A Dainty Diary of Lifting


Max testing: Squat PR

I decided that with 4 weeks left before my meet, I should see how much progress I’ve made. I haven’t really PR’ed since my last meet, 7 weeks ago.

Here’s a video of my 265lb squat. That’s a 25lb PR and I’m pretty happy with it, even though there are some form issues. Still aiming for 280 by the time my meet rolls around.

Then there’s my deadlift. It’s rare that I’m down about my deadlift but today was one of those days. I wanted 340 but could only get it an inch off the floor and then had major issues with my lockouton 330. I re-attempted 330 and it better but still not perfect.

I’m angry because that’s almost no progress since my last meet, despite feeling stronger overall. So 350 by December 15th probably isn’t going to happen and I’m pretty upset about that.  Sad.


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Snack Attack

In light of my resolution to eat healthier until my meet, I went and stocked up on snacks. I find it easier to stick to my goals when I had a concrete plan, and I already had my meals in order after having going to SupperWorks. But I was feeling a bit peckish in between meals, and I always need something portable when I’m commuting between classes, work and then gym. I still have some Daryl’s bars in my fridge, of course, but I realized that maybe I needed some variety.

When I ordered my weightlifting shoes, I also threw in some Steve’s Original PaleoKrunch bars, which are “Grainless Granola bars”. What better way to wean myself off my granola-only diet? I had heard some good reviews of Steve’s products from people who are not strictly (or even loosely) paleo, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give them a try. I was disappointed, but only because I ordered 5 and they’re already gone.

I think the term “granola bar” to describe these babies is a bit misleading because they’re more like a baked good. They are nice and moist with just the right amount of nuts and seeds. The nutty flavour is complimented by just the right amount of spice and it’s not overly sweet.  It’s a good way to get some nuts into my diet without mindlessly shoving as many as I can into my diet, and the fats make it a fairly satisfying snack for 200 calories. I’m going to order some more this weekend, and I’m excited to try their seasonal pumpkin spice variety. I’m not committed to going paleo any time soon, but these are still in the running to replace Daryl’s as my go-to snack.

While I was grocery shopping, I also picked up some Amande Yogurt, which is actually not yogurt but cultured almond milk. I think this product is supposed to be an alternative to traditional yogurt for lactose intolerant folks. I picked it up mostly out of curiosity, and because the serving size is fairly generous compared to the greek yogurt that I typically buy. I didn’t know what to expect, but the result was an overly sweet goop with a weird texture. It wasn’t awful but the whole thing felt off. I only tried the peach variety, and I’m still tempted to try the coconut or vanilla flavours out of sheer morbid curiosity. But I’m not lactose intolerant and real yogurt just tastes better, so I’ll stick to culturing my almond milk by taking it to the opera.

The theme here seems to be “snacks that are not snacks”: I’ve tried granola bars without the granola and yogurt without the yogurt, and the last thing I tried were chips that are not really chips. I stopped by the health food on Tuesday night and saw “Kale Chips”. Kale is one of those foods that gets a lot of buzz for being a superfood, but is not widely available in this area. Partially because of the buzz, and also because I like having lower calorie snacks to munch on during the afternoon, I picked up two bags. They were awful.

These things are dried out kale, coated in some sort of seed mixture. They remind me of ichiban noodles; you know, when you were a kid you crushed up your dried noodles in a bag and ate them with the seasoning packet, thereby overdosing on sodium for the week? Ya, these chips are exactly like that, with an overwhelming amount of seasoning, that burns as it goes down the back of your throat. And they are so crunchy and crumbly that they made a huge mess. Despite hating the taste, I found them strangely addictive and couldn’t stop eating them. I think that’s sign #1123 that I have an eating disorder. You know you’re certifiable when you can’t stop eating something this disgusting. Luckily, they cost an arm and a leg, so I can not possibly justify buying any more.

Instead, I’ll just continue eating Daryl’s for every meal of the day and consuming my vegetables in pill form.



General update on life and lifting

I finally managed to navigate the maze of my school’s administration and got one of my final exams in December deferred. It just so happens to be the exam that conflicts with my meet in December. And now that I’ve got that whole issue resolved, I am officially competing on December 15th in the Ontario Classic Championship. If I was struggling to find my focus before, I sure managed to find it fast once I realized that I would actually be competing. Shit just got real.

Sensing that I meant business, the postman kindly facilitated my gains and arrived at my doorstep on Wednesday with a new pair of Adidas Powerlift shoes!

Pixel checking out my new shoes.

I’ve gone and lifted twice with these babies. On Friday night, I squatted 225×5 which is a new 5RM for me. I’m actually pretty excited to have repped 2 plates – even more excited than I was the first time I got a single, since my reps on Friday felt much more smooth and controlled. It’s not a weight that I can only hit on a good day anymore, and that feels like a real milestone. But squatting in my new shoes felt kind of weird. Since I low-bar squat and am so quad dominant, I felt like the shoes changed my groove and kept me off balance. Clearly these shoes are intended for oly-style lifters. I went back and squatted today and I felt a bit better, but between the shoes and Phil’s advice from a couple of weeks ago, it sort of feels as though I’m learning to squat all over again. Good thing I don’t ever do anything besides noob-level 5×5, otherwise I’d be in trouble.

If I don’t end up using the shoes for squatting, then I won’t lose any sleep, since I  bought the shoes for my bench. Now that I’ve figured out what leg drive is, my mobility is becoming the bigger issue. I still haven’t tried out the shoes for benching, but I’m excited to do so on Wednesday morning. And I have high hopes because I added 10lbs to my OHP just by wearing the shoes today. This PR was particularly exciting, since with the meet prep that I’ve been running, my OHP had been stalled due to lack of attention. Too bad OHP isn’t a competition lift and counts for nothing. I’ll just console myself with the level 2 fitocracy achievement and remind myself that I’m awesome.

On the diet front, things are going alright. I still hadn’t got my act together and was stressing out about weighing myself. Again, I sometimes wonder if I have an eating disorder. In the end, I worked up the courage to weigh myself and on Sunday morning I was 72.0 kg on the nose. So I have nothing to worry about in terms of making weight for my meet, as long as I get a handle on all of my binge eating. Since I really just need to maintain, my plan is to eat 1400 – 1800 calories per day, only eating between 10 am and 8 pm. This might be hard because a new burrito joint just opened up down the street from me and burritos are basically my kryptonite. So are m&m’s, which I’ve been consuming in copious amounts, lately.

To keep myself on track, I’m also following Barbell Babe’s’ suggestion of checking off all the days that I stay on track on my calendar with a green check mark. I can’t show my own calendar because I only started yesterday, and I just so happened to eat a burrito and m&m’s yesterday. I’ll be checking off my first day right before I go to sleep tonight and hopefully by the time my BTFC completion rolls around on December 1st, I’ll be feeling all aesthetic and optimistic about whatever needs to happen for my December meet.

The other thing I’m going to use to keep me on track are all of my SupperWorks meals.  I still had some left-over taco meat sitting in my fridge, so I warmed that up and ate it for dinner, but I also cooked up the Pan-seared Basa in Tomato Cream sauce to take for lunch tomorrow. I sampled the sauce while it was cooking and I had to forcibly refrain from eating one of the meals on the spot. Luckily, I was thinking about that first green check mark and instead I boxed it up with some brown rice and cabbage for lunch. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a long morning tomorrow, waiting for lunch to roll around…

Proof that I do occasionally cook.


The New Rules of Lifting for Women

I was reading an article this week entitled “Girl Power: Why Lifting Heavier Can Be a Life Changer.” Dan Trink does a good job of succinctly stating what I already knew, which is that overly sexualized fitspo is not what woman need as motivation to lift. Coincidentally, I also happened to read a blog post of another female lifter who talked about how difficult it is to be a woman who wants to lift heavy and lose weight. I can relate to her experience that a lot of information about lifting is aimed at women who are already a “normal” weight and will benefit from putting on weight in the form of muscle mass. As much as I’m happy with the changes I’ve seen in the past few years, I don’t think anyone would argue that I just need to recomp; I need to lose some more weight if I’m ever going to be less than chubby. Lifting is great and I totally love it, of course, but often I feel like I’m walking a tightrope, trying to keep my lifting and diet goals in sync.

I’ve wanted to talk about Lou Schuler’s The New Rules of Lifting for Women, which is the first “serious” weight training program that I ever did. You know what they say about your first: they will always have a special place in your heart, even if it kind sucked.  And as my first experience with “lifting heavy”, NRL4W also set a lot of my expectations for my future training. Part of the reason that this program is so near and dear to me is because it was the thing that really motivated me to get off my ass and empower myself, so now is the perfect opportunity to talk about my experience with this program. Dan Trink says that the experts are missing their target when it comes to convincing women to lift, but Lou Schuler did it for me.

I picked up this program after doing zumba for 8 months. I had literally no other athletic experience, save the nightmare that is high school phys ed. On the recommendation of a friend, I read the whole book cover to cover and then I contemplated starting for a like a month before I actually worked up the metaphorical balls to begin. But it worked and I found my way into the weight section and with the help of a friend, fumbled our way through the program. I still think of Schuler’s chapter on motivation when I’m struggling to push myself. I can choose to be an athelete or I can choose fail for any number of reasons, and nothing anybody else says really matters. It seems like the most self-evident advice now that I’ve been lifting for almost a year, but someone needed to lay it out for me.

The first part of Schuler’s book presents the “new rules” or what I would refer to as “the science of lifting”. In a sense the first part of the book is the justification for the program that makes up the back-end, and that was motivation for me, too. Women are not dumb, and they do not need a training program that’s dumbed down. I needed a program that was suitable for a beginner, but I appreciated and responded to being treated like an equal in the gym. Obviously not all women are the same, but I wouldn’t consider myself exceptional in that regard, either. And regardless of weight goals, I frequently see posts from women online who are fairly new (and enthusiastic) when it comes to lifting and then find out that they’re working their way through NRL4W. I’m of the opinion that the the accessible, smart and inclusive introduction is what convinces women to pick up the weights and ultimately the reason that this program has gained so much popularity.

The middle section of the book is focused on nutrition, as outlined by Cassandra Forsythe. Interestingly, she was not invited back to contribute to any of the follow-up books in Schuler and Cosgrove’s series. Obviously, I don’t know why. But I can say that every single review or mention of this program that I’ve seen included the caveat “I’m following the diet.” In principle, the diet gets a lot of things right: stop starving yourself on 1200 calories and eat lots of protein. But the recipes and advice rely heavily on protein supplements, which I’m not crazy about.  I’d rather eat whole food – and I’m not even an advocate of clean eating or paleo. Even though I didn’t follow the diet, I still saw results with the lifting portion of the program.

The program itself consists of 7 stages. The first stage is supposed to be a “beginner” or “introduction” stage. Stages 2 and 4 are the same, as are stages 3 and 5. I bailed near the end of stage 5. Those stages all consist of one main compound lift followed by 2 alternating sets for upper and lower body and then some ab work and/or bodyweight stuff. There is also some interval work thrown in for cardio and carditioning. The 6th stage is focused on doing a chin-up and the 7th stage is a bunch of circuit workouts. Obviously I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of either of those stages, since I never completed them.

Even still, I have mixed thoughts on New Rules. On the one hand, I want to say that it’s a great program, but there were a few aspects that always annoyed me. While I saw results, I also had no desire to stick with it until the end of the final stage. My main pet peeve was the schizophrenic nature of the rep ranges. It seems like they’re trying to get the best of both worlds, with some stages focusing on endurance or hypertrophy and others focusing on strength gains. The end result is unsuccessful because I never really seemed to succeed in either areas and just felt unfocused.

Then I’m faced with another issue, because while it makes sense to do a program such as Starting Strength or Strong Lifts to build a base of strength first and then focus on using that base to achieve aesthetic goals. But I had no interest in either of those programs off the bat. Of course, when I started SS and saw much better results in a shorter time frame, I wondered why I hadn’t jumped ship sooner. But again, I quickly grew bored of SS and missed the variety of NRL4W, and I seriously doubt I would have stuck with lifting if I’d tried another program first.

NRL4W might not be the best program overall, but it was the introduction that I needed. Even Schuler and Cosgrove have acknowledged that that they tend to recommend some of their more recent programs over their earlier works. So, like my first boyfriend, I would never go back to doing New Rules, but on the whole, it gave me a solid foundation to continue achieving my lifting goals later on.  And despite the gimmicky promise to “Lift like a man and look like a goddess” that is displayed so prominently on the cover, acknowledge women’s differences but treating them as equals is actually what women need to get them into the weight room – and on that front, the program delivered.


The story of how I hate cooking, so I tried SupperWorks

As part of my ongoing saga to improve my pathetic bench press, I’ve been continuing my weekly trek out to the suburbs on Saturday afternoons to bench with the Hostyle Conditioning crew. My bench is coming along nicely, but something more interesting has happened as a result. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the gym, and every time I walk past SupperWorks. Their sign simply says that they are “Taking the work out of supper” but is otherwise nondescript.

I finally remembered to look them up on the web once I got home last Saturday. The premise behind their business is simple: you show up prepare and a bunch of meals. You take your food home, freeze it and then cook it during the week when you’re short on time. It’s perfect for people like me who generally skive off when it comes to cooking during the week and then get fat from eating take out too often. Since you’re doing some of the prep work, you still have some liberty to customize the recipes  and there are enough options that you won’t end up with something unpalatable. As an added bonus, the magical elves at SupperWorks take care of all of the chopping and clean-up, which will never happen in my own kitchen. So, minimal work and lots of food: it was almost an automatic sell.

The only sticking point for me was the price. Although cheaper than the other  prepared meal services that I’m aware of, and despite the fact that each serving works out to about $5, I was unwilling to commit +$200 for my first order. I live off a student’s shoestring budget and that’s a lot of money to commit up front for something that might not turn out so well. Luckily, Caitlin, who has also been coming to drink the Hostyle kool-aid with me, was interested in trying it with me and we went and checked it out. The total cost for both of us was $194. We split each of meals, which normally make 6 servings, so that we each got to take home half of the food home – much more spinster friendly. The six meals we chose to make were:

  • Burgundy Beef Stew
  • Mushroom Smothered Sirloin Roast
  • Pan-Seared Basa with Tomato Cream Sauce
  • Quinoa Veggie Pitas
  • Rosemary Pork Tenderloin with Apple Sauce
  • Turkey Pumpkin Chili


I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet since our visit happened so recently, so I can’t comment on the taste just yet. But we tried to choose some of the healthier options and avoided many of the pasta-based dishes or things that were breaded and coated in cheese. Even the vegetarian option that we selected – the quinoa pitas – seemed to be pretty heavy on the carbs, which is somewhat disappointing. Don’t get me wrong: I’m excited to have real food to eat, instead of resorting to a box of pop tarts for supper every night. But I feel like the marketing of these meals appeals to the nuclear generation of mothers: food is healthy and wholesome if you cook it yourself. It’s kind of like paleo but with more cheese and wine and carbs, and no one is actually paying attention to the calorie count. To some extent I agree with this philosophy, but it can be abused and it’s probably not a coincidence that the same generation is suffering from an obesity epidemic. But I digress.

We’ll see how these meals fit into my schedule. I don’t need to do much for my December competition besides maintain my weight, so I’m hoping that doing IF with one of my regular lunch options, a decent pre-workout snack and then one of my SupperWorks dinners will keep me on track without forcing me into the obsessive calorie counting that happened before my last meet. And our experience at SupperWorks was positive enough that we re-booked to go back and make more meals in December, so I thought I’d talk a bit more about what was involved with the actual prepping.

We went on a Thursday night and spent just under an hour at the store. When we arrived, we were offered drinks and aprons. We skipped the wine this time, but I do feel it is something that would contribute to the overall experience. Being a true foodie, Caitlin brought her own apron which was much more fashionable than the standard issue. Being inept in the kitchen, I wore my plain white apron backwards.

We were then given a tour of the space, which was surprisingly small but very workable. We worked our way to each of the 6 stations for the recipes that we’d pre-ordered and mixed all of the ingredients according the instructions that were posted. Overall the recipes were straightforward and simple, although things like pork tenderloin and pumpkin chili are a bit more adventurous than my typical recipe rotation. Each meal ended up in a ziploc bag, with a label that outlined the cooking instructions, and we stored them in our space in the fridge while we worked. Again, we each got 3 servings for each of the recipes and from what I can see, these were generous servings! We left with 18 meals each, and it’s a good thing I’ve spent the past 9 months improving my functional strength, because I was loaded up while walking back to the bus stop.

Funny enough, I had a coworker who told me she’d been going to SupperWorks for years and loved their service. I enjoyed my experience, although the scale, my wallet and my taste buds have yet to weigh-in on the success of their service. We’ll be going back in December and then I’ll re-evaluate, but it was nice to have someone else wash the dishes this month.


Metabolic Finisher Workouts

I am so clueless when it comes to the gym. I just let other people discuss the intricacies of programming and all the latest trendy training techniques. All I want to do is show up and lift. Mark Rippetoe says squat 3×5 and add 5lbs every time? I can do that. I have a shitty bench? I’ll just go see a coach and do exactly what he tells me. So far this approach is working wonders and it’s pretty easy for me.

But when I met Curd, one of the first things he ever said to me was, “You can be strong and do cardio.” I responded with, “Blasphemy.” Or at least I tried to. Since I was in the middle of being forced to do something vaguely resembling cardio, it mostly came out as huffing and puffing. Dude, I just wanted to improve my bench and I did not sign up for this.

I may be good at following instructions, but not when they include cardio. Cardio sucks and I’m fat because as awful as it is to be the fattest person in the room, doing cardio is worse. Except that when I struggled to valsalva properly while benching some measly little weight, Curd conveniently appeared from nowhere and to say, “Look, it’s your conditioning that’s holding your bench back right now.”

Now, I am not fooled in the least: “conditioning” is just a trendy term for improving aerobic capacity and endurance… also known as cardio. And I’m wise to the fact that Curd runs a gym with the word “conditioning” in the name so he may be biased. But even I am forced to admit that I should do more cardio since I get winded after 50 jumping jacks, which makes my ability to deadlift twice my bodyweight slightly less impressive. And there is my neverending quest to lose weight, which certainly wouldn’t be hampered by running a few extra laps. That doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy it, though.

No, instead I’m going to spend the next weeks, months, and even years contemplating the fact that I should do some running or biking or swimming or whatever other things constitute “conditioning”. At least, that was my plan until Sunday morning, when I was lurking around on fitocracy and I saw someone had done one of Alwyn Cosgrove’s metabolic finishers. The light went on. Bingo.

If there’s any cardio worth doing, it’s HIIT. Some people who are way smarter than me agree and if you want to know more, you should google it. But I just do as I’m told, so I haven’t googled it. Anyway, it works: do some HIIT at the end of your workout and then throw up. BAM! You’re conditioned! And let’s sweeten the deal by taking weight training and disguise it as cardio. GENIUS!

Not only do these workouts relieve my number one complaint against cardio which is the fact that endurance exercise is boring and I have the attention span of a fruit fly, but they  also solves another one of dilemmas. I’ve been seeing a lot of progress on Texas Method, but I get annoyed with the light day in the middle of the week because I never feel as though I’ve pushed myself hard enough. I’ll just throw in some conditioning and then bask in that wobbly leg feeling.

Anyway, if you haven’t caught on yet, “Metabolic finishers” is a thing invented by Alwyn Cosgrove. I think he wrote a book where he called them “Afterburners” which is the lamest name ever and doesn’t do justice to the fact these babies will kick your ass. Here are five of my favourites:

Four-Minute Bodyweight Tabata Complex

This bodyweight routine from T-nation is similar to the first metabolic finisher that I ever attempted – Lou Schuler’s Bodyweight Matrix from the New Rules of Lifting for Women. I remember lying in the locker room at the end for a full 10 minutes before I could muster the strength to walk home.

“Perform 2 cycles of each of the following exercises back to back for 20 seconds of activity and 10 seconds rest:

•  Speed Squats
•  Burpees
•  Mountain Climbers
•  Speed Skips (in place)

This will total four minutes.

100 Reps for Time

The idea here is simple: pick a full-body lift and do 100 reps with a weight you would normally use for 20 reps. I have tried to do with with KB swings and failed. Turkish get-ups would be another exercise that would be brutal for 100 reps. You will probably need to take a break or two in here, but the goal is to improve each time.

An Alwyn Cosgrove example

Pick a load that is about 80% of your 10RM. Perform as many reps as possible at a constant tempo for 60 seconds and try to perform as many repetitions with as good form as possible. Rest for 15-30 seconds and perform another exercise.

Kettlebell swings, 30 seconds
Rest 15 seconds
Push-ups/burpees, 30 seconds
Rest 15 seconds
Prowler push, 30 seconds
Rest 15 seconds

Repeat for five rounds for a 12-minute finisher.

I will vouch for the prowler as one of the best/wort things that can done to feel gassed. Seriously, load up the sled and feel the burn. Just try not to yak. I don’t have a sled at my local Y, but I do plate pushes on a towel and achieve the same result.

Another Alwyn Cosgrove example, this time with a barbell

What kind of powerlifter would I be if I didn’t do some conditioning with a loaded bar? A weak one, obviously. So for this protocol the instructions are almost the same as the previous example but with the following moves:

Barbell reverse lunge, left leg, 60 seconds
Rest 15-30 seconds
Barbell reverse lunge, right leg, 60 seconds
Rest 15-30 seconds
Barbell push press, 60 seconds
Rest 15-30 seconds

Repeat three times for a 12-minute routine.

Medicine Throw Ball Complex

This protocol includes ball slams which are currently my favourite thing ever. If you want an exercise that will release all of your repressed aggression, then look no further. As agonizing as this complex is, it ends on a high note. And it works your arms, which are a part of my body that I often neglect.

Standing at a short distance from a solid wall, perform the following exercises, back-to-back, explosively:

8x Squat Push Throws
16x Overhead Throws w/step (alternate legs)
16x Rotary throws (alternate sides)
8x Overhead Floor Slams

Perform 4-5 sets. Rest 90 seconds – 2 minutes between sets