Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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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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The answer to the great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?

Today I turned the-answer-to-the-great-question-of-life-the-universe-and-everything years old. And to be honest, it’s not so bad. Granted, I only feel like I’m 30 and since it’s scientifically proven that feeling 12 years younger than you actually are means you are cognitively superior, I think I’m doing OK.

Also, I’m super freaking strong, as you can see in this video where I back squatted 77.5 kg (or 171 lbs, for those of you prefer the old timey units of measure) – a new personal record for me – today:

Other highlights of the day included, in no particular order:

  • sleeping in1
  • a solid workout at the gym (including the aforementioned back squat PR)
  • going for a walk on the Quay
  • catching two new Pokemon that I didn’t have before
  • perusing a thrift store and finding a skirt with POCKETS! Plus two nice shirts. But mostly POCKETS!
  • playing with the kitties
  • a video chat with my mother, sister, brother-in-common-law, niece, and nephew, who were enjoying a birthday cake and birthday wine (except for my niece and nephew, of course) in my honour! They even sang happy birthday to me and I got to virtually blow out the candle2.

Of course, Bethmas celebrations really started yesterday, on Bethmas Eve, as a friend took me out for lunch, then my team at work took me to dinner at Nuba before we went to the Canucks game, which we’d decided to do as a team building event, since several people on my team had never been to a hockey game before.

Bethmas celebrations continue tonight as Scott and I are going out for a nice steak dinner.

I’m contemplating having a belated birthday party at the end of the month. I was going to skip the birthday party this year, mostly because I’m stupid busy with all the classes I’m teaching this semester (in addition to my day job and my many extracurriculars). But it looks like Dr. Dan will be back for a visit, so I’m thinking maybe a party is in order…

Images sources:

  • 42 is from Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons license.
  • Gym video is mine, with James from my gym as videographer.
  • Clip from Hitchhiker’s Guide is from BBC Studios.
  1. I took the day off work because who wants to work on their birthday? Especially if their birthday is on a Friday! []
  2. Apparenlty when my sister and I were kids and our family went to EPCOT Centre there was an exhibit we saw that had a family that virtually celebrated someone’s birthday and there was a hologram cake. I have zero recollection of this – the only thing I remember from that exhibit is the hydroponic lettuce. []

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Mindfulness and the Gym

Dumbells at Strong Side Conditioning

So remember like eleventy billion years ago when I did that mindfulness course? I haven’t really done any mindfulness practice since then, but it’s always been in the back of my mind that I probably should1.

Well, it sort of hit me one day when I was at the gym that doing strength training is a mindful practice. Being mindful is all about being present in the moment and being aware of your sensations, thoughts, and emotions. When you are doing strength training – if you are doing it right, that is – you are paying very careful attention to your body in the moment. You are setting your stance just so – maybe it’s shoulders packed down, abs and gluts engaged, knees slightly bent, and then you are doing a very deliberate action – lifting in a certain way, focusing on feeling it in a particular muscle(s), focusing on breathing out as you do a particular movement. Sometimes as you go through your sets, you start to get a little lazy with your form – in my case, it’s often that my shoulders start to creep up and/or that I forget to breath. But then you’ll notice that you’ve slipped away and bring yourself back into the right form (or start breathing again!) and it’s much like when you are doing a meditation and notice your mind start to wander, so you come back to your focus on the present.

Dumbells at Strong Side ConditioningI’d been going to the gym for a few months when I realized how mindful this practice was. My focus was very squarely in the present moment – very aware of my body and not really thinking of anything else. I wasn’t worried about the future or dwelling on this past. I was just there, just being, just breathing, just lifting. And I wasn’t even trying to be mindful – it just happened. I remembered the times that I’ve done meditation and how extremely difficult it is some days to quite the mind and just pay attention. I still think it would be useful for me to do some other forms of meditation as well, as there is benefit to the act of being still and observing your thoughts as they arrive, but I think that becoming aware of the mindful nature of my strength training has not only been beneficial in and of itself, but also because it’s reminded me about being mindful. It’s made me more mindful of mindfulness.

There is a link between physical activity and mental health. Mindfulness practice has also been shown to be beneficial to mental health. While there are likely many mechanisms for how physical activity improves mental health, I wonder if any of the benefits of physical activity on mental health are linked to it being an easy way to become more mindful?

  1. Which is quite possibly the least mindful thing a person has ever said! It’s in the back of my mind that I should do that at some point in the future! []