Those of you who read my post on Monday will know that I was feeling just a little not earlier in the week.
In fact, I was so not that I skipped an exercise and, instead of focusing on my workout, put my energy into watching the clock, counting down the minutes until the session was over.
So, come Thursday, I was ready to put myself in a better headspace and throw myself into my arm day workout. Not more not for me.
As I mentioned in Monday's post, exercise is just as mental as it is physical and if you're checked out mentally your physical performance will suffer for it. So, it was one thing to say that there would be no more not, but how did I go about making that happen? Words are powerful, but when it comes to exercise it is action that gets you results, not words.
Barbell Dancer's Pre-Workout Prep Routine
The secret to getting ahead is getting started. - Mark Twain
1. Athlete's Visualisation
I learned about the Athlete's Visualisation in a meditation app I use regularly, Insight Timer (incidentally, download it, it's the only meditation app you'll ever need!) and adapted it for my lifts. I find a spot where I can sit comfortably, take ten deep breaths, and then really focus on what I want for my session. On Thursday, I visualised myself doing my deadlifts, succeeding at them, and kept that picture firmly in my head for two whole minutes. I know this is a strategy that works for me, as other times I have done it before a session I have really 'levelled up' in my workout, and I find a combination of eyes closed to fix the image and then eyes open to take in the space works well for me.
2. Back Stretches
Back pain has been an unfortunate companion for me these last few weeks, although I'm pleased to say that some wonderful advice from Hilal on Monday has been extremely helpful. I actually have been doing these stretches morning and evening since Monday which excellent results - less pain and more mobility - and I can already see they are going to become a standard part of my pre-workout arsenal. I hold each stretch for between 30 - 45 seconds, and then stretch for the same amount of time on the other side.
3. Roll It Out
Once I'd stretched, I grabbed a foam foller and proceeded to roll out the back of my body and then onto my front. A foam roller gives tight muscles a massage and further loosens warm, stretched out muscles. Everybody is different, but I personally like to make sure I am at least a little warm before I use a foam roller, as using it on cold muscles is too painful for me. However, nothing feels better than the firm press of a roller across my back once I've stretched it out and it always feels excellent over my legs too.
Once I've rolled it out, I go into my warm-up. My warm up can include anything from further stretches, to skipping, to using a resistance band. I make sure I'm feeling warm and mobile before I jump into my session (both to prevent injury and to maximise performance), but engaging in my little routine pre-workout yesterday really helped me get in the zone and bring out my #wintersoldierarms at the finest!
So, before I sign off, how did my arm workout go yesterday?
See for yourself.
Arms: Week 5
I do three sets of ten trapbar deadlifts on arm day, and Thursday night I set new PBs, sucessfully lifting 70 and 70kg for ten reps. I've been quietly dreaming of 100kg for four reps by the end of this program, and last night made me feel that it's possible, but if I want it I have to work for it.
My final deadlift of the night - 75kg - with Pat egging me on.
I broke another personal record last night, doing six out of twelve assisted pull-ups with just the band. Pat jumped in to help me achieve the last six in the two sets that I did, but I successfully did the first six in each set with just the band. This is a 50% increase from last week, in which I did the first three in each set with just the band, and I'm determined to be able to do the full twelve with just the band by the end of this challenge.
My first six pull-ups with the band.
And then came the famous #armsbypat finisher. On Thursday night it was three sets of ten push ups... with a twist.
So there you have it! After the near-disaster that was leg day, I brought back my #wintersoldierdetermination for arm day and nailed it!
Have you ever had a day when you're just not?
I felt like that tonight - no matter what I did, I just couldn't get into the right headspace for a good workout. I can't exactly put my finger on what it was that kept pushing me down, but I just felt weak and disengaged in tonight's session. This is disappointing, as Leg Day is my favourite day and I usually see some good gains in these sessions in my overall body strength and come away feeling really good.
Tonight, however, I just felt like putting the weights down and having the night off.
I started tonight with One-Leg Sit and Stands with a 5kg dumbbell and then progressed to a 7kg dumbbell as. I will confess that this has never been a favourite exercise for me, as I am noticeably stronger on my right leg and can perform it with minimal trouble, whereas on my left leg I wobble and bop around, putting my foot down every second rep just to make sure I don't fall over. This frustrates me, as it feels as if I do absolutely nothing on my right side and I want to go heavier and hold for longer, but my weaker left wouldn't be able to handle that so I have to keep the reps light and short. Further to my frustrations, I forgot I had four sets rather than three, so when I had mentally wound up and 'finished' my sets I was reminded that I had one more to go. Exercise is very much mental as well as physical and trying to push myself back into the right headspace to finish off the last set was like trying to sit my Year 11 maths exam on minimal sleep: just not working. I rushed it and came down too fast on several reps, using my back to lift myself rather than pushing through my legs, which is both bad form and unkind to my body.
I was also bothered by back pain tonight, particularly around my lower back area. It's been going on for a week or so, but has really been building to a crescendo these last few days. My go-to osteo is heavily booked at the moment and, when he does such a good job I'm reluctant to go to someone else. I've been foam rolling and using a spikey ball at home and at EP to ease it, and Hilal taught me a trick to relieve back pain my stretching the hamstrings. Everything originates from the feet, moves up through our calves, our hamstrings, our glutes and then into our back. The hamstring is the longest and one of the most powerful muscles in our bodies, so when it is tight it pulls everything down with it - resulting in back pain.
The increased mobility in my back after I had stretched was wonderful, but the pain relief was temporary and, even as I write this now, all I want to do is go and put pressure on it, as that's the only thing that stops it from hurting at the moment.
Following on from my One-Leg Sit and Stand I moved into raised heel goblet squats. I do these in front of a wall so that I have a cue to stop leaning backwards and, while it keeps me up straight and stops me from leaning back so much, this exercise was when I really started to feel drained.
I'm only holding 12.5kgs, but my arms felt unsteady and my whole body felt out of alignment. My technique here is actually correct and there's nothing to suggest that the weight is too heavy or that I am compensating with muscles other than my glutes and hamstrings, which I should be using to perform this exercise. However, the more I pushed myself into the squats, the less I felt connected to myself and the weaker I felt. By the end of my second set, I had the disconcerting feeling that I was a machine just going through pre-programmed motions with no interest, no engagement and no gain.
I know I keep using the word weak, but there's really no other way to describe how I felt tonight. It was like my muscles refused to engage and my body was totally switched off. Pushing through my exercises felt like wading through a mixture of treacle and superglue and everything seemed mechanical. I was going through the motions for someone else, rather than exercising for personal gain. It is a disconcerting feeling, particularly as EP is usually one of my happy places and my disconnect was so complete that I didn't even feel like I had muscles to exercise: just loose bits of string attached to my bones with no power behind them at all.
In fact, I was so out of place tonight that I did something I've never done before (and I'm not proud of doing): I skipped out on an exercise. I was doing one-legged Swiss ball raises, supposed to do two sets of twenty on each leg, but I only did one. I was utterly wrecked by the end of my first set and so disconnected from myself that I didn't even want to talk to Hilal when she tried to find out how I'd found the exercise. My legs felt like jelly, but not in the good 'they've-been-exercised' way, but rather in a 'I-actually-have-no-mental-strength-left-to-push-my-body-to-continue' way. My issue with this is, other than skipping out on my last set (bad, Jewels!) is that, while two sets of twenty would usually be hard, I thought it would have been within my capabilities, yet I had nothing left after my first set - absolutely nothing. Maybe I was tired, maybe I was hungry, maybe I held myself back, maybe, maybe, maybe... I don't know what it was tonight, but everything I tried to do tonight seemed to expend so much mental energy that I had no physical energy left to perform the exercises.
Hilal, sorry for skipping out on my last set and sorry for not telling you. I reached a 'point-of-no-return' tonight and I didn't want to break a mental barrier. I'd really had enough of trying to find spare energy when there was none. It's not an excuse, but something wasn't right with my head tonight.
My final exercise of this evening was barbell squats. I usually really enjoy these - they're one of my favourite exercises. My only thought about them tonight though was: "I'll just do them quickly and get the f*ck out of here!"
I am currently low bar squatting, as I have been having trouble positioning the high bar, and, while the low bar is easy for me to position while it is on the rack, I loathe it once I step away into position. So much stress on my wrists, my shoulders and back. On a good day I can adjust the discomfort, workout what's 'bad pain' and what's 'good pain', but today everything just felt wrong. Technically there is nothing wrong with my form and I'm carrying the weight well, but once again I felt weak, disengaged and mentally drained just from getting into position and preparing for the exercise.
The long and the short of it: I didn't want to squat - in fact, I didn't want to be at EP. FULL STOP!
I'm still not sure how I got through tonight's workout without having a mental breakdown. I don't think I want to analyse it too closely either, to be honest. Maybe I was just having a bad lifting day and hopefully I can kick it before arm day rolls around on Thursday.
In summary: there was very little Winter Soldier in me tonight.
Four weeks into weights and, I'm delighted to say, I'm seeing improvement.
Physically, my body is changing and my arms and beginning to muscle up again as I continue to lift. Mentally, however, the last four weeks have been something of a roller-coaster ride for me as I battled with Showcase stress and a little niggle in the back of my head regarding my weights program. I love my weights, don't get me wrong, but there have been times (many of them, actually) when I wondered if I should be doing this program at all; that maybe I was biting off more than I could chew and I should have stuck with my original plan of getting back into weights in 2019.
Then Pat (the most amazing trainer, mentor and friend) posted the following regarding his journey, and I thought I'd share it with you all, as it has really helped me move on from that place and re-focus my journey.
It's never about being perfect.
Perfection is subjective and, as a result, ultimately unattainable. Progress, however, it ongoing, real and can be measured and celebrated. As I read further on, this jumped out at me as well.
What do I want to be known for?
It's not the weight, it's not the physique, it's about progressing to a happier stronger life.
And the final piece that made me stop, think and reflect on what it is I want, why I am doing this program and what is important to me.
When you can look in the mirror and identify with yourself that the reason why you are not where you want to be is because of you, it will allow you to move forward. It's confronting, but I refuse to live the next ten years of my lift letting that voice in my head tell me what I can't do.
Somewhere along the line, in the midst of Showcase and starting this lifting program I lost my way and started chasing perfection. But I'm refocusing my energies now on what I truly want: progress. Because, between the unattainable subjective that is perfection and the recognisable measurement that is progress, I know which one I'd rather have.
You don't find the willpower - you create it.
Me With No Apologies.