Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Champagne Gymiversary

Beth at the Gym

Three years ago today I became a weightlifter.

I wasn’t particular good at it at the start- the 20 kg barbell was heavy and awkward for me to lift and my abs were never engaged when they should be and my gluts were lazy. I had to learn all the basic movements. I had to learn how to breathe properly.  To breath! Like, the thing I’ve been doing all day, every day since I was born. But, seriously, there are better ways to breathe and less good ways to breathe. Oh, and often when I would lift a weight I’d forget to breath altogether!

But despite it being the basics, I really enjoyed it. I was learning a lot about how my body works – and how I can make it work better. I saw progress from my efforts and not just in the gym, but in life too. From mundane things (it’s easier to carry groceries) to fun things (my hockey game is better (faster skating, harder shot, better able to fight for the puck with players from the other team (who are always bigger than me)).

I remember when I first signed up at this gym (Strong Side), I signed up for 6 months because it was a cheaper monthly price than if I signed up for 3 months (and I am nothing if not a cheap, cheap woman). And I remember thinking “I wonder if I’ll really make it 6 whole months”. And here it is, 3 whole years later, and I’m still loving it.

I started a new program this week and yesterday I got to try my first Olympic style lift : a push jerk. It’s super awkward because there’s so much that you have to do simultaneously, but it’s a super fun challenge. You basically start with the barbell in front of you, holding it on your collarbones, then you do a little dip down and then as you come up, you lift the bar straight up as you squat down low – essentially, you are trying to duck under the bar. It’s hard to describe, but it looks pretty bad ass when you do it right. I’ll take a video of me doing it once I’ve got the pattern down properly.

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On the first day of donating…

I enjoyed my 12 days of giving last year so much that I’m doing it again this year! And just like last year, I’m starting with Purpose Society.

The Lower Mainland Purpose Society for Youth and Families is “a community-based multi-service organization that delivers a continuum of programs to children, youth and families.”

http://www.purposesociety.org/

As you may recall, Purpose Society is the non-profit for which my recent powerlifting competition raised funds. They do awesome things for our community and I’m happy to be able to support them.

Also, the trainers at my gym have to lift the same kilograms as we donate in dollars. Here’s their video from week 2:

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My First Powerlifting Competition

So that powerlifting competition that I’ve been talking about? That happened today.

For the competition, you get three attempts. You have to tell the organizers how much you plan to lift for your first attempt and after you do your first attempt, you decide what you want to do for the next one. If you don’t make the first lift, you try that weight again. If you make it, you decide how much weight you want to add for the next try. You can only go up in increments of 2.5 kg and you can’t go down in weight, even if you don’t make the lift.

My previous personal record (PR) was 87.5 kg, which I’d previously lifted for 2 reps, so I decided to start with that because it was a weight that I knew I could get. Then I figured I’d go up to 90 kg, unless 87.5 kg felt really light, and in which case I might try 92.5 kg. And then my stretch goal for the final lift would be 95 kg.

So after what seemed like an eternity of waiting, when I finally got to the platform for the first lift, I lifted 87.kg and it felt light. So I decided to go for 92.5 kg on my second lift. And that felt great too, so many trainer said “That looked easy. How do you feel about going way up? Like 100 kg?” And you only have a minute to submit your number so I was like “OK” – didn’t have time to psych myself out of it. I figured I had 92.5 kg as a new PR, so even if I failed on 100 kg, I still have a new PR, so I’d be happy. But then I did it. I lifted 100 kg (i.e. 220 lbs).

Lifting in front of a crowd like that was a really interesting experience. I started to get nervous for this about a week ago when I learned that a real powerlifting judge was coming. I had just assumed that one of the trainers from the gym would judge, so finding out that it was going to be someone who judges real powerlifting competitions made it seem that much more real. So my nervousness started then and last night I dreamt that I was running a half marathon in Stanley Park that I hadn’t trained for and then I looked at my watch and saw it was 2:00 and I was like “Oh no! I’m supposed to be at my powerlifting competition!!” So the morning started full of nerves, but I had a shower and then I had some coffee and something to eat and then I got dressed and I thought “I want to look good.” I had a friend in undergrad who always showed up for exams with her hair done, make up on, and dressed really nice. And she said something to the effect of “If I’m going to feel terrible, I want to look nice because then I feel better”. And I thought, “If I’m going to feel this nervous, I may as well look nice!” (The angle in that video did me no favours, so I hope you just looked at the weight I was lifting and not my face!).

I was hoping that I’d be able to channel the nervous energy into lifting energy. I learned to channel nerves into performance when I did my drama classes in undergrad and it’s served me well whenever I’ve had to give a presentation or teach a class, so I figured it would work in this situation too.

When they call your name, you have one minute to get to the bar and start your lift, so you have no time to overthink it. I just walked up the bar, took my position, tensed up all the muscles I needed to activate, and lifted. I felt like the world shrunk from these dozens and dozens of people around me to just me, and the bar, and the judge’s hand. The judge is holding his hand in the air and once you do your deadlift, you lock out your knees and your hips and you have to make sure your shoulders are back and once the judge sees you have done of that, they lower their hand to tell you that you can lower the bar. So I heard nothing and I felt like my vision was tunneled to just the judge’s hand, until he held up the white card to indicate my lift was good, and the world came rushing back in and I heard all the cheers from my friends and trainers and gym mates and totally strangers and my heart leapt with joy: “I did it!” I really never could have guessed that I would lift 110 kg today! I was such a thrill!

To top it off, it turns out that I came in second place among the women!

Second place in my first deadlift competition!

The woman who won was absolutely amazing. I hadn’t met her before, as she doesn’t work out at my gym but does work for the non-profit we were raising money for, Purpose Service Society. Her name is Elizabeth (I didn’t catch her last name) and she is so amazingly strong. If memory serves, her final lift was 150 kg. Just so phenomenally strong and she made it look easy! It was a thrill just to get to watch her.

After the competition, there was a party, with delicious food and beer and vendors to shop at. My prize for second place was some cool stuff from Strike Mvmnt, a local company active wear company. I got a new shirt, hat, bag, and water bottle. And then I may have also bought a pair of shoes that feel so freaking good to squat in!

Now, I’ve spent the evening relaxing (with a bit of stretching so I don’t get too stiff) and experiencing my adrenaline crash (headache, dry mouth, and sleepiness) and I’m reflecting on the event. It was such a joy to watch every competitor today. There were 12 women and 12 men and even though not everyone made every lift, honestly it was a major accomplishment for everyone who competed to just to walk up on that platform and try. I’m so honoured to have shared the platform with everyone who competed today. You are all amazing!

Special thanks to the Strong Side New West team for putting this competition together – they work so hard for the gym members and the community they have built is amazing. Today was a special day where the place was packed with people who came to cheer on the athletes, but every day at that gym is a wonderful community of supportive, funny, wonderful people who celebrate in each other’s wins, cheer each other on through the hard days, and who I’m enjoying getting to know more and more as we pick things up and put them back down, week after week.

And special props to all the people who volunteered to make this event happen – the people loading the weights onto the bar for all the lifts really should have won a prize – they had to lift all the weights for 2 hours! And the event couldn’t have happened without scorekeepers and the judge and the people checking in the athletes when they arrived. Every one of them is amazing and I thank you for making this special day happen.

And finally, don’t forget to donate to Purpose Service Society. They do really important work in our community and the money raised at today’s event is just the beginning. Strong Side New West is fundraising for Purpose throughout December and however many dollars we donate, the trainers have to lift that amount of kilograms! So give early, give often!

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Gains

So I’ve completed the first phase of my training for the powerlifting competition. My training consisted of working each of deadlift, back squat, and bench press to see if I could increase my theoretical 1 rep max. In the first week of this phase, I found my 3 rep max by testing out heavier and heavier weights until I found the maximum amount that I could lift 3 times in a row. From that, I calculated what my theoretical 1 rep max would be (using a handy dandy online calculator like this one). Then, for the following four weeks, I lifted a percentage of that max for 8 reps, then 6 reps, then 3-5 reps, and finally 2-3 reps this week.

Here are my 3 rep maxes from my first week and my theoretical 1 rep maxes calculated from those 3 rep maxes:

Exercise3 rep maxTheoretical 1 rep max
Deadlift80 kg84.7 kg
Back Squat75 kg79.4 kg
Bench Press45.5 kg48.2 kg

And here are the amounts I lifted for 2 reps this week, along with my theoretical 1 rep maxes calculated from them and the % change from my first week:

Exercise2 rep maxTheoretical 1 rep max% increase
Deadlift87.5 kg90 kg6%
Back Squat85 kg87.5 kg10%
Bench Press46 kg47.3 kg-2%

So that last one is a bit puzzling. I’m pretty certain that I didn’t lose strength over 5 weeks of training my bench press. I definitely feel like I’m stronger! I’m guessing that because I wasn’t actually testing to find my 2 rep max, but was just taking a guess at what I’d be able to lift for 2 reps, I must have underestimated my strength and chosen something that was less than what I could really lift for 2 reps. Though to be honest, that 46 kg felt really freaking heavy.

But look at the gains on my deadlift and squat!

And I still have 22 more days to train! I’m starting the next phase of my program on Sunday. So excited!

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Powerlifting!

Weights

Remember that time I joined Strong Side, the best gym ever and became obsessed with lifting heavy weights and then putting them back down? Well, in addition to all the other things I love about this gym (like the super knowledgeable trainers that help me get super strong in a safe way and the wonderfully supportive and fun nature of my fellow Strong Siders), I love that the gym embraces the community and finds ways to give back. They sponsor local community events, they do fundraisers in partnership with other local small business, and they even provide some classes for people in need with a local non-profit.

For the past few years, they’ve done a fundraiser for Purpose Service Society where the trainers have to lift 1 kg for every dollar that Strong Siders donate. Well, this year they decided to take their fundraiser up a notch by hosting their first ever powerlifting competition to raise funds for Purpose! Those who want to compete pay an entry fee and those who want to spectate pay for a ticket, with the proceeds going to Purpose. There will probably also be some donation opportunities on the day of. And I’m sure that my astute readers have figured out where I’m going with this….

Weights

So I’m competing in a powerlifting competition in November. For quite some time I’ve been intrigued by the idea of this type of competition, but I’ve not been in a place where I feel I can dedicate the time to entering a “real” competition. Some of the people at my gym do these – two people just competed at provincials – and I see the amount of time and dedication they put into it, and I know that I am just not in the position to do that right now. But when I heard about this fundraiser competition, I immediately wanted to take part. To me, it’s a low barrier way to try out a competition to see what it’s like. I can do my usual 3 days-a-week at the gym, learn about how competitions work, and compete in the supportive environment of my own gym surrounded by cheering friends! I’m super stoked about the whole thing.

My trainer, Dee, wrote me my first powerlifting training plan. And while the competition will just involve deadlifting, I am going to train all three of the big lifts that are usually done in competition (deadlift, back squat, and bench press) just for fun. My first week of the program involved finding my current 3 rep max (i.e., what’s the most I can lift three times in a row). My 3 rep maxes turned out to be:

  • deadlift: 80 kg (176 lbs)
  • bench press: 45.5 kg (100 lbs)
  • squats: 75 kg (165 lbs)

And now I work through my program for 4 weeks where I lift a given percentage of my max for a bunch of reps, lifting progressively heavier weights for fewer reps each week to make some sweet, sweet gains and see just have far I can get. Or, as my new t-shirt says:

My new tshirt

Given that I’d just starting getting back into the heavy lifts after rehabbing my knee injury, the competition is coming at a perfect time for me. Plus, two of my 2019 goals are to deadlift and squat 90 kg, so this competition will be the perfect opportunity to work towards those goals!

Anyway, long story short, if you see me between now and Nov 30, I’ll probably bore you to tears with talk of powerlifting. And I may also hit you up for a donation, once I figure out what the donation system is going to be (maybe donate $1 for every kg I lift? I’m open to suggestions!)

Bicep

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I jumped out of a f&^*ing plane!

So yesterday I jumped out of a plane. Because that seems like a reasonable thing for a person who is afraid of heights to do, right?

Long time readers may recall that time that I hung off the side of the CN Tower. It was terrifying and I was sure I was going to die and I’ve been pretty afraid of heights ever since then. Walking across the Harbour Bridge is Sydney terrified me. Walking across the Patullo Bridge terrified me1. Even walking across the bridge that people were bungee jumping from to get to the viewing area to watch my friends bungee jump was terrifying. And yet I had a strong desire to jump out of plane and plummet rapidly towards the ground.

In part this was because Dr. Dan told me that the CN Tower Edgewalk was way scarier than skydiving because when you are on the CN Tower, your brain can perceive the distance and it’s thinking “if I fall off of here, I’m going to splatter”. But when you are at 10,000 ft, you are so high up, your brain just cannot process that kind of distance, so you don’t feel that fear. I took those words to heart and decided that skydiving was something that I really wanted to try. And I’m really, really glad I did!

Since Dr. Dan is in town, we decided that yesterday would be a good day to jump out of a plane. Two of his students – Nic and Marshall – were also up for the adventure. We didn’t book the excursion in advance because the not insubstantial fee is nonrefundable and whether or not you can skydive at a given date and time is very weather dependent. If you book in advance and then the weather is not conducive to jumping, you have to reschedule for another day and since Dan is only in town for the week that didn’t really work for us.

So we called yesterday morning to see if the weather would allow us to jump and they said things weren’t looking great but we should call back at about 1:30 pm to see if the situation had improved. We did and they said the weather still wasn’t right, but to call back at 4 pm to check again. When we called back at 4 pm, I think we were prepared for them to say “today is just not a good day to jump “and we would try again the next day2, but much to our surprise they said “Yeah, it looks good now. How soon can you get here?” We were at my place New West and we had to get to Abbotsford, which is where the skydiving placs is, and we had to pick up Marhsall, who was in Maple Ridge, on the way. And since my wee Smart Car can’t fit four brave, soon-to-be skydivers, we had to grab a Modo car share for the trip. So we jumped into action, booking the car, running around trying to find the car after I misinterpreted the description of where the car was, and then off we went!

We arrived a bit later than we’d hoped and skydiving people were waiting for us, so it was a whirlwind of activity: signing the waiver, getting on our jumpsuits, people were strapping us into our harnesses as an instructor explained the procedure of what we need to do. We all got a chance to demonstrate that we listened to the procedure we needed to follow: cross your hands across your chest, and cross your feet when you jump out of the plane, then when your instructor (who you are attached to during the jump) taps your shoulder, you raise your arms up. That’s really all you need to do, because in a tandem jump, the instructor does all the actual work. Then we each met our respective instructors to whom we were going to be attached to – mine was a friendly guy named Jess – and they did the double check to make sure all the straps and hooks were strapped and hooked so that we would not plummet to our deaths. After that we walked toward the plane feeling like something out of Top Gun. Well, I would have felt more Top Gun if they hadn’t given me a pink jumpsuit (*barf*). Dr. Dan got the cool army green one, so he looked the most Top Gun-ish, imho.

Dan, Marshall, me, and Nic after skydiving
Dr. Dan, Marshall, Dr. Beth, Nic (from left to right)

And then it was into the plane and we took off – it all happened so fast I barely had time to think, let alone be scared. I set my Fitbit to record my heart rate for the trip, because at all times I’m a nerd and I was dying to see how my heart would react to all of this.

The plane climbed and climbed and I honestly could not wipe the smile off my face. I was so happy to be doing this and when I realized that I had such a big smile on my face, I was even more happy that I was genuinely happy and not scared!

I looked out the window as the beautiful scenery – the lush green farmland and river below us, the mountains off in the distance, a few pretty clouds, and amazing sunshine – and all I felt was excitement. At one point Jess said “We are halfway up” and I felt my stomach leap a little bit as a thought “omg, we are going twice this high?”, but as quickly as I thought that, it was replaced with “omg, it’s so beautiful”.

My heart took another leap when the plane levelled off because I knew that meant it was go time. Marshall was up first and I was after him. Both our instructors, who has tightened our harasses and attached us to themselves, got up to open up the door on the side of the plane and in an instant, Marshall and his instructor vanished out the door. Jess moved us to the door and, being attached to him and all, before I knew it, I was standing at the edge of the plane looking at the 10,000 ft to the ground. I think I said something like “oh my god, this is really happening” and then he jumped. I remembered to cross my hands over my chest but honestly do not know if I crossed my feet like instructed.

I feel one second of sheer terror and screamed, and then instantly I felt completely at peace. My brain was just like “we are totally fine. We are totally safe.” We were head down, free falling towards the earth3, but because you are so far up, you can’t actually tell that you are moving – the ground doesn’t look like it’s getting any closer. So it actually just feels like you are sitting still in the sky but with a great wind coming up at you. It was exhilarating. According to the skydiving log they gave me afterwards, we were in free fall for 40 seconds, but it felt like 10 seconds – just like your brain can’t make sense of the height you are at, I don’t think it can comprehend time properly while trying to process this completely surreal experience.

Skydiving
Free fall!

My instructor tapped me on the shoulder, and I put my arms up like we’d been told me – we were now free falling in the belly down position and then it felt like we were being pulled back up into the sky. I knew that this meant he’d pulled the parachute and we’d slowed down a lot – and now we were heads up and it honestly felt like I was just sitting on a swing and floating in the sky. It was an unbelievable feeling.

And only then did I get a chance to look around and take in the incredible sights. We spun around and got to see the world from a vantage point like no other. You know how when you look out the window of a plane and it’s so cool to see the world from up so high? Imagine that you aren’t looking at that through a tiny window while sitting in a uncomfortable plane seat – but you are getting a 360 view of that while freely floating in the sky. The fields were so green. The river was kind of brown, but I marvelled at the fact that if I could follow that river, I’d end up back at my home in New West. The mountains were amazing off in the distance, and there were a few fluffy clouds in the same sky as I now sat.

Skydiving
The hat they make you wear is not very flattering and my face is squished by the googles, but don’t I look so happy?

As I looked around, I saw two other parachutes off in the distance, but both below me and I remember being a bit confused because I was sure that I was the second person to jump, so how could there be two people below me? But my brain wasn’t able to process it, so I just continued to look around and enjoy the surreal experience. As it turned out, Dr. Dan’s instructor seemed to have be a bit speedier than the other instructors in getting to the ground, so he actually was below me despite having jumped after I did.

We floated around for a bit, going here and there over the land, and I was chattering about the experience the whole time. I am an external processor, so when I thought about it later, I realized that I was talking as a way of comprehending what was happening. It was a very interesting experience to see my brain trying to understand what was going on – the experience is so unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Coming in for a landing
Coming in for a landing!

And all too soon, the jump was over. We came to a gentle landing on the grass and I reunited with my friends to excitedly talk about our jumps. We had all chosen to get the video package where the instructor wears a video camera on their wrist – for me, Nic, and Marshall, it was our first times and we needed to have it documented. We had to wait for a bit while they edited our videos, which was OK because I think we also needed a bit of time to come down from the adrenaline rush.

While we were waiting, I decided to check out my heart rate from the jump. This is what my heart rate was from the time we got on the plane until the time I landed:

Heart rate while skydiving

I was delighted to see that my heart rate mirrored my subjective experience – you can my heart rate actually lowering as we sat on the plane, a small jump which I think was when the plane levelled off and and I realized it was go time, a spike which I’m sure was the moment we stood up and then jumped, resulting in my one second of terror, and then an immediate drop as my brain said “actually, this isn’t scary. It’s amazing!)

As we waited for our videos, Jess came over and said “I’ve got good news and bad news. When we jumped, the camera malfunctioned – the screen just went blank – so while we were in free fall, I had to reboot it. I only got the last few seconds of free fall and then the rest of the time. So we are going to refund your money, but we will give you the footage we did get.” My reply: “If anything was going to go wrong during the jump, I’m glad it was just the camera.”

As it turned out, I think the video is just fine. I don’t mind that it missed the jumping part – that is the part where I was freaking out and screaming anyway! And I got it for free, which makes this cheap, cheap woman happy.

I can’t upload the video to YouTube because it’s set to music (which YouTube would flag as a copyright violation). And the file is too big for me to upload directly to my blog4. So if you want to see it, you’ll just have to ask me to show it to you the next time I see you!

In conclusion, skydiving was amazing and I want to do it again. I want to skydiving over all sorts of different scenery. Imagine skydiving over the desert! Or a lush tropical landscape! Or the Arctic! Anyone up for skydiving on every continent with me?

  1. In fairness, the Patullo Bridge does seem like it’s about to collapse at any moment, so that fear is somewhat justified. []
  2. Although the price is more expensive on weekends and I’m a cheap, cheap woman. []
  3. I looked it up and in the head down position, terminal velocity is about 200 mph! and when you switch to belly down, it’s about 120 mph! []
  4. I tried. []

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Summertime!

OK, so it’s not technically summer until Friday, but you’d never know it from the weather we’ve been having. It’s sunny and warm and the sun is up until nearly 9:30 pm.

Things I’m excited about for the summer, in no particular order:

  • The New West Grand Prix – watching professional cyclists ride around and around and around and around my home is actually a lot more exciting than one might expect. Plus my gym will have beer and snacks
  • playing tennis – Scott and I bought some tennis rackets that were on super duper sale at a sports store that was closing down, right before I sprained my MCL. And while the MCL healing has been going slower than I would like, it’s definitely getting better. So much so that I’ve been able to play hockey with a knee brace – so I think I’ll give tennis with a knee brace a try too!
  • the New West Farmers market – while the Farmers Market in New West runs all year, the winter market is uptown on Saturdays and somehow I never manage to get all the way uptown! But the summer market is at City Hall, which is just a short walk (up a very steep hill) from me on Thursday afternoons/evenings. I haven’t gotten out there for the first few weeks, but I’m planning to go soon.
  • canning/jamming more stuff – my friend Patricia has some pear trees near here that have those most amazing tasting pears EVER. I can’t wait until they are ready because I’m going to pick some and can them!
  • tackling stuff from my 2019 goals list – I am VERY behind on my goals for this year (I blame teaching too much in the January semester), but now that that is behind me (along with all my work travel for May), I can actually do some of that stuff
  • Fridays on Front Street and the New West StrEAT Food Truck festival – two New West traditions. I have a couple of friends who are moving/have moved to New West this year, so I’m excited to indoctrinate them into our New West ways
  • hiking – every summer I say I’m going to do more hiking. Hope springs eternal!

I also have a bunch of vacay that I need to book, but I don’t really want to go away when it’s so nice out and there’s so many fun things going on. Perhaps I’ll take some days off to do stuff around here (especially if a certain friend of mine comes to visit and wants to jump out of a plane with me, as we may or may not have previously discussed).

And maybe I’ll look at the fall for a trip somewhere…

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It’s Not Fun to Have a Sprained M-C-L. It’s Not Fun to Have a Sprained M-C-L.

Yes, the title of this blog posting should be sung to the tune of YMCA.

An image of the ligaments of the knee. There are many ligaments that attach the various bones of the upper and lower leg together.On Wednesday night at hockey, I twisted my knee. I’d like to say that it was in some heroic act, like scoring the game winning goal in overtime, but alas it was by running into my own defencewomen in a playoff game that we would ultimately go on to lose, thus being eliminated from the playoffs. I went flying one way and my knee went flying the other way and now I’m pretty sure I have a grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL). 

As far as knee injuries go, this is one of the better ones to have. If you twist your knee and hear a popping sound and if your knee can’t bear weight after that, you’ve likely damaged your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and that can require surgery. A torn meniscus, or an actual tear in the MCL or its partner from the other side of the knee, the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), or a tear in the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), or a fractured patella (a.k.a., knee cap) are all other ways one could injure their knee in worse ways than this.

I happened to already have a massage appointment booked yesterday, and I also talked to one of the trainers at my gym, and both agreed with my self-diagnosis that a grade 1 sprain of the MCL is likely what I have. It’s a A diagram showing muscles in the hip and thigh, including a number of adductor muscles in the inner thigh.stiff knee and some pain on the medial (inside) of the knee, most bothersome when going down stairs (as you load the weight onto the knee in such a way that that ligament bears a lot of your weight). The recommendation for a sprained MCL is to keep the knee moving, but take it easy1. And it should get better in a week or two2. The massage therapist also worked on the muscles around that knee that are working overtime to compensate for the MCL, especially this one muscle in the back of the knee (the popliteus) and my adductor muscles that were insanely tight. So once the knee feels better, adductor stretches are going to be added into my workout warm ups and cool downs for sure!

Image credits:

  1. And to be careful to avoid limping. And since I’m well aware of the dangers of limping around on an injury I am being very deliberate in planting my foot with every step and walking as normally as I can. []
  2. So the silver lining to both of my teams getting knocked out of the playoffs on Wednesday night is that I know have a few weeks off from hockey so that my knee can heal before the start of summer season. []

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And then I did two!

So I decided that I needed videographic evidence to prove that I can, in fact, do an unassisted chin up, so I asked one of the trainers at the gym to take a video of me doing a chin up. And much to my own surprise, I did two!

Next goals: do five chin ups in a row and do an unassisted pull up!

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I Did A Chin Up!

The other day, my gym posted on Facebook that one of the trainers, Cindy Lou, had achieved her goal of doing an unassisted chin up. As you may recall, doing an unassisted chin up or pull up1 is also one of my goals and I’ve been working a lot on building up the muscles one needs to do an unassisted chin up2. So the next time I was at the gym, I told Cindy Lou that she was my hero as I was working towards that goal too. And she said, “Give it a try. You’ve been working hard, you might be able to do it now. The trick is not to think. Don’t hang. Just grab on and pull up right away.”

And so I decided to give it a try after the first set of my workout (so that my muscles would have a chance to be activated). I went over to one of the cages, climbed up on a box to reach the bar… and then I thought about it for too long and could barely lift myself two inches. Cindy Lou and I started chatting about it – basically me saying, “I was thinking too much!” and then right in the middle of chatting, I just reached up, grabbed on to the bar, and pulled myself up! The last little bit was a struggle, but I did it! I did a full on chin up, all with my own strength! No assistance3 whatsoever! I have to say, I was pretty chuffed! And there may have been a few high fives in celebration.

The trainer who writes my program, Dee, sent me a congratulatory email when she heard about it the next day. Because that’s the kind of trainers we have at my gym – they are genuinely excited and so proud of you when they’ve seen you work hard and finally achieve that goal you’ve been striving for for so long! She suggested that I now add in a chin up every day that I go to the gym. And when I get used to that, add one before every super set4. And then make it two. And it grows from there!

The next day when I went into the gym, I got lots of high fives from the trainers – like I said, the trainers at my gym are genuinely excited for us when we make progress. And I did another chin up and it felt so much easier than the day before. My first one was a bit shaky, especially at the top, but this one was smooth and I felt so strong! Now I feel like it’s not just that “I did an unassisted chin up”, but “I’m a person who does unassisted chin ups!”

Footnotes:

  1. Chin ups are where you grip the bar with your palms facing you (or you can do a neutral grip with your palms facing together, which requires a chin up bar that has grips facing this way), and a pull up is done with your palms facing away from you. The pull up is harder than the chin up. For the record, the one I did was a neutral grip chin up. []
  2. Chin ups are especially challenging for women, who tend to have less upper body strength compared to men. They have also been increasingly challenging for me as I’ve put on a fair amount of muscle since I started lifting, which means that I have to lift more weight! []
  3. In my training towards getting to this point, I have been doing, among other things, chin ups and pull ups where you tie a resistance band to the bar and you stand in it while you do your chin up or pull up – it takes away a bit of your weight so that you can practice the movement but without having to lift your entire body weight. When I started training, I used several bands and as my training progressed, I used fewer bands, and lighter bands, so that I was lifting more and more of my weight. []
  4. The way our programs are designed, we often have two or three exercises groups together. So say you are doing 3 sets each of exercises A1 and A2 – you’d do A1, A2, A1, A2, A1, A2 – and all that together is called a “super set”). Then you move on to your B exercises, then C, and sometimes also D. []