “fitness”. Yet I know that the few hours that I spend at yoga contribute to my overall physical and mental health. My mind and body are the only home I’ll have for life, and when I start to hoard all of the thoughts inside of my head, yoga forces me to do some spring cleaning.

No, I can’t say that yoga is some sort of cure-all for my crazy. Therapy or anti-depressants or electro-shock therapy might be more effective solutions, but if that’s the case then I’m probably out of luck. But I feel like I’ve laid a pretty good foundation without those things, and I no longer feel like my life is something beyond my control. Instead, taking charge of my health was one of the cornerstones in taking control of my entire life. Figuring out that eating is a physical need and not an emotional one was a huge revelation. Instead I’ve found other ways nourish my soul: yoga is one of them, and when I say that lifting has improved my capacity for physical and mental strength, I mean exactly that. Lifting can be lonely. You step under the bar alone, and then you have to confront both success and defeat on your own. Sometimes you need a little luck to get ahead and some days you’re off your game, but consistency and hard work will get you pretty far in the face of any obstacle; that’s as true in the weighroom as it in life.

And sometimes, when the world is weighing heavy on your mind, you just need to deadlift until you can’t think anymore.

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STFU about the stairs

I was going to talk about my bench session tonight. But it was kind of really shitty. I have some thoughts on that, but revisiting them right now is only going to drive me to drink. Instead, I want to address a small phenomenon, if you will, that really grinds my gears.

Simply: taking the stairs is not a physical achievement. It’s not a measure of how fit you are. Walking up a flight of stairs burns like 10 calories and you’re going to consume 600 more in that venti mocha frappaccino with extra whip that you’re guzzling down at coffee time every morning. By my calculations, you therefore need to walk up 6000 flights of stairs just to break even, so get crackin’.

Except that you’re not about to climb the leaning power of Piza or all of the steps in the CNN tower. No, you’re going to walk up the single flight off stairs that is necessary to get to your second story office, where you’re going to sit on your ass all day, perfecting your secretary spread. And you’re going to inform everyone that you take the stairs now, like you just won the Boston Marathon. Of course, you will not be on the front of any newspapers, and you won’t explicitly gloat, but instead you’ll perfect the subtle art of dropping offhand remarks into conversation. “Oh, you’re going to take the elevator? I always take the stairs.” Congratulations, your smug sense of superiority knows no bounds.

I’m sure that someone has done a study showing that people who routinely take the stairs tend to score better on some arbitrary measure of fitness. But the joke’s on you, oh magnificent stair-climber because you aren’t a shining star of fitness when you can’t make it up a single flight of stairs without being winded.  The very fact that you seem to think that taking 3 flights of stairs is somehow of note indicates that you aren’t doing anything actually noteworthy like learning how to climb a mountain.

Now, your fitness achievements don’t have to be record-setting but why don’t you try going to an actual gym? It would be infinitely more interesting as a topic of conversation, and you can even be one of those people who spends hours on the stairmaster and then gloat about how hard you worked at the gym because you were so sweaty and your legs felt like jello. In the meantime, unless you’re a paraplegic or walking the stairway to the sky, I don’t want to hear about how you’re keeping track of your daily stair mileage.


Turkey Day Training

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I ate chicken and squatted unto death. Here’s a video of my failed bodyweight widowmaker attempt, starring my ass. I dedicate this video to the dude at my gym who felt the need to wear a belt while curling 2.5lb plates. Please, don’t strain yourself.

I knew by the fifth rep that I wasn’t going to make it to 20. I was still feeling weak and tired from being sick and even my 145 warm-up set felt heavy. I decided to see how far I could go. Failed on rep 16 after hitting the safeties – I was in the bum squat rack because another gym patron felt  that the other cage was best put to use as towel rack while he curled. The good news is that I’m relying more on my stretch reflex, instead of pausing at the bottom. That’s a huge improvement over the last widowmaker I attempted in August. The bad news is that I still good-morning my squat when I start to get fatigued, and I was feeling totally beat yesterday. I may reattempt this in  a week if I’m feeling more on my game.

After that light warm-up, I did a 5×5 workset on squats, and then some leg accessory work. Overall I felt good about the workout and it gave me a better handle on what I want to do for programming until my December meet. Unfortunately, today my body feels a bit like the guy from Operation: everything hurts.

Squat: Part of the reason I’ve been so unhappy with Greyskull is because I seem to be making zero progress on my squat and I know it’s not going to get me the 300lb squat that I want at my meet in December. I am going to try Texas method, instead. I’ll do a squat volume day on Mondays and then the new 5RM on Friday.

Deadlift: I’m thinking of continuing with Greyskull for my deadlift. The only problem is that pulling a 3+ set on Wednesday morning kind of works against the Texas Method programming of squat. I’m going to try it and see how it feels. If it becomes a problem, I’ll move this to my weekend lifting session. I’d also like to add in some BBB accessory work on deadlift, doing a 5×10 just to get some volume. I seriously need to get better at reppin’ my deadlift because right now I pull 2 of anything I’m done.

Bench: I was thinking of sticking with Greyskull here as well, although now that I’ve been to Hostyle, it looks like I’ll follow their programming on Saturdays and then repeat by myself on Mondays. I’ve basically taken my fate out of my own hands here and placed it in the hands on the experts. Curd suggested I should do the 100% Raw meet at their gym in November to try and motivate my bench progress. I’m still on the fence for that, and it’s not like I’m lacking in motivation to begin with.

OHP: I’m totally stalled on my press and don’t really care about it. I’ll do it once a week on Wednesday mornings just so that it isn’t totally abandoned. Greyskull or whatever.

Accessory work: I feel like one of the biggest things that I need to do in order to prepare is some accessory work. This whole attitude of “I’m not doing jack shit” when it comes to accessory work is holding me back, and I know that I can use some higher rep stuff to work towards my aesthetic goals. So, I’m making this easy for myself: I’m going to do The Female Training Bible as my accessory work and see how it goes – I have a few modifications in mind but at least it gives me a base to work from.

Today is a holiday and I’m opting for my day of rest. I normally take a break on Tuesday, but instead I’m going to bench with Coach Caitlin tomorrow. For the first time ever I’m excited to bench. I’ll get to try out my new wrist wraps and attempt to replicate everything I learned on Saturday. I’ll also attempt some upper body accessory work since I need to develop my broceps if I’m going to compete in that November bench meet and not embarrass myself. I sense approximately 5 million tricep dips looming in my future.