Ideas for a journaling support group

I’ve been working for the past year on a book for women who want to learn to lift weights. I had trouble believing in my own authority to write this book. Friends and supporters assured me that my voice and perspective are unique, and that they want to hear the information that I want to share, even though books on lifting already exist.

I wanted to make myself more aware of whatever they were seeing. What is unique about me? We know every person is unique, but how? “Find the uniqueness” is the motto I’ve found myself repeating in 2018.

I decided to reread my journals from my young adulthood — thirteen years’ worth of spiral-bound notebooks I filled with handwriting and then hid away in a box. I had never read these journals all the way through since writing them. Well… I found uniqueness, all right.

From the perspective of fifty-three years old, I can see so much in myself and my friends that I could not see at the time. I want to use all this accumulated writing as a creative resource somehow. I also want to encourage other people to keep journals and to revisit them without judgment. (I don’t know why, but this is the first year I’ve been able to delve into my journals with no embarrassment.) I would love to find a way to encourage young people to write without self-consciousness, as I did, privately, starting at age ten after reading “Harriet the Spy.”

My notebook was an extension of my mind. I wrote when I felt like it. I had no rules for what to write about or not write about. I kept up this habit all through my school years, and then majored in creative writing in college. I kept up the habit after college, and hand-writing in my journals helped me see the feelings and untie the knots in a long and intense relationship. It was almost meditative (a concept I’d never heard of then), helping me to observe what I was going through, even while I was in over my head.

If we keep a journal — of whatever type of content we choose — we can look back and learn. We can see our own uniqueness, and I believe that we can also find out that even though we are each unique, we are definitely not alone in whatever we experience. That is, if we find a way to share the material with others in whatever way is appropriate.

What do you think? Have you kept a journal? Have you reread it? Is it possible that there could be a safe enough setting to share bits of it — not for irony or for laughs, but as a constructive space for vulnerability and feeling seen?

I want to create a setting like this, for a small group to explore seeing their own uniqueness and their not-aloneness. Can you help me flesh out this idea? Have you taken any sort of class in journal writing, or in using a journal for creative personal writing that is public, or using a journal for any other reason?

Snapshots of the 1980s

I’ve kept a journal since 1975, when I was ten years old — I started after reading “Harriet the Spy.” At Columbia College Chicago, I decided to major in writing after the very first assignment turned out to be “start keeping a journal.” To keep everything together, I wrote all of my assignments longhand in the same notebook I used as a journal. Journal entries are mixed in with long essays full of crossings-out, carets, circlings and arrows.

Because of this messy mix, I hadn’t reread these 12 journals, dated 1982 through 1987, until I dug them out last week. This in turn was sparked by having spontaneously started an email correspondence with one of my writing professors from that time. For some reason I had looked at the writing department web page and saw that some of my teachers are still teaching. When I saw these people’s faces again, I couldn’t resist getting in touch.

This brief correspondence has brought those years to life. Just making the connection caused me to remember all sorts of good people and experiences. So what did I find when I checked my journals?

First of all, I was reading lots of second-wave feminists and radical women writers, and taking notes, literally and figuratively. And I was an observant feminist. I saw and called out guys interrupting women, hassling girls on the street, my retail-job boss dominating his female business partner and micromanaging his female employees, and a guy I was dating pointing out my youthful lack of perspective while also hiding something from me.

I was fit and felt great on account of commuting everywhere by bike or walking, and by seemingly endless recreational bike rides all over the city alone or with others during good weather.

I was a free spirit who wanted to date anyone who asked, and wanted to make out, while stating right up front that clothes would stay on — which I did successfully for some years, until *I* was ready to do otherwise. (It helped that I didn’t drink alcohol then.) This may sound like a buzz kill, but I dated many people with no regrets and I am sure I was a lot of fun to be with, because they did not stop asking me out. I also often reversed roles by asking guys out, which was much remarked upon then.

In my writing classes, I wrote about sexism, violence, and pornography, and I was seen as really far out there, especially by some of the guys. My male and female writing instructors were professional and even-keeled, and they tried to help me channel my radical readings into my own thoughts.

In 1984, feminism was fringe, and I mean FRINGE, at least in my neighborhood. But I was immersed in putting together what I saw as the connections between various forms of objectification and belittling of women. I enthusiastically thought I was going to raise the consciousness of everyone I met, female and male.

I worked at school as a writing tutor to students who needed help. (This teaching experience turned out 20 years later to lend confidence to my earliest CrossFit teaching forays.)

I’m proud of the strength and independence I showed as a young adult, after losing my mother at age 11. I’m in awe that my mother and father could have instilled this resilience that outlasted the trauma, to me and my father, of that loss. I feel that the college and program I chose were really good ones for me — not just a way of getting a degree and checking the box. Have I been true to that young adult free-spirit feminist writer? Yes, with a few exceptions when I got in something over my head, she’s been my compass. How can I continue to be a fulfillment of that young woman as I get older?

I’m old enough to start having a perspective on the whole path of my life. I’m grateful to my young self for keeping a journal, and to have found positive experiences in my past. I’ve often described myself as having been a timid mouse when I was young, and I’m going to stop doing that, because I can clearly see now that it wasn’t the case. In fact I protected myself where it was needed and reached out for life in ways that I wanted.

Today’s deadlifts

I had not deadlifted in several weeks. At the CrossFit classes I’ve been to lately, the luck of the draw has had me doing squats, bench presses, kettlebell cleans, or doubleunders as the skill, and I’ve missed any deadlift sessions they’ve had.

Today my deadlift workout was uncharacteristically light and high-volume, with a lot of back-off sets. Back-off sets — lighter sets following the heavy one — are also uncharacteristic — usually I work up to one really heavy set of five, anywhere between 205 and 220 pounds, and stop.
Today, 185 pounds felt heavy enough, and adding volume by working my way back “down a ladder” in weight felt really good. I don’t believe this workout will make me stronger in a measurable way — but I do feel, physically and mentally, that it gave my nervous system the work it needed to stay engaged with the daily, unconscious skill of maintaining a straight back supported by strong hip muscles that are “awake.”
“Awake” is a nonscientific, vague, vernacular word that probably has no anatomical or physical accuracy. But I think anyone who’s ever exercised can relate to and understand the feeling of muscles waking up and of skills (nervous system) being refreshed through activity. Maybe that feeling of “awake muscles” is the feeling of putting the brakes on whatever imperceptible atrophy may have been happening.
Strength is a skill that is both practiced and trained. Nervous system (brain, spinal cord and all the rest) learn how to do things and how to recruit the muscles that are needed. This enables the muscles to do work and get bigger and stronger for better leverage.
I feel great after this deadlift workout even if it isn’t moving me directly towards a personal record lift. I set a personal record last August and might train for another one in 2018. If I do, the deadlift workouts will look a lot different than today’s.

This week

This week, my eldest client C came back to train some more after being away for over two months, out of the country. In her training, among many other things, we do sit-stand as a sub for squats. She sits down and stands  up from, or tries to touch-and-go from, benches at heights of 17 inches, 16.5, and 16 inches. Who would have thought those three increments would be so different. I have another trainee who does the same exercise, sit-stand, from the same heights. She is quite a bit younger than C but just happens to have got pretty out of shape. She is benefitting faster than C from the sit-stands, but C is ahead of her in other strengths and skills. Everybody’s unique, that’s for sure.

Another C, a friend from CrossFit 206, trains with me once a week, and I really like her. I think she’s excited to see me, as I am her. I’m glad I have my digital wall clock/timer, so that I can time her rest between sets and don’t get carried away chatting to her. That clock really keeps me honest.

Another trainee, M., had his final two sessions with me this week. He’s gotten stronger and slimmed down but he doesn’t seem to see and feel it in himself. I want him to commit to training more wholeheartedly — he’s off to CrossFit in a couple of weeks — but he seems to feel it’s a luxury he can’t quite afford. To me of course it’s a basic health practice that one wouldn’t consider giving up if other things could be sacrificed that aren’t as necessary as health.

I created a collage image for my business Facebook page using pics of five trainees working in the garage. I think it looks good. One person who gave me permission to use her picture also posted it on FB and kindly enthused about our training, which makes me feel great! Another trainee after only a few sessions noticed she can get on and off the floor easier.

It was a good week. Unfortunately I have a headache now that it’s over. My work is mentally extremely tiring. I’m so glad I decided to have Fridays off.


I’ve had a few classes at CrossFit RE after taking five personal training sessions with BeckyJo. Personal training was great because I had a chance to get to know her a bit more and see how I would feel physically during and after fairly high intensity workouts. It let me vent some of the “here are all of my special needs” blather that I was attached to. Like a lot of people, I just have to get that stuff out of the way early on, and then once I know I’m considered to be a normal person who will fit in, I can forget all that stuff and focus on the workout and on getting to know the other people at the gym.

It’s interesting to be a newbie at someone else’s CrossFit gym. Just the fact that in personal training I had to process the usual insecurities: “What if there are so many doubleunders that I’m about to pee myself? What if we have to do the Filthy Fifty and I can’t get through fifty without it turning into a death march? What if I’m the last one to finish every WOD?” etc etc. These things are not important. I can modify anything I need to. I needed to be told that.

So I’ve been treating every WOD as a practice session. Do a round or a set, rest if I need to, hit the next one. I can focus on doing things well rather than fast. It’s fun and CrossFit still makes me feel great.

Kyle came over today and we did back squats in the garage. He’s been off a bit, so he stuck with me on the weight. I had a one-rep max recently of 220, so we went up to 85 percent today, three sets of five at 185. Then we had lunch. I really appreciate and am grateful for how he and lots of other people in my gym world have kept in touch with me. It’s just a little bit like having a local extended family. Not quite the same, but they are people I can call on for help with certain things, such as feedback on excerpts from my writing project. I’m working on a book on weight training for older women.

Powerlifting meet follow-up

I ended up going to two meets this summer with Bull Stewart and his team. The first one, in June, I did all three of the lifts. My second squat was disallowed for lack of depth. I was so surprised! “Moi?” I’ve busted so many people for not squatting deep enough, so it was great for me to get a dose of my own coaching medicine. My third squat was deep enough and was at 215 lbs. Not a record for me, but a good conservative and confident weight for my first meet following a disallowed lift.

Bench presses and deadlifts went smoothly. I ended with a bench press of 110 lbs (conservative) and a deadlift of 248 lbs. I thought 248 would be on the edge, but with the excitement of the meet, I knew I could have lifted substantially more.

I love the supportive and friendly culture I’ve seen both at Bull’s gym and in powerlifting, at this meet. Really great. I decided later in the summer to deadlift only at the Alki Classic, a meet held on Alki Beach each August. With a busy summer, I was able to focus on training my deadlift only, and this was Bull’s idea because I was going to skip it altogether. I made my own plan to increase my deadlift in the five weeks I had to prepare, because I really wanted to set a personal record on Alki Beach. How fun would that be! My deadlift training plan that I followed is at the end of this post. And I did indeed set a PR of 264 lbs on my final attempt.

I used flat sneakers at the meet, after training in weightlifting shoes, to give myself more of a mechanical advantage. The advantage of deadlifting in flat shoes was something I knew about, but almost for arbitrary reasons I had made up my mind that I’d do all my lifts in WL shoes all the time. A trainer at CrossFit RE, Greg Gerard, suggested I try flat shoes for the meet, and I could not disagree. It worked. As soon as I knew I had lifted the weight about two inches off the floor, I KNEW I had it. If I get stuck, I get stuck right above the floor. I let out a scream to motivate myself to stand it up. I was really happy with this lift! I love the deadlift. Link is to my first deadlift session in September 2004.

It had been a long, hot day, so I got a photo with two powerlifting teammates and then Tom and I took off. I am disappointed I didn’t stay for the team photo because the whole team is so cool!

Here’s the way I trained during the final four or five weeks before the Alki meet in August 2017:

Week 1 – 7/15
Find 3rm: 3rm was 228 and I stopped
Week 2 – 7/21
7/21 I did deficit deadlifts at Bull’s place. Standing on about 1.5 inch planks,
8 singles at 225 then a set of three when someone (Rose Pristell) lent me a belt.
Week 3 – 7/28 – I did 230 x 1 off the blocks, then 230 x 5 off the floor.
Calc 1 rep max = 259 or 268 depending which calculation you use at
Week 4 – August 3
Plan: Do a set of 3 at 233; actually ended up doing five at 233.
Week 5 -August 10
goal is 239×3 (This is the 3rm for 264×1)
Stiff leg dl from rack up to 155 for sets of 8
Regular DL 175 to 233 for 1 each.
Then take 264 out of rack and lower under control to floor.
Meet on Aug. 19; goal I trained for is 120 kg or 264 lbs
1st attempt 112.5 kg, same as last meet – succeeded
2nd attempt 117.5 kg – succeeded
3rd attempt was 120 kg and succeeded! (264 lbs)

Deciding and preparing to compete in powerlifting

Soon after I started training with Bull Stewart in the group class, in March, I found that I was still pretty strong despite inconsistent, non-methodical workouts during the past couple of years. The gym business had taken up more and more of my personal time. I saw myself creating structure for our clients so that they could gradually, methodically increase their strength, while I learned that my own training was so sporadic that when I had the time and energy, I didn’t really know my high end any more. I only did one or two individual heavy lifts a week. Should I squat to 185 or 205 for sets of five? I was never quite sure.

I would have been satisfied to maintain rather than gain strength, but that’s a tricky thing to do if you don’t lift every week. To be safe, I made up my mind at some point to always squat to a maximum of 185 lbs for five reps, deadlift to a max of 205, press whatever I could for five (usually 75 or 80), and bench press to about 85 for 8-10 reps — keeping that one light for safety reasons as I often had nobody around to spot me. (I had spotter bars, but I didn’t like to actually fail and have to use them.)

It was so much fun to start training with Bull, Hikeem, Asuba, and our group after I closed the gym.  I quickly realized I was still inspired by strength and fitness, suddenly unburdened by the need to keep a business going, and ready to participate with enthusiasm in Bull’s new program that he developed for us at Cha’s request.

The program turned out to involve a little bit of heavy lifting, a lot of dumbbell lifts and abs, and a lot of intense bursts of cardio. A lot of fun, though not strictly a strength program. But it was okay. I was now working out three days a week, like clockwork, and walking an hour on off days, so I regained some general fitness/conditioning. And while we did some heavy lifting, I supplemented that with occasional lifting at home, and I kept careful track of what I lifted each workout. Within just a few weeks I noticed I had methodically added a little weight to the bar each time and was close to the strength levels of five years ago.

This was so gratifying. While I had lost a little bit of “barbell strength,” I had not lost enough to be starting over nor enough to make me unsafe when pushing myself.

When Bull offered me the chance to compete in this meet on his team, I was ready to sign up. I saw no reason not to. Why had I never done this before? I didn’t know. (Now that it’s over, I have some ideas why.) As the meet got closer, I started to practice the pause in the bench press with the help of either Bull or with Tom at home. I tested my 3-rep max and 1-rep max deadlift. I tested my 5-rep max squat and set a personal record. Then it was time to rest during the last six days before the meet.

I’ll write about the meet in my next post. When Tom and I were hanging out by the pool on Friday after checking in, it hit me why I’d never competed before. Sitting there relaxing, I felt such a clear sense of mental clarity and capacity. We sat and watched a few CrossFit Regionals videos, read, and watched kids playing. I thought, wow, just for today I’m an athlete waiting to compete — this is a nice life — I have no responsibilities until tomorrow morning.

When I had the gym, I never had the sensation of no responsibilities. If I had decided to go to a meet, my mind would have been racing with the endless gym-admin mental checklist the entire time I wasn’t actually about to lift or lifting. While sitting by the pool, I would have been making lists, returning emails, brainstorming ideas to solve problems. I would have been talking with Tom about that, not about visualizing my lifts for the next day.

My mind was always on the gym, always searching for solutions to problems or for tasks I may have forgotten to do. I had to train myself not to be so mentally vigilant all the time. It was exhausting. I had to remind myself not to feel bad that I didn’t work out as much as I had in the past.

After closing the gym, I started working out elsewhere on the very first Monday, and I quickly realized that post-gym-closure could turn out to be a really fun period of my life. This has been correct so far. I’m glad my mind “straightened out” so quickly so that I could rediscover my love of working out AND even try a new sport with a new coach.


Bench press PR “with the pause”

Today I benched 125 with Bull spotting and “Mailman” (actually Austin — a guy on the team) calling out the meet commands — Start, Press, Rack. I’m no longer freaked out by the requirement to hold the barbell at the bottom and wait for the Press command. Bull said, “You’re ready!” To Austin he said, “She’s tough!” It is a nice compliment that sinks in, but on the other hand, the fact is I’m not particularly tough. It’s more that lifting is one thing I’m well-trained at, and I’m lucky to be able to do that.

Bull was telling stories about other competitions, high-school coaches who encourage their athletes to use gear like bench shirts when it’s counterproductive, athletes who have had to be removed from teams because of the use of anabolics (which can disqualify a whole team, he said), and more. I’m thankful to have learned to lift from good teachers and to be confident and skilled to lift correctly and strongly without accessories. Nothing wrong with some of the gear if you need it, but it’s good to feel that so far all I’ve needed is a belt, and that rarely. I’ll use it for the squat and deadlift at the meet.

This meet is going to be really fun.

Going to compete

I’ve been working out at Columbia City Fitness – Jackson Street location with Bull Stewart and co. Their enthusiasm for strength training, and for the strength I’ve developed after all the lifting I’ve done, inspired me to join their powerlifting team. Most recent heavy lifts:

squat 220 x 3 x 3 today with a belt;
deadlift 235 x 3 and 245 x 1 on May 12;
bench press to 120 x 1 with a pause (the pause is so hard!).

What I know so far about competing on June 3:
I’ll wear a belt for the squat and deadlift.
Opening squat will be 230 (105 kg). I’ll warm up to 205 most likely (93 kg).
Opening bench will be 95 (43 kg) unless I can get a really confident 100 (45 kg) with a pause “right when I roll out the bed,” as Bull puts it.
Opening deadlift will be 245 (111 kg).

Bull says I’m going to have fun at the meet because I’m competitive. Dave and Nancy used to tell me I was competitive. I must not have good self-awareness around that, because I’ve always described myself as not competitive (and Dave and Nancy would laugh at this). Why? For example at CrossFit, I work out without looking to see what my peers had done — that is, I forget to try to beat them. It didn’t even occur to me until I was done, almost every time. If I work out *with* someone, I look at them as inspiration to keep moving, not as someone to try and beat. (Am I being honest?) For another example, I decide what to do in a lifting workout by picking a challenge that I believe I can do, not by thinking about what others my size did.

In what way *am* I competitive? Maybe just the fact that once I decided to go to the meet, my approach was that I want to do well and challenge myself, both, not just go and lift easy to get the experience and have fun. I take it seriously. I don’t know, is that competitive?

Notes from the Microsoft Band 2 today

I had two exercise sessions today: weights at Bull’s place, and then a walk. I wore the band for the first time in months. Below are notes I wrote in Evernote by looking at the band itself while trying to get it to sync.

Band won’t sync, so I may have to reset and lose this data.
Workout 1 at Bull’s place:
Duration 1:15
I ran the watch from just before class started until 15 minutes after it ended.
calories 431
peak HR 155
Avg HR 115
Duration in heart ranges:
17 seconds at 90-100% (so let’s say my peak of 155 = 90%, and max HR = 172 — one flaw in this device is that it doesn’t know my real max heart rage. How does it calculate it? “The Band app predicts your maximum heart rate based on your age and uses it to generate personalized heart-rate training zones. Your max heart-rate value adapts to you. If you consistently exceed your predicted value, your max heart rate will increase.”)
4 minutes at 80-90%
20 minutes at 70-80%
The band has now synced. It says during the workout, I burned a virtually equal number of fat and glucose calories.
Workout 2, walk from Jackson and 26th down to Leschi Mkt and back:
Duration 1:02 (2.5 miles, ~400ft elev gain)
Calories 310
peak HR 141
avg HR 108
Duration in HR ranges is not shown
“The fat-burning range will lie between 50 and 75 percent of your heart-rate reserve.” (from Active dot com — I have pretty much known nothing about the “zones”. I’m more interested in them now, because without all the hours of daily activity of zinging around in the gym, I’m concerned about staying active enough to burn what I eat. Most of the daily burn is not from a “hard workout” of short duration, but from the entire day’s low-intensity activity.)
My resting heart rate in October was 50
Heart rate reserve (Max minus resting) = 122
50% of 122 is 61
75% of 122 is 92
add the resting heart rate to both numbers:
“Fat burning zone”: 111-142 bpm
65% to 83% of max 172
During my walk, I was in this zone all the time.
During my workout, I was in this zone most of the time.
The band has now synced. It says on the walk I burned a virtually equal number of fat and glucose calories.