A Dainty Diary of Lifting


February 25th: Squats

If you are one of the 7 people who read my blog, you may have noticed that I am trying to post some thoughts on my training more frequently. I feel like I am having a bit of a mental crisis. My wilks score is up to about 375. If I were to go compete tomorrow, that’d rank me #11 out of all the women in the country. And based on the meets I’ve done, my gym numbers tend to line up pretty nicely with what I can put up on the platform. Did I mention that a year ago I was still enthusiastically doing zumba classes because I just wanted to be skinny?

I’m at a point where I feel like I’m on the verge of something: I’m not quite world class, but I’m getting there. In theory you don’t get to be an elite lifter just by running Starting Strength for 14 months straight… except that appears to be exactly what I’m doing.

I am not special. I just show up, try to work as hard as I can, follow a program as long as possible and see where it will take me. Until I deadlifted 360lbs. And now I’m suddenly struck by the realization that even though I feel like a total gym n00b, even though I still have the mindset of being a New Year’s Resolutioner, my strength doesn’t necessarily reflect that attitude. The fact of the matter is that you can not just walk into any commercial gym and hope to find a chick squatting twice her body weight, so maybe I am a little above average. But even trying to articulate this fact (nevermind actually accepting it) leaves me feeling extremely conceited – which is exactly the problem.

All of this to say that I’m trying to be more self-aware when I’m training, and for me that generally involves writing stuff down to sort it all out.

Hopefully my reflections can be more meaningful than simply whining about how I ate 8.2 lbs of Wunderbar ice cream this weekend and it was delicious but then my belt did not fit at all today and I was suffering from a major carb hangover.

And even though I took a reset on my squat and ate ground beef for breakfast and dinner, my squats still felt heavy.

And I watched RUM 6 this weekend and I was totally pumped to sign up for a meet and smash my lifts and be strong as fuark, but then I got to the gym tonight and felt generally uninterested in lifting.

And everything hurts and I feel tired and old, which is probably what I get for maxing out on squat and deadlift last week.

And I had to wear a t-shirt to the gym tonight because I’m getting really bad acne where the bar rests on my shoulders and it looks like I need to lay off the ‘roids, bro.

Actually, that’s pretty much the entirety of my thoughts on training today. But just because I haven’t whined enough: I dropped 10 lbs off my squat to try and work on some of the technique issues that were raised from my max testing videos. I tried to fix the tightness in my back and elbows and need to work on eliminating the hunchback. Here is one of those sets:

Unfortunately I still look like Quasimodo.

I feel like there were a couple of sets where I had that Eureka! moment and got it, but consistency was a huge problem… and even on this set, I felt like I was doing a better job of getting my hips under the bar but it turns out I have absolutely no body awareness… and maybe if I had some I wouldn’t have squatted high on my max testing in the first place.


Benching on my own

I recorded the first couple of sets from my benching today. Both sets are 100lbs x 8. Considering Jennifer Thompson makes 305 look like a joke, this certainly isn’t anything to write home about.

But I did have a reason for filming these sets, even if the end result was simply extended camera time for my crotch. I don’t normally bench alone on Saturdays, and so without feedback from other people I wanted to see what my pacing and technique were like. These were not bounced terribly, but that pause feels a lot longer when I’m under the bar. I’ve also been playing around with a slightly wider foot position; I want to see where it takes me because it’s keeping my ass down, eliminating the hip pain I feel with a narrower tuck and I think I’m getting more leg drive though that weight was so light and laughably easy that I can’t really pass judgement just yet. I also need to work on making sure that I set up straight, maintain the tightness in my arch and lower the bar evenly.

Usually, I rely on my Hostyle team to give me this kind feedback but it looks like I need to take a break from training with them for a while. Don’t get me wrong: I fully recognize the value of having a coach and I’ve found that in the age of the internet, sometimes the real experts are undervalued. A year ago, I hadn’t received any coaching and I was “deadlifting” like this:

I would venture to guess that without coaching, I would not have gone from the video above to a 360lb pull. And although my bench is still relatively weak, benching with the people at Hostyle has been hugely beneficial in terms of improving my technique and my confidence. Don’t get me wrong: I would like to keep training with them. But worthwhile coaching is expensive and I live in the real world, where my contract at work is done in a month and I’m graduating with no solid job prospects. I’m broke and I’m terrified. When I’m unsure about how I will pay for my rent or my groceries, there is no way I can rationalize paying for weekly coaching, especially on top of my regular gym membership.

So, I’m a little bit sad to be stuck in the YMCA where I outlift 98% of the other members and the chicks are all gaga for BodyPump. I can’t say I’m enthused about going to a gym where a 90 year old man routinely sits at the cable machine for 40 minutes because he spends time reading a book in between each of his 5 sets and refuses to work in with anyone.

But I’m dedicated to my training and I know I will make it work somehow. Right now my plan is to keep building my base strength on my own and if I can afford an OPA membership and the meet fees, then I will go back to Hostyle in the weeks leading up to a meet in July or August.

In the meantime, I will miss training with my team but I know they are compassionate enough to understand. In fact, one of my coaches texted me last night to check if I would be training today. I said I couldn’t afford it and he offered to let me lift in his garage for free. Maybe now I can stop worrying about what will happen to my deadlift if I can’t continue to afford my gym membership.


Squat 1RM testing

Okay. So, I hadn’t max tested my squat since my meet in December and since I’ve maxed on bench and DL since then, I figured I would do some testing and hopefully squat 305lbs, which would put my gym total at 800lbs. I was also eyeballing 295lbs which would be my 2x body weight squat, since I weighed in at 147.4 this morning.

Basically, I attempted 295. It felt easy.

I went for 305 and got pinned (not in the video).

I attempted 300 and it felt okay. Then I watched the videos of my two “successful” lifts and realized they were both high.

At this point I was mega-annoyed and re-attempted 295. My form broke down pretty bad but I’m saying I hit depth on this one. If internet tough guys want to disagree, that’s fine by me.

I want to say I’m not upset about this, but being so close and yet so far away from an 800 lb total is at least mildly annoying.

I’m also a little bit sad because those hot pink shorts aren’t doing anything to hide the fact that I still have white girl ass. Must. squat. more.

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How to treat yo self

This week marked the passing of February 14th or as some people might call it: Valentine’s Day. Despite the fact that I am perpetually single, I did not escape the ordeal unscathed: my OkCupid inbox was flooded with a record number of creepy and misogynistic messages on February 13th, which is probably not a giant coincidence.

Something else happened on Valentine’s day: one of my coworkers went out for lunch at one of the trendy bakeries in town and came back with cookies and croissants and baked goods for everyone on our team. It was a just a “little” treat for Valentine’s day, the term “little” being highly subjective, of course. While these pastries smelled so good that they made my mouth water, I declined to have one. Repeatedly. Then I declined to have half a cookie when it was insistently pressed upon me. I even declined the suggestion to have a quarter of a scone, and then I reconfirmed my final decision three more times throughout the afternoon.

At the time, I didn’t give this whole situation a lot of thought. But apparently it was newsworthy enough for my coworkers to hear through the grapevine that I’d turned down a Valentine’s day treat, with the added commentary that “no one was particularly surprised.”

When the matter came back to me as gossip, I couldn’t help but feel that this whole situation had been blown out of proportion. In truth, I recognize that I’m pretty lucky: I work with a pretty good team of people. And I do sincerely appreciate the gesture of buying your coworkers a treat. So by turning down a raspberry scone, I wasn’t trying to insult someone whom I genuinely like. And I wasn’t trying to be the Debbie Downer of V-Day, either. I just didn’t want to eat a scone.

When I first started trying to lose weight, I made the conscious decision to stop eating when I was sad or stressed or angry or just generally felt powerless. Combining bad food and bad emotions never led anywhere good. Now 18 months later, I’m increasingly becoming aware of the fact that the opposite is arguably a much larger problem: we treat ourselves far too often. Of course, with my generation accumulating record-levels of household debt, we’re probably treating ourselves to more than just food. But let’s focus on food, since it was not a new car that appeared on my doorstep last week.

While I sometimes worry that trying to fix my relationship with food has produced some signs of an eating disorder, I’m starting to realize that some of the things that I do as an individual are pretty insignificant when you consider that as a society, we have a chronic and collective case of emotional eating.

As I mentioned, my little incident happened on Valentine’s Day, when you are supposed to buy your lover flowers and chocolate. Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I don’t think chocolates are terribly special.  At the risk of sounding ungrateful, no one needs to buy me chocolates. I admit that there are situations where I’ve appreciated receiving a small box of chocolates from an acquaintance, and I’ve even tried to express my own gratitude with this simple act. I probably will again. The gesture itself is not misguided.

Nonetheless, about three years ago I explicitly asked my relatives to stop buying me chocolate as gifts. I don’t need a chocolate orange in my stocking and it wasn’t exactly contributing to my enjoyment of the holiday season. Maybe my perception is skewed because I grew up in a family where obesity was the norm, but we could have candy and chocolate whenever we wanted – and we did! Candy was considered a treat, but we were treating ourselves all the time, until the idea of a treat became meaningless.

Now I’m all grown up and I live in a society where food, and especially foods that should only be enjoyed in moderation, are abundant and available.  I could easily choose to treat myself to a doughnut everyday. When I’m standing in line for a coffee in the morning,  the immediate appeal of doing so is apparent. But are we really treating ourselves at this point? Or do we simply replace our feelings of enjoyment with complacency? How often can we justify treats before they become the norm?

Which brings me back to the box of pastries that was presented to me so expectantly on Valentine’s day. The fact that this was a Valentine’s day treat was completely arbitrary. I’d already enjoyed a more moderate-sized brownie over the weekend and it came with the added bonus of tea and good company. I could have proceeded with the mentality that I was just treating myself for Valentine’s day all week, but do I really deserve a treat simply by virtue of my relationship-less existence on February 14th? What happens next week? And the week after that? I’m on vacation now so do I deserve to relax and spoil myself?

I could come up with any number of excuses or reasons that I deserve a treat. I could just say I’m awesome and eat a piece of Baklava that would feed all of Athens. I could say, “I ate a salad for lunch. I work hard to eat healthy most of the time, so eating a chocolate croissant today is okay.” I’m sure a treat for any reason would be delicious but despite what others might think, some spinach for lunch does not magically counteract a bag of chips later in the day. More fundamentally, the idea that we somehow deserve to reward ourselves with junk food after a bout of healthy eating is totally counterproductive.

The idea that we somehow have to force ourselves to eat properly and every so often we can eat something enjoyable doesn’t exactly encourage people to play along. And truly healthy eating isn’t  just a diet that we should subscribe to at New Year’s or before hitting the beach; it’s something we need to do for the rest of our lives – so we might as well figure out how to make it both sustainable and enjoyable for ourselves. Which is why even on single-player mode, I try to eat a well-rounded diet. It’s not perfect – because occasionally I do indulge – and that’s part of the balance. But on principle, I try to eat appropriate portions and whole foods and it’s entirely possible to do so without feeling deprived.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel obligated to eat a peanut butter cookie on February 14th: because I recognize that treating myself includes treating my body with love and respect, including nourishing food and exercise. The true reward that I deserve for healthy eating is much sweeter than any brownie: it’s my health.

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Bench Press Doubles

This was our last day of doing doubles at Hostyle. I wasn’t feeling good about this today – how come my bench isn’t more in line with my squat and deadlift? It is really so much to ask that I want to add 5lbs to my bench each week?

Yes, it is.

Here’s the video of my heaviest set, which was 135lbs x 2:

I am currently trying to console myself by focusing on the fact that at least my body weight is down to 150lbs. If I can’t get my bench up, I’ll just bring my weight down; and that would be a solid plan if I weren’t sitting on my couch, eating roasted almonds at this very second.