A Dainty Diary of Lifting

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6 week PNLE update + deadlifting

After max testing last week, this week was pretty quiet. While max testing, I managed to drop a 45lb plate on my left foot, so I’ve working around some discomfort all week. Even if I hadn’t managed to injure myself, I think max testing would have left me feeling wiped on its own. And work has really been killing me. 

I am supposed to travel for work next week and I am really excited for the trip: I have worked for an Arctic research program for over three years and I’ve never been up North. Well, now I’m finally going. But I’ve been concious of the fact that getting ready for the trip has been incredibly stressful and my recovery has suffered as a result. Friday, I worked late, went to the gym for an hour and then came home only to fall asleep at 7:30, before I could find the energy to cook some dinner.

And squatting on Friday was hard. A single set of 275×3 looked so measly on paper, but I really struggled. The second rep had a huge pause because I got down into the hole, and then had to find the energy to stand back up.  

Yesterday was probably my best session of the week: I pulled 335×2. When I tried for 335 four weeks ago, all I got was one really shaky rep and that left me feeling like shit.

While I was doubtful about my ability to pull 335×2 and happy to prove myself wrong, watching the video is kind of frustrating. My deadlift has two very distinct and separate phases: Phase 1 is the pull and Phase 2 is the lockout. And man, that lockout is painful. This is not a new discovery by any means, but I swear it’s getting worse. And if I miss a competition PR because I can’t lockout, or get called for hitching because I have to think about pulling my hips through then I might lose my god damn mind. 

I know that I struggle with glute activation on all of my lifts and this is where it really starts to become a factor. It is a mystery to me that my glutes can be so huge and yet so useless. I am debating hitting the gym this afternoon, just to punish my glutes with approximately 1 million angry hip thrusts.

On the other hand, there are several parts of my body saying that recovery would be a good idea, especially since I’m already running a recovery deficit and anticipating that this week will be even crazier than last week.

Lifting and recovery aside: this weekend was my 6-week check-in for PNLE. I was absolutely shocked by my progress pictures. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve really been restricting myself or “dieting” and I don’t really notice any changes in my body day to day, those pictures showed quite unmistakable proof that my stomach is shrinking. *Fist pump*

Crazy statistic: I’ve lost more weight in the past 4 weeks than I lost in 7 months of following the program last year. This is honestly the difference between 80% compliance and 90% compliance, which has come from trying to be more engaged in the program.

One of the coaches also proposed a strategy that has really resonated with me: the idea of setting a minimum. For me, that minimum has been to avoid overeating. So instead of fixating on how I didn’t meet an overly ambitious goal on any given day or week, I have felt like I am successful and on track because I’m able to easily meet that minimum, even if other circumstances were less than ideal. It’s been 6 weeks since I’ve had a true binge eating episode, which I consider a bigger accomplishment than any lifting goal.

I’m still a bit nervous about how travelling will affect my food choices, but I think I can cope. I know that I can eat to 80% full regardless of where I am or what food options I have available. I think that I’m anticipating the situation enough that I won’t use it as an excuse to eat chicken fingers and fries at every meal. I’ve got some good momentum built up so I want to keep moving forward. Right after I get some rest.


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8 weeks out: Max testing

I am 8 weeks out from my meet! Eep! This is normally around the time when I decide my training isn’t going well and I should probably withdraw and do another meet later, when I feel more ready. (Spoiler alert: I won’t feel ready later, either.

After failing my squats and bench on Friday, I considered just resetting but I wasn’t really sure by how much, and I figured that it didn’t really make sense to do a minor reset, max test 2 weeks after resetting. Plus, I had no energy yesterday and deadlifting wasn’t going to happen so I needed to justify my sloth somehow.

So today, I max tested.


Got: 305lbs x 1. Missed 320×1.

I got 320 out of the hole but just couldn’t fight to get it up the rest of the way. However, I feel like 319 is totally plausible by the time my meet rolls around.

I am going to reset and start working with triples tomorrow. Intensity day this week will be 280, which should get me to 305×3 the week before my meet.


Got 140×1. Missed: 145×1

Since 140 felt really solid, I’m tempted to aim for 148lbs at the meet, but even if I get 143, I will be happy. Going to continue running 5×5 and 3×5 until I stall, and then reset 10%. This should get me two full cycles before the meet. I need to work on holding the pause both cycles. 


Got: 360×1 Missed 375×1

This video was hard to watch. WHY COULDN’T I JUST LOCKOUT THE BAR?

Ugh. I will have this in 8 weeks no problem. Meet goal is 380lbs.

So, all in all, I am totally ok with this. None of these lifts were PRs, but my absolute strength is back to where it was when I kind of gave up on training. I just have to keep progressing and it will be easy PRs in 8 weeks when I actually step on to the platform. And, even if I just maintain my strength: my total today was 805lbs. That more than qualifies me to compete at provincials even if I lift at 84kg. So even if I’m the weakest person in my weight class, I will still be able to achieve my personal goal.

Furthermore, despite the fact that I’ve spent the past 2 days subsisting off chocolate covered pretzels, my weight has been under 180 and that means that my wilks was higher than my last meet.

I think I still need to do a bit of thinking about what my attempts will be. It’s tempting to just open with the numbers I successfully hit today, but I’m not sure that’s the best strategy. I will have to see what my weight does and how the next six weeks of training progress. But overall, I have to say I’m feeling good. I know where I want to go, I feel optimistic that I can get there, and I don’t need to postpone doing a meet any longer.

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Weekly squat update: 295×3


That is a video of me squatting 295×1 in a pink belt and then 295×3 in my black belt. Not shown: I attempted 315 to try and make myself feel better but instead I just got stapled.

Then I failed on bench!

I think part of this is mental. This week should have been my worst week of the month, although I haven’t felt hormonal and I am late, so who the fuck knows what my body is doing. Plus, my belt changes in between sets because the pink one wasn’t feeling tight enough, but it was also digging into my side, and all in all I just lost the head game before anything else.

And, I kind of knew all week that I wasn’t feeling it. I booked my hotel for the meet on Thursday and then said, “Well, even if I fail my squats tomorrow, I’m still doing the meet.” And the thought of bailing did cross my mind after my attempt at 315, but too bad. I’m committed.

The problem is that I’m not quite sure how to proceed, because I’m at that point where I could just fuck around for months, feel frustrated and give up. (That’s what happened the last time I hit this point.)

I am debating whether I should re-attempt 295×5 next week. I could max test on Sunday (give myself Saturday to recover), and then fully reset on Monday. Or I could just reset and start triples on Monday without max testing.

One factor that I’m trying to take into account is the fact that I’ve lost some weight since starting PNLE. I am down 12lbs since my first weigh in 4 weeks ago. I am starting to see my waist and fit into my clothes again! Yay! That’s totally on track. But if I continue to lose weight at this pace (which the vain part of my mind if kind of hoping for) then max testing 8 weeks before a meet serves no real purpose.

On the other hand, I helped someone with their deadlift form and they repaid me with a massive bag of chocolate covered pretzels. So there is no way I will be losing weight while those are in my possession (although, they probably won’t last very long, given my past track record for chocolate-covered pretzel consumption).


Being eighty four

This morning I weighed in at 83.4 kg.

That’s a really big freakin’ deal. I signed up to compete in a meet at 72kg, which has historically been my weight class. And yet… I’ve spent my first month of PNLE just hoping to get down into the 84kg weight class.

Well, now I’m under 84kg and I’m exactly 2 months out from my meet.

I am giving myself permission not to aim for 72kg. Actually, that’s not so much permission as an order.

There is a very loud voice that is currently occupying my head and it’s screaming “You can do it. Losing 12kg in two months is far from impossible. Just lose 10kg and then waterload the rest of the way! You’re going to show up weighing 65kg and feel totally bummed out about competing in a fat girl class. You’re going to feel really disappointed in yourself when your wilks is lower than your last meet because you gained weight. Just skip breakfast. And lunch. And carbs. And basically every food you enjoy and you’ll get there.”

Dear voice: you are being totally unreasonable. Please shut up.

I keep forcing my rational voice to pipe up:

I could cut to 72kg in 2 months, but I’d probably be embarrassingly weak by the time I got there.  I probably will not hit a 315lb squat if I step on to the platform weighing 72kg, and that squat is my only real goal for the meet apart from qualifying for provincials.

I could waterload before the meet, but I’ve got to take the Greyhound to the meet on Friday. Do I really want to be waterloading when I’m trapped on a bus for several hours? That is a pretty firm “no” in my mind. That sounds even worse than waterloading during final exams, and I’ve done that.

Plus, I paid a ton of money to PNLE so that I could stop repeating all of these futile exercises in dieting! I could take ephedrine or I could starve myself or I could go super low carb… but that just seems like a whole lot of wasted energy. To be honest, I just feel tired every time I think about trying to make weight. If I really wanted to participate in competitive dieting, I’d do bikini competitions. And I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Besides – what am I going to do if I hit the platform at 72kg? I’ve been there before and I know exactly how it goes: starve myself down to competition weight, knock out some modest PRs on the platform and then spend several weeks binging on burgers and ice cream and generally feeling very unwell and hitting awful numbers in the gym. Can’t say I’m terribly interested in falling down that hole again.

So this is a letter to myself, specifically the version of myself that will have to compete on October 18


You are probably not going to make weight. It’s ok. You can compete in 84kg and you might weigh 81kg and you might weight 75kg. You might even way 72.1kg, but whatever you weigh, you’ll do just fine.

Remember where you were six months ago? You’ve lost a ton of weight since then. You actually leave your house. You aren’t binge eating weekly. You’re cooking and eating vegetables regularly. Six months spent ignoring your life isn’t undone overnight, but you’ve already made great progress.

You’ll have an awesome meet, because you’ve been doing so many awesome things to prepare. You’ve been going to the gym regularly for months now! You’ve been following actual programming WITH ACCESSORY WORK! You’ve been making good food choice >90% of the time. You’ve been eating slowly and you stop eating when you’re no longer hungry. You don’t buy lunch twice a week because you actually plan what you’re going to eat and do some meal prep.

Most importantly: You will keep doing all of those things once this meet is over. And if you keep doing all of those things, you will eventually get your weight below 72kg. Best of all, you won’t have a massive rebound like you’ve had in the past, because you didn’t have to starve yourself to get there. You deserve to cut yourself some slack, by giving yourself the time and the credit to get where you want to be.

So here’s what you need to focus on: Squat 315lbs. Maybe squat more if you’re feeling ambitious. Don’t bomb out. Don’t accidentally poop in your singlet while deadlifting. Get a total of 352.5kg and qualify for provincials. Maybe in six weeks you’ll be ready to compete at 72kg. Maybe you won’t be. It really doesn’t matter to anyone but you, and as long as you keep lifting, recovering and eating well, you’ll be a rockstar today and in the future.

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Squat PR: 290 x5

Woo! Yesterday I turned my former all-time squat 3RM into a solid 5RM.

Today, I got into the gym a bit later than normal for a Saturday but I managed to have the best deadlifting session I’ve had in months. I switched a progression that has heavier warm-up sets. I pulled 325×2 today and even though I was under recovered, both reps felt really solid… leading me to believe that maybe the 335lbs was only my tested 1RM because I was beyond hormonal when I did it.

Anyway, even though my workout felt solid today, I came home after the gym, ate a snack and then proceeded to take an accidental 3 hour nap. Recovery!

My lifting has been on track all week. I’m starting to notice that gaining some weight has allowed me to deal with my upper and lower body strength imbalance. I benched 127.5x5x5 on Friday. I was gassed after those squats and bench wasn’t even all that hard. Two weeks ago 127.5 was an all-time 5RM and now I’m hitting it for 5 sets easily. I have either discovered how to leg drive properly or I am being blessed by bench press fairies in my sleep.

I’ve also had some realizations about my eating this week. First of all, I’m noticing that if I eat well, the gym seems to go well, regardless of whether my weight is actually going up or down. It probably helps that I’m not walking into the gym with a sugar hangover or a belly overstuffed with fast food.

Second of all, if I feel good about what I’m eating, then I feel like my body looks good – regardless of whether the scale agrees or not. I was doing really well this week: I’ve been cooking all of my meals and eating a protein and veg at every meal. PNLE has been focusing on slow eating, without distractions. I haven’t totally eliminated all of my distractions, but I am still noticing that I’ve been eating really small portions. After 10 minutes without my cellphone, I’m just ready for the meal to be over. I felt like I’d lost weight and looked leaner. Nope. Scale totally says my weight went up. Then last night we went out to a party and I ate a giant taco with chicken and other mysterious fillings. I woke up this morning feeling totally bloated, just in time for my weekly weigh-in. I could’ve sworn my weight was up. Nope. Weight went down for the first time all week! Fuck the scale, man.

I am finally getting to a point where I am feeling comfortable with competing in October. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. I should easily be able to get a Class II total, which is my main goal, as long as I keep cooking and lifting consistently. My current total is about 750lbs. I need ~777lbs to meet my goal, and I haven’t max tested my squat, so that’s using my 5RM. Guess I need to start worrying about finding a stylish singlet.

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Squat PR: 285×5

Friday squat session:

I really struggled with 280×5 last week, and wasn’t looking forward to squatting this afternoon. I ended up playing hooky from work and taking a nap this afternoon, and then I just felt groggy going into the gym. I debated whether I should even attempt 285×5, but in the end I went for it and the 4th and 5th reps were about 40% easier than last week’s.

As a side note, I was in the crappy rack (hence the struggle to re-rack, which always happens in this set-up) and they had re-arranged everything so the lighting is insane in the video. My massive quads look like they are bending light.

I also had a lightbulb moment at the gym today. I was feeling a self conscious because the dude in the decent squat rack was squatting 135lbs however he looked decently muscular and lean. Basically I had the realization that I want to look like a bodybuilder without doing bodybuilding workouts. I probably need to adjust that expectation.

After squatting, I benched 122.5x5x5. I had failed my final rep on Monday but these felt solid, so that is reassuring.

I will deadlift tomorrow and hit up the farmer’s market. On Sunday it will be three weeks since my last binge eating episode. That’s a huge improvement over the weekly and bi-weekly events that were happening this spring. I am kind of waiting for myself to slip up, but also feeling very confident about where I’m at. I’ve been cooking my own meals and packing my lunches for work. Right now I feel like going back to PNLE was really a good decision, even if I had doubts when I signed up.

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Squat 285×5 and the week in recap

Sunday evening, and I am overdue for a blog update, so I feel like I need to get on it. Although… I am feeling kind of sleepy after eating some bison sausage and a giant ass salad for dinner.

I am currently obsessed with salad. I got a really good spring mix with dill at the farmer’s market yesterday, and some incredibly flavorful cherry tomatoes. Tomato season is the most wonderful time of the year! I even stopped in at the health food store and bought sprouts, and I made an apple cider vinaigrette. Salad is so much more fun when it’s actually fresh and feels fancy.

I picked up some other produce at the farmer’s market – more kirby cucumbers, and some raspberries that I used to make Raspberry Coconut Chia Popsicles. For my “5-minute action” today, I made a cottage pie with some potatoes and beans from the farmer’s market, just so I would have some healthy backup meals in the freezer.

To be honest, I haven’t been dying to update my blog. I feel like things are on track right now – well… maybe not the loneliness & self-confidence aspects, but I am pretty good at just shoving those down deeper. And I’ve had some anxiety this week, but the long weekend seems to be helping with that.

But I do feel like PNLE has started off well. This is the end of my second week, and I have 100% compliance so far, which is reassuring. More importantly, it’s two weeks since I’ve had a binge eating episode. That might be a record. I’ve caught myself trying to slip down that slope a couple of times, but I keep telling myself that I am open to change, and instead of putting the money towards chocolate and ice cream, I’ve been putting it towards bills or into savings. On Wednesday, after an unfortunate comedy of errors, I ended up eating a piece of zucchini cake and some salad for lunch. Otherwise all of my meals have included a protein and a veg, so I feel okay.

Yesterday was my first weigh-in and my “before picture” day, if you will. I was kind of surprised. From the front and from the side, I look better than I expected, and from the back I look worse. I don’t have any mirrors in my apartment, so there is definitely a disconnect between how I see myself and I how I actually look. My weight has been back up and hovering around 200lbs, and in my head I just see myself as being a total beach ball. I have weight to lose, but looking at those pictures, I can really appreciate that I look better at this weight with muscle than I did without. And I thought my butt was out of control to begin with, but it was still bigger than expected. All in all, it is what it is. I can only move forward.

Tomorrow, I start my second habit – and the first real nutritional habit. It’s going to be eating slowly. Last year this habit was a real light bulb moment for me. I am not good at chewing my food. I am very good at inhaling everything on my plate as fast as possible – and I am especially good at shoving junk food into my face as quickly as humanly possible. I know I can do this, and I need to practice. I was kind of having fun with the 5-minute action habit, though. Not sure I’m ready to leave it behind!

My training is still on track. Friday was a great day. Actually, it was horrible, but I squatted 280×5 which is an all-time 5RM for me.

This video does not accurately convey how hard these squats were. The long pause between the 4th and 5th reps was my internal struggle to decide whether to even attempt the 5th rep, but I got it! And I am still feeling a bit beat up and deadlifting yesterday felt terrible, but THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT I GOT IT. And soon I will squat 315, or I will die trying.

This is what I’ve been doing for programming, which I have mapped out until mid September, about a month before my meet in October:

programmingI took the accessory work from one of Dave Tate’s programs. I am still not at a point where I need advanced programming on my main lifts, but his accessory work had a good balance of “things I want to do and things that I should be doing,” and having written out a structured program has really helped my attitude towards the gym. I don’t go in and dick around and then leave when I’m just feeling lazy. I actually leave feeling like I’ve had a good workout at the end, without totally killing myself. Squatting excepted. That might just kill me this week.