First Powerlifting Competition – Debrief

It’s amazing how nervous a grown woman can get when faced with the prospect of lifting weights in a public arena. 

For this, my first powerlifting competition I’d managed to work myself into quite a state about various disastrous possibilities including the risk of my underwear being deemed “illegal” due to its excess of supportive elastic fibres. 

I basically had an anxiety for every conceivable stage of the day:

  • Weigh In – am I going to have to strip to my pants?
  • Kit check – not to sound pant obsessed but are my regular sloggi control pants too supportive for an unequipped event?
  • Warm Up – having never navigated a proper gym where you have to share equipment with others, how was I going to muscle my way to a rack
  • Lifting – would I miss my call to lift? Would I flunk the lift by missing the calls or generally being too weedy to warrant a place in the competition?

I think you get the gist – I was on edge. 

Anyway, it turns out even old timers are nervous on meet days but it wears off, a bit, during the course of the day. 

Cold brew coffeeMy first weightlifting competition ended up being a great experience and not all of my fears materialised. No one showed any interest in my pants but I did get called to lift before I’d warmed up and then almost missed my bench Press as I’d relaxed so much I was wandering round Shoreditch sampling cold brew coffee. 

In terms of actual lifting it all went pretty much to plan. I wasn’t going in with any heroic notions, I just wanted to keep my nerve, get a score and hopefully make all my recent training PBs official. 

Starting with the squat, I planned 105kg, 110kg and 115kg, with my major concern being depth. The first squat on shaky legs felt fine but apparently one of the side judges gave me a red flag for depth. With two whites it counted as a good lift but I made sure there was no doubt for the next two attempts. 

I was less fixed in my plans for the Bench Press. I was going to open with 55kg but was undecided whether I should then jump straight to my previous tentative PB of 60kg. That’s what I did and nailed 60kg for lift 2 which left me firmly in unknown territory. I took my time at the desk pondering what I should list for my third attempt. The girls at the desk egged me on to “go hard or go home” so I slapped another 5kg on and asked for 65kg. 

I knew it was foolhardy. It doesn’t sound like much but on a bench press 5kg can make the difference between a legal lift and a crushed windpipe. I couldn’t budge the thing more than a millimetre off my chest and the spotters very quickly rescued me from imminent suffocation. 

Finally the deadlift. This is usually my nemesis so again I planned a steady climb to my 115kg PB. 

105kg went up easy so I dithered with my second weight selection at 112kg and went for a teeny tiny PB for my final lift, at 117.5kg. 

And an end to the day with a teeny PB for me 117.5kg #goheavysocks #liftwithpride #ladieswholift #greaterlondonpowerlifting

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I left the event with an overall score of 292.5kg, a Deadlift PB, the knowledge that I’ve got more in the tank for both squat and deadlift and an eagerness to earn that 65kg bench. 

I also left the building with a medal for coming second in my weight class. We can gloss over the fact that there were only two competitors in the >84kg weight class because obviously the other heavyweights were scared off by the intimidating competition!

Fab day, made so much better by the great camaraderie from the rest of the Strength Ambassadors powerlifting team and coach Sally Moss. It was such good fun to share the stresses and the glory – 9 personal bests between us! Lynn was there, supporting me through the long day and taking some fab videos of our efforts. 

Strength Ambassadors Powerlifting Team

The venue, Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club, looks like an old skool boxing club and I was obviously a bit intimidated by the place but the members and judges and other competitors were great and put us all at ease. 

I’m coming back to crack a 300kg total next time. 

Transformative Power of Lifting Heavy

I start a new job next week which means I have plenty of days off while I consume my remaining leave allowance. That’s time off when I’d like to be training, lifting weights, possibly running (only kidding), but as I’m only days away from my first powerlifting competition I’m supposed to be in taper mode. 

That just means I’m sitting around thinking about weightlifting and building myself up into a minor panic about the unknown. 

To be honest there really isn’t much to panic about. This is only meant to be fun, I don’t have any goals beyond getting out there and conquering nerves. I would obviously like to get some decent lifts but I don’t need to surpass my recent PB’s to feel like the day was worth it. Getting out there, getting a score for each lift and enjoying myself will be enough. 

When I first announced that I would be entering a powerlifting competition, I listed out a series of bodyweight targets that I wanted to achieve. These remain targets for the year but are not for this meet, which came sooner than I was anticipating. Hopefully I will have another attempt later in the year where I can build on the consistency I’ve shown so far. 

Earlier this week I posted a video of myself flopping at the deadlift only days out from the big day. It’s a little anxiety provoking at this late stage to be failing on lifts but its common to start fretting before a significant challenge.

Catalyst Athletics just posted a useful blog on Fighting Self Doubt in Weightlifting – it came at a prescient point. 

Just for the sake of balance I thought it was time to reflect on the progress made since I started to lift heavy, rather than dwelling on a weight that steadfastly refused to budge from the ground. 

Like many women, I have always, always, struggled with my weight and had crappy self-esteem issues as a result. I’ve lost weight and I’ve run thousands of miles in the process, and yet continued to have crappy self-esteem issues. 

A few years ago I started a trial program with Julia Buckley which involved lifting heavy dumbbells. It awoke a desire in me to be strong and I soon moved onto the barbell and found myself working with Sally Moss and her Strength Ambassadors crew. 

Now that I’ve accepted the value of consistency, I’ve started to see some gains and I’m really enjoying working alongside a group of women equally motivated to get god-damn strong. This time last year I was struggling with 80kg squats and deadlifts and I’ve now added 35kg to both and although we’ll find out for sure on Saturday, I think the squats are now full depth unlike my early attempts at going heavy. 

In terms of bodyweight, despite some ups and downs I actually weigh the same as I did last year but my body image has improved exponentially. 

Now I know this body can lift heavy shit and that makes it alright in my books. 

Insult and Injury – Powerlifting Progress

Back in Jan I announced my plans to focus on consistency in training and to enter a powerlifting competition within the year.
Squat Depth

Almost immediately after that declaration it was pointed out that my heavy squats were nowhere near the legal depth and to add injury to insult, my lower back decided it was a good time to rebel by tearing on a warm up Deadlift rep. So in early Jan, I quit drinking alcohol to remove all anti-focus excuses, drew up my plan of action and then found myself flat out on my back trying to recuperate my spinal erectors while pondering the mechanics of proper squat depth.

Fortunately my crossfit gym has a very good physio and one session with Mike seemed to be all I needed to start really low weight squats again. He set me off on some remedial exercises that involved wrenching my hips out of their sockets and then squatting face up against a wall. Within a few weeks I was daring to Deadlift again – gently and sumo styling.

Around the same time I discovered ROMwod which is a subscription based daily workout program, designed to improve mobility and range of motion via the practice of static holds.

ROMwodIt might sound a bit dull but it’s been a revelation for me. I do it almost daily, holding the kung fu style poses for upto 4 mins at a time, breathing deeply and listening to the meditative music. I feel totally zen at the end of the session and I credit the practice with my newly acquired legal squat depth.

ROMwod is easily the best £13 I spend each month.

So all in all, I seem to be in a reasonably good place at the moment. My lifts appear legal and my body is robust enough to be challenged again. In training for my first powerlifting meet with Strength Ambassadors, I have managed to secure personal bests in all 3 lifts and have finally cracked the psychological 100kg Deadlift barrier that has been taunting me for over a year.

Good job really because my first powerlifting meet is only 5 days away!

Squat, Bench and Deadlift for 2017

I normally start the year with some form of endurance challenge to get my teeth into. Previously we’ve had half marathons and 100k hiking events but as running has slowly slipped out of favour to be replaced by strength work, it didn’t seem like the right focus for 2017. 

So I started this year with a new plan. This year I am going to enter my first powerlifting competition, where I will squat, bench and deadlift my way to glory. 

My challenge is not just to turn up and knock out a few, preferably legal lifts. Instead I need to reach a certain standard, a level of attainment that would make me feel proud to strut my stuff in a dashing powerlifting singlet. 

powerlifting singlet
Weightlifting standards don’t seem to be particularly standard and are mightily varied depending on the source. I’ve decided to nick liberally from @hiclarky who has sent himself a challenge to achieve the ‘Ninja’ standards set by his crossfit gym and become Ninja or Not in 6 months

Here are my targets. All based on multiples of my hefty bodyweight, scaled for my planned weightloss! At the moment I am targeting the standards for a 100 kg bodyweight.

Powerlifting Standards
Bodyweight is seen as an advantage in lifting sports. The heavier you are the more you are expected to be able to manhandle. This is fine when you are talking about muscle bulk and perhaps the odd power belly but there is a cut off point when extra lard on the tricep no longer provides a powerlifting advantage. 

I’m guessing that I am some way beyond that cut-off point. 

That gives me two alternate routes to achieving the lifting standards. If I want to squat 1.25 x or Deadlift 1.5 x my bodyweight, I can either knuckle down and get extremely strong or I can shift shed loads of fat until I trim down to the relevant standard. 

As it’s not a straight forward task to shift only fat and I have no desire to lose any of my existing strength, I am opting for a combo approach where I lose a few kilos and hopefully build strength at the same time. That’s an untested approach for me so far, so watch this space. 

Operation Powerlifting Comp commences.

How to Set up the Perfect Garden Gym

The Home or Garden Gym is a perfect solution for people who are self-motivated and happy to workout alone. The at-home convenience means you can prep a family dinner between sets and you never need to worry whether the squat rack will occupied by a big fella.

For the price of an annual gym membership you can build up a pretty snazzy home gym. You don’t need to buy it all at once though. Most of the gear in my garden gym has been acquired piecemeal and while I can’t resist the lure of new clobber, you don’t need it all to start making significant strength gains. I’ve made some suggestions at the end of the article about how you might want to amend your home gym setup, depending on your budget.

Garden Gym vs Home or Garage Gym

The considerations here relate to the weather and the terrible toll it can take on your kit. My home gym is a garden gym and I don’t have any cover to protect my weight plates or indeed any of my kit. After a year of exposure to the elements they are showing signs of significant decay.

The most important piece of kit I have is the power rack and as this ensures my safety while training alone I can’t accept any rust related failures and have therefore had this galvanised. It still looks as good as the day I bought it.

Everything else is in a slow decline and I have accepted that my bar and plates will need replacing eventually, in the meantime I spray regularly with WD40, like I used to do with my motorbike stuck outside in all weathers.

I have noticed quite a difference in the way my different plates stand up to the weather and will make sure every new plate I buy is plastic coated. These rubber tri-grip weight plates are excellent, the grip style is really convenient for carrying and they seem very durable so far.


You might also be concerned about the effect that the weather has on your ability to train but as strength athletes I reckon we are made of stern stuff and enjoy the challenge of inclement weather!

Fair weather squatter. #squateveryday #janathon

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Much as I  enjoy exercising in the fresh air and there’s a certain romance about bench pressing while looking up at the stars, if I had the option I probably would set my gym up under cover. A garage gym would be ideal. You could take some of the kit outdoors to warm up on a fine day without worrying that your kit will disintegrate between seasons.

Garden Gym for £1000+

  • Full power rackgarden gym home gym – for safety and flexibility – £400+. As mine sits outside I had it galvanised which adds about £500 to the price.
  • Barbell, collars and weights – you can spend almost limitless amounts here but you can get a selection from £200-£250
  • Bench – £50+
  • Kettlebells – £20+
  • Slam ball – £30 for a 15kg version
  • Truck tyre and sledgehammer – we found the tyre in a skip and everyone has a sledgehammer in the shed. Great warm-up activity and who doesn’t feel great after flipping a tyre
  • Olympic lifting platform – for protecting the patio when deadlifting or trying olympic lifts. If you buy a proper one you will soon blow your budget. I made my own from plywood and rubber horse stall matting that I found on eBay.
  • Weightlifting app – free

The power rack forms the staple of my garden gym. It means I can squat and bench without the need for a spotter but I can also practice pull-ups and suspend no end of gadgetry from it to enhance my options. I have olympic rings, a trx style suspension trainer and a punch bag that I found on the street. It’s all a bit overkill but its fun if you have a short attention span.

I’ve tried a number of apps.

  • Stronglifts 5×5 is clean app and is a great program for beginners
  • Big Lifts 2 is my current favourite as it allows you to switch programs and its the best I’ve found for Weider 531 training
  • Freeletics Gym is a fun way to bring crossfit style routines into your home gym but it often calls for the use of a rowing machine as well as a barbell

Garden Gym for £500

  • Half Cage Squat Rack – deals abound but the Bodymax squat rack usually goes for £250
  • Barbell, collars and weights – £200-£250
  • Bench or step – £50 I happen to have a Reebok Step lying around so use this for bench press. Probably not ideal if you are benching huge weights.

You are not as safe with a half rack as the full powerrack so you may still need a spotter. You can adjust the supports so it is fit for squats and bench press. Most also have chin bars and you can easily anchor stuff like TRX suspension trainers or Olympic rings.

Garden Gym for Less than £50

I am so impressed with the Freeletics option, they have 3 versions of the app, running, bodyweight and gym. You need weightlifting equipment for the gym version but you don’t need anything beyond a mat for the other two. It is seriously hardcore – crossfit for the home and you can get transformed by following the program. The coach option is pricey but now allows you to use all 3 apps on a single subscription but you can use it without, you just need to be more disciplined in choosing the workouts and sticking to them.

Entering the Box

crossfitI’ve been a wannabe crossfitter since 2012 when I read Inside the Box by TJ Murphy. I’m embarrassed to say that nerves and convenience have delayed my initiation until this week, almost 4 years later.

This week though, I entered the Box.

I’ve been to crossfit 3 times now and although it seems to be a remarkably friendly place, I’m still rather nervous. We started with 2 foundation sessions, the first was barbell work which falls right into my comfort zone, the second, pithily titled Gymnastics, did not.

On gymnastics day I entered the Box (as part of the in-crowd I will now forever more refer to the crossfit gym as the Box) and found myself pinned in the doorway as a backflipping session was underway, stretching the full length of the gym.

Feeling uncomfortably like a voyeur I watched as folk rolled backwards and up into a handstand and then flip. There were a lot of fails, some more painful than others. Watching one chap face plant into the rubber matting and pop back up with immediate burn marks to his face was not an entirely comforting start to our beginners session. It’s rather like arriving early for your dental appointment only to sit listening to the screams of the ones that went before.

Anyway, the beginners session was fine, it just required an awful lot of scaling to get my body off the ground. Scaling just means altering the workout to make it easier while still generating the benefits of the prescribed movement. So for the handstand, I ended up walking backwards up a wall. For the ring dips, I used a sturdy elastic band between the rings so that I could use my knees and reduce the weight enough to allow full motion. For pullups I would crouch under a racked barbell and focus on keeping my feet light on the floor while going through the pullup motion.

No backward flips or rubber burns required for Day 1 of Gymnastics.

My third session was an actual wod = workout of the day.

It was a hot day and I had the misfortune of starting with a running wod. I knew it was going to be bad when we were instructed to run 600m round the block for a warmup. As I didn’t know the route I was forced to run quite a lot faster than I would like, just to keep the others in view. I arrived back considerably hotter than warm and concerningly wheezy. Throughout the next round of kettlebell swings, rows and planks I was coughing fluid from my lungs. The main workout was ground to overhead with plates (an imitation of the barbell snatch) and box jumps, cycled for 4 sets and then finished of with a re-run of the 600m run.

The main crossfit set only took 8 minutes but it nearly finished me off for the afternoon. I cycled home and had to have a bit of a rest as I felt like I’d given myself heatstroke.

Let’s see what next week brings, I’m hoping for less running and no backflips please.

Atlas wearables wristband review

The Atlas wristband is an activity tracker aimed at athletes interested in free and body weight exercises.

When it appeared on Indiegogo around 18 months ago, it looked like the bees knees to me. I had just started weightlifting using the Stronglifts routine and imagined I might also dabble with the Olympic lifts one day.

Frankly the Atlas wristband seemed to be the perfect next gadget for my wrist. Never again would I need to tax my memory counting to five (Stronglifts is a 5×5 rep and set sequence) and I could throw out a manic crossfit style wod in the garden with every move captured for future analysis.

I ordered it at great expense and then the wait began. It was over a year from order to delivery so I was very lucky that I was still dabbling with weightlifting – not many of my fads last that long. Even then I had to wait a bit longer as my original device was dead on arrival.

When a working model did arrive I rushed outside full of glee for a Stronglifts session.

It was a complete flop.

I had set up a custom stronglifts routine with barbell squat, barbell bench press and deadlift included. I thought it might help the Atlas wristband to detect the correct exercise if it only had 3 to choose from. It seems not.

While it did manage to detect my the squat, it couldn’t count them accurately and refused pointedly to recognise my chest press.

I tried a few more times and had more success using the freestyle list of exercises rather than a fixed routine. It seems that the more exercises it has to choose from the better. It’s not that the Atlas device gets more accurate but it is more likely to register some form of exercise that can at least be corrected to the right form, either on the wristband or afterwards within the app.

If you can’t get the Atlas to register at least one of the exercises you can’t manually add it at a later point. I actually took to writing down my routine so I could alter the recordings after the event.

That was the last straw really, I had a perfectly good app for recording my Stronglifts routine and I didn’t see the benefit of creating yet another logging chore. The Atlas wristband went into the bottom drawer to await a firmware update or two.

Today I dragged it out again to see if the device was now working in a fit for purpose fashion.

Here are my squats, or are they actually deadlifts?

That still strikes me as a big fail.
It recognised the next set but only counted 4 of my 5 reps.

If you look at Amazon they have a mixed bag of reviews but on the whole people seem to be impressed. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong but as far as I’m concerned this device needs to go back into the bottom drawer or better still, eBay.

It’s acknowledged that the device detects exercises based on the movement of the wristband through space. It attempts to recognise the 3D path from a library of movements performed to a set form. You are supposed to watch the video and amend your form to match and it could be that my rendition of a squat or a bench or a deadlift just bears little resemblance to good form. I would prefer the device to cut me a little slack and recognise or learn what my squat looks like and perhaps with a bit more development time Atlas will do just this. There is the suggestion that in the future it will be able to learn new exercises so it ought to be able to learn old ones too.

It would be a pretty useful feature to tell me that my squats are off so that I can work on improving them, better at least than telling me they are deadlifts….

I just don’t think I have the patience to wait for many more updates and may have to go back to counting myself.

Overview of the Atlas wristband

Pros:

  • One of the few activity monitors directed at weightlifters
  • Wrist based heart rate monitoring
  • A varied list of exercises
  • Potential to give useful trend information
  • Potential to improve form
  • Atlas appear to be actively engaged in the improvement and development of the device

Cons:

  • Atlas wristbandAtlas can’t count
  • Atlas doesn’t consistently recognise exercises
  • Without the two points above the stats such as speed are pointless
  • The heartrate monitoring is a bit hit and miss
  • Its ugly and bulky and can’t be worn with wrist straps
  • Its expensive
  • Its impossible to read in daylight

 

Janathon and the Weightlifting Cat

Unbelievably it appears to be Janathan time again, it seems to come round quicker than Christmas.

My current fitness levels mean that I am a long way off being able to string together another running streak. Fortunately I stumbled upon a book that came just in time to give me a new challenge for January.

There is a popular squat a day challenge on Facebook that sees you aiming for about 3000 bodyweight squats by the 31st Jan. I will be ignoring this challenge in favour of one with a powerlifting slant.

The Weightlifting CatI’ve been doing the stronglifts routine for about year but me and my training partner – the cat, are characteristically haphazard with the frequency. It’s supposed to be a 3 day a week program but we’ve slipped to once or twice a week. That’s where the discipline of the squat a day program should kick my butt. By removing the optional nature of the routine I should progress more rapidly.

While its called Squat Every Day, I’ll actually be alternating some of the other big moves everyday as well, including the deadlift (almost illustrated below), shoulder press, bent over row and bench press.

More from the weightlifting cat.

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I’ve signed up for Cory Gregory’s specific program on BodyBuilding.com to ensure some variety and will be aiming for a squat PB every week. At the moment I am only up to 65 kg for the back squat so it will be interesting to see where I get to by the end of Janathan. I will spare you from daily updates of me squatting on the blog, although I will be all over Instagram like a rash.

Running will of course be thrown in for the occasional warm up – it is Janathon after all.

DIY Portable Olympic Weightlifting Platform

Olympic weightlifting platforms are typically 8′ x 8′ so pretty huge and phenomenally expensive for what amounts to a few bits of plywood and some rubber. In my mind that’s a clear invitation for a DIY project.

portable olympic weightlifting platformI am not blessed with a great deal of DIY proficiency but that doesn’t stop me from bodging and hammering with intent.

I don’t actually do a lot of Olympic Lifting at the moment as I focus more on the powerlifting moves of deadlift, squat and bench but ideally the deadlift requires a dropping platform as well.  As we’ve recently re-laid our patio for the sole purpose of providing me with a level area for my power rack, I am quite conscious of the need to protect the sandstone slabs and I have not been dropping any of my deadlifts! Maybe I would have hit my 100 kg target if I wasn’t so scared of dropping it…..? Or perhaps I just need some more protein shakes….? Or maybe just some more effort.

If we ever intend having a BBQ on the patio again, I can’t realistically build an 8′ x 8′ altar to the deadlift without also booking in some Relate sessions, but surely 8×8 is mightily excessive anyway. If you can throw a barbell that far away, you can’t have loaded enough plates on it?

I was inspired by this instructables video of a modular olympic weightlifting platform, that cuts the standard 8×8 into a mini 4×8 platform in 3 portable sections.

I scrimped on the middle section (for now) and constructed two landing platforms, each 2′ x 4′, for the express purpose of saving the patio.

 

So I bought 4 sheets of exterior grade plywood from eBay, two really thick sheets would do just as well but I was hoping to save money with a 12mm sheet, it didn’t look up to the job so I ordered two more 15mm sheets to finish the job. I glued and screwed these together and then topped with a layer of horse-box matting.

I was constructing this during Storm Frank for added challenge, which I would recommend if you can arrange it! It was a bit of a bodge job, rough around the edges, but looks as though it could be up to the job.

I am admittedly still a bit nervous about dropping weights on it but can confirm that I’m not lifting enough to crack my platform and patio yet. Maybe that should be my New Years Resolution.

StrongWoman Training

Geoff CapesSaturday had been set aside for Strongwoman training. An afternoon of channeling my inner Geoff Capes, alongside a group of similarly minded women.

I eased myself into the day with a relaxing bath but as I heaved myself out of said bath, I tweaked my shoulder and ended back beneath the bubbles. Not a particularly auspicious start to my strong day.

I was surprised just how strong ordinary looking women could be. My definition of ordinary in this sense just means that none of the women looked as though they’d recently ingested steroids.

Yet even in the absence of bulging musculature they were each able to heft more than 100 kg on to their shoulders and run with a wobbly yoke. In some cases it was considerably heavier than 100 kg.

I can’t remember how heavy the tyres were, but I’ve never seen such monstrous rings of rubber and everyone flipped them, not necessarily with ease but with a good sense of grit. I can confirm that there isn’t much, more satisfying, than a resounding tyre flip. The bigger the better of course.

My definition of strong is now “anyone who could hitch me onto their shoulders and run”. I reckon all the women at that session could manage it, although I’m embarrassed to admit I would struggle. Still it’s nice to have something to aim for, I’ll start with the kids first and move on.

StrongWoman Training Days run by Sally Moss of StrengthAmbassadors gives you the opportunity to play with yokes, logs, kegs, tyres, axles and try your hand at farmers walks. You don’t need to know what any of those things are to have a go at shifting them.