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.

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 timinvermont.com
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.

 

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?

Recent stuff

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I’ve been working out and I re-took the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer certificate course a couple of weeks ago. Erin N went with me and it was really fun! I still love CrossFit after 11 years and even after learning that not all of its precepts are strictly correct. It is fun, and it’s so interesting to see it as a system that has developed out of one person’s experimentation on a few clients.

This week I did some hard workouts. On Tuesday I deadlifted to a 3-rep max of 225. Technically my 3-rep max is higher, because I actually did 3 sets of 3. Before that I also had done several 30-second row sprints to see the fastest pace I could attain and how long I could keep it (1:41 and 6 seconds). After the deadlifts I did the day’s Tabata: row for calories, box jump, rings push-ups, barbell row.

Yesterday I didn’t do much, just went for a 40-minute walk to Martha Washington Park and stretched.

Today at 6:30 AM I did the day’s WOD with Carroll: run 800m, 40 6-inch target burpees, 20 box jump-overs, 3 rounds for time… in the time available (32:10), I got through two rounds, the run, and half the burpees. The time included a bathroom break. I used a 12-inch box. I had already planned to test this Saturday’s workout, and had not planned to do the WOD, so I went “easy” (it wasn’t easy).

The WOD coming up for Saturday is a barbell complex that I was afraid would be too hard, but scaled to a lighter weight it was no harder than other barbell WODs. So today I did two WODs. Tomorrow I get to sleep in.

Press, barbell complex WOD

Today: shoulder press trying to improve my calculated 1-rep max. I don’t think I improved it, because I didn’t get five reps. I finished with a set of 4 and then a set of 3 at 82 lbs. If I had gotten five reps unbroken I would have had a new 1-rep max. Oh well, maybe next week.

Workout of the day — from what we did in the gym yesterday:
6 deadlifts
4 power cleans
2 push jerks
10 toes to bar
10 minutes AMRAP with 75 lb bar

My toes to bar were just high knee raises some of the time. My first set of 10 was two “warm-up/cheater” knee raises followed by 8 strung-together toes to bar. It degenerated after that. With the barbell complex and that, in 10 minutes I got five rounds, 17 reps.

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Front squat, burpee, KB swings

Today: Several sets of pistols on each side with weights up to 16 kg, in my Reeboks (very slight heel lift, which I can’t do pistols without).

Then, front squat to a set of 4 and a set of 2 at 170 lbs. This was hard and was based on my calculated 1-rep max from when I did three at 175 recently.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 burpees and kettlebell swings at 24 kg for time: 6:25. I worked hard on that.

“Fran’s Fave” revisited

Today’s strength workout was back squats and I got 4 at 190 lbs. I’ve now done a 3-rep max or close enough on all the basic lifts, so I can work out based on an estimated 1-rep max and try to make progress again for a while.

Today’s WOD: a kettlebell complex from a long time ago at CrossFit North. I had done this one several times and named it Fran’s Fave, and also used it on my kettlebell class at CrossFit Seattle. When I did this one in 2007 my finish time was 15:25. Eight years later I’m slower at 17:42 with 16 kg.

“Fran’s Fave”:
kettlebell 1-hand swing, clean, squat complex x 10 reps
10 squat-jumps with no weight
10 rounds for time.

I *think* my faster time so long ago was also with 16 kg, because I remember the first time we did this in Dave’s class, I had the 16 and the 12 kg kettlebells out because I thought I would not be able to do it with the 16 — but then I did. So it was memorable.

3-rep max lifts for mid-2015

Recent 3 rep maxes or approximately:

Front squat 176 x 3

Shoulder press 84 x 3

Deadlift 220 230 x 3

Bench press 122

Back squat 190 x 4

7/7/15: front squat to 3-rep max of 175. It was hard enough that I felt sure I would fail with more weight. I was surprised I was able to go this heavy. I waited at least two minutes between sets.

7/8/15: shoulder press to 3-rep max of 38 kg in our garage. (83.77 lbs for a calculated 1-rep max of 88 lbs.) Not bad.

I plan to test several more 3-rep maxes this month to re-establish a baseline. I’ve been working out, but not methodically. I quit karate because I wasn’t getting enough down time and I wasn’t fully committing to karate either.

7/18/15. Wanted to find a three rep max deadlift but got to a two rep max of 225. I had done a 15-12-9 workout of cleans and dips earlier in the morning.

8/10/15. I did a 3-rep max deadlift  on Friday the 7th and got 220, for a calculated 1-rep of 233. Today I got a 3-rep max bench press of 122 lbs.

8/15/15. Back squat “3-rep max” based on an estimated 1 RM of 210; I actually did 190 x 4 for a calculated 1-rep max of 216.

8/17/15: deadlifted according to this week’s Wendler scheme of 1+ at 95% of 1-rep max. I got 3 at 230 for a new calc. 1-rep max of 243.