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.
24/11/2018, 7.30pm at Evolving Physiques: The EP Summer Challenge began!
I wasn't planning on doing this challenge, as I was going to focus on PDCS Christmas Showcase and get back into weights in the New Year, however a good old chat with Pat made me realise there was no time like the present and so I jumped straight in.
I'm actually four weeks into my challenge now (sorry for late blog posts) and PDCS Christmas Showcase has finished for 2018 (head over to Pole Dancing to read all about it) so I can really throw myself into my weights training again.
Once again, the focus is on building muscle in my arms, as I lost a lot of my muscle on my European holiday and I really want it back. I am dreaming of a 100kg deadlift for 4reps this program, but my arms are the main focus.
So, off we go on another weights journey. Keep your eyes and ears open and watch this space for updates.
While scrolling through Facebook several days ago, I came across some wisdom from Evolving Physiques owners and my weight trainers: Pat and Hilal. One of the things Pat and Hilal love to do is share their perspective on training and their own journeys with us; it's one of the (many thousands of incredible) things that makes them such great trainers: they never stop and they practice what they preach. They believe in continuing to learn and grow in their training as they push us to learn and grow in ours (and, no, I don't talk about Pat and Hilal too much - they're amazing and, if you ever have the privilege of meeting them, you will want to tell everybody about them too!)
So, what was their wisdom in regards to the oft spoken about 'Comfort Zone'? Have a look below:
The Comfort Zone.
Now tends to be the time of year that people start thinking about their 'summer bod', but a fad diet and crash exercise regime might get you in shape for summer, but it won't give you the lasting results you desire. Wouldn't it be nice to have your summer body all year round?
Then take a leap out of that comfort zone!
Last Thursday was the final night of the Inaugural Evolving Physiques Winter Games.
But it's not all doom and gloom. I know I sounded disappointed in my post on Monday, but I've had time to think and reflect since then, and have realised that, while my numbers were lower than I'd hoped this program, I have many things to celebrate.
First of all, here's some progress for you!
My major goal this program was to build muscle and increase definition in my arms and I can certainly say that I did that. I have definition in my shoulders, biceps and triceps, and I've lost all the excess flab that used to hang around under my arms.
So, did I get my #wintersoldierarms?
Oh yes I did!
I also think I have less stomach (happy about that!) and there's certainly more muscle in my back.
But what about my numbers? The weights I wanted to lift this program, did I get those?
Due to my head and neck injury in the second week on this program, I wasn't able to achieve the numbers I'd aimed for this program, but I am pleased with how well I have done.
Max Weight: 50kgs
Working Set: Yes
Max Weight: 30kgs
Working Set: Yes
I was particularly proud of this, as my goal for my benchpress was to press 35kg for ONE, so the fact that I did thirty for six is pretty damn fine, if you ask me.
Max Weight: 112kgs
Working Set: No
One Rep Max: Yes
My deadlift goal for this program was 120kgs, building from my previous 110kg record from last program. Due to my injury, I hadn't deadlifted anything above 50kgs until Thursday night.
When I lift heavy, I don't like to be told how much I'm lifting, because then the mind games start, so I specifically say to Pat and Hilal that I don't want to know the weight when it gets much above 50kgs. I asked to work towards a One Rep Max on Thursday and, once I pushed through 70kgs, Hilal stopped telling me what I was lifting.
The first attempt to lift the 112kg didn't go far, the weights didn't even get off the ground. The video above shows my second attempt: the weight has not changed, but I've had a three minute rest, my lifting song (Confident, by Demi Lovato) is playing and I take a few deep breaths before I lift the bar.
I think my smile says it all.
It's the final week of the Winter Games this week. Thursday will be my last weight lifting session until I come back from Europe at the beginning of October. I will still be doing some body-weight exercises at home (don't want to lose my #wintersoldierarms) and I'll work out when I'm overseas (yes, I really will!) but it's suddenly hit me how much I'm going to miss the structured weight program at EP.
Tonight was Monday, which means it was my last leg day for this program. My goals for leg day at the beginning of the program were as follows:
Squat 80kgs for a One Rep Max.
Squat 60kgs for a working set of four.
Did I achieve this?
The short answer is no.
I didn't get above 50kgs this program, and while that may seem like a disappointment on the surface, the fact that I was squatting at all is actually a huge achievement. Second week into the Winter Games I sustained a head and neck injury while pole dancing which took several weeks to completely heal and meant that squats had to be put on the back burner for several weeks.
Injuries happen, and if I'd pushed on through without consideration for my injury then it would have come back to bite me big time! I'm not terribly proud of the weights I squatted this program, but I am proud that I stepped back and gave my body the time it needed to recover, even if that meant sacrificing one of my goals.
Achievement is often trumpeted as a big thing, but tonight made me realise that it's often subtle. Muscle gain, getting stronger, losing fat and feeling fitter are all wonderful things, but it's not always tangible. Being able to continue barbell squats after a neck injury is an achievement, but you can't measure it in any quantifiable way: it just is. A team mate of mine tonight tried three times to lift a personal best deadlift of 180kgs and, even though he couldn't get it all the way up, he managed to get the bar off the ground. He didn't make the lift, but that he was willing to keep trying even after failure is a massive achievement in itself.
The moral of the story: maybe what you said you wanted in the beginning wasn't what you got in the end. Maybe something happened, maybe your goals changed, maybe you just didn't quite get there, but the real measure of success is this: are you further ahead than you were when you started?
If the answer is yes, then you made it.
Hooray for Leg Day being on a Monday! Honestly, there is no better way to start the week than with all my favourite exercises: squats, lunges and supermans. No, I'm not being sarcastic, I really do enjoy all of these. But, when I'm working hard for #wintersoldierarms, there's nothing like getting in a sneaky arm workout on leg day and seeing results.
Hilal had me doing a new leg exercise today, called the One Leg Sit and Stand. It's exactly what it sounds like, balancing on one leg you sit up and down on a bench, and then you switch legs. The trick is to clench your glutes and thighs as you come up and down, which helps you remain balanced and is the point of the exercise. In fact, the position is almost exactly the same as an Anchored Diva on a pole and you have to squeeze in all the same places to maintain the pose, the only difference is, on a pole, you do this aerially and you don't go up and down.
This is footage from my third set. I did ten each leg for three sets, and the last two sets were holding the 5kg dumbell in front. I'm actually pleased with how well I managed to keep my balance, but (damn) my arms got and workout and don't they look fine!
I find this exciting because I am starting to see clear definition between my shoulder and my bicep and there is less flabby skin hanging around on my arms. Everything is tightening and toning up, which is awesome: results make everything worth it.
Tonight was exciting in another way too. I have just recently recovered from a neck injury and, as such, I have not been squatting heavy lately, so I don't do more damage and slow down my recovery. As it was Leg Day tonight, squats were on the menu and, for the first time since my injury, we used the 15kg bar and loaded it. I squatted 25kgs for 2 sets of ten reps, which is good progress. At my strongest I squatted 67kgs for 1 rep, and my goal this program with my squats is 60kgs for a working set of 4 reps and 80kgs for a 1 rep max. 25kgs is a good start and it's only going to get heavier from here.
And my night ended with a real high.
EP are big on recording and posting little snippets of their gym in the Instagram Stories, and competitors in The Winter Games always get prime time spots. Tonight, some footage of my One Leg Sit and Stands ended up in EP's stories and, while that is cool in itself, what happened next just made my night.
This comment alone was enough to make me glow, but it came from a former EP member who has held the position of Strongest Male in the gym and both competed and placed in weight lifting competitions, so for him to notice my progress and comment on it was just the icing on my cake.
Because, let's be honest, who doesn't love their hard work being noticed?
See you on Wednesday!
Leg Day is (and always will be) a favourite of mine. But last Leg Day was ever better due to the unexpected, but very welcome, surprise I got when I saw some definition happening in my arms.
The image above is an edited video capture from my training session, but I just can't get over how great my shoulders look. To me, this highlights the importance of setting and sticking with goals, because if you're not moving towards anything, how can you measure your progress? Be it a number on the scale, a body-fat percentage, losing or gaining centimetres, wanting to lift heavier, go faster or look great in a bikini (all valid, achievable goals, by the way) if you can see and feel what you're moving towards you'll always go further.
And on that note: sometimes we can't see our progress or we don't feel it, and that's why I take so many videos and photos of my training. To some it can seem vain to be constantly videoing and photographing yourself, but it's a tangible measure of progress and one you can look back on when you feel as if you've hit a plateau.
Plateaus are a normal, healthy part of any training program. They don't last forever but you really do have to push to get through them; it's like those famous 'last five kilos' in weight loss that just don't seem to shift. When the plateau hits, that's when it's time to start doing things a little differently and discipline becomes more important than motivation, but looking back on videos or photos of your training can be helpful to ensure you keep going. Once you reach a certain level it's easy to forget how hard you worked to get to that level in the first place, so looking back on it can be a helpful push when you're feeling frustrated by the seeming lack of results.
I'm pleased to say I haven't reached this point in this program yet, although I clearly remember it from last program and it was fustrating as hell! But having my videos was a real boost and it helped keep me focused on what I wanted.
And as everyone knows, this time around, what I want is Winter Soldier Arms!
This is the video that the two above captures are from. I feel the definition is most apparent in the view from the side just before I go down and then again just before I come up. And don't let the singlet fool you either; it was fucking freezing in there. I was warm because I'd been warming up and then lifting weights, but both my trainers were in jackets because the studio doesn't do much to keep out the cold. But it's still the best place in the world and there's something about working out and getting warm when you know it's cold. But, of course, safety first: to stay warm I tended to put my hoodie on in between times and I kept moving to ensure I didn't seize up. Satisfaction wouldn't be worth much if you ended up cold, injured and miserable just for a few seconds of results footage.
I'll end this post with another video, but this one is more about fun and less about definition. One of the things we do regularly at EP is lift in front of a mirror, so we can check out our form and Pat and Hilal can point things out to us for the next set. While Hilal was filming my squats last Monday she deliberately took a few seconds of footage that captured both me and my reflection, so please allow me to present, the showdown of the week: Jewels vs. Jewels!
The Winter Games are well and truly underway at EP and it wouldn't be EP without a bit of healthy competition. Each week in the Winter Games there is an individual challenge completed by all team members, and then our scores are added together and averaged out, before being placed on the Winter Games Scoreboard. From next week I will be posting my challenge videos weekly, but (as you all know) I'm very behind at the moment, so below are the videos from the challenges I have already done.
Week One: Push Ups
Week Two: Sit Ups
Week Three: Squats
Week Four: Up/Down Planks
While all the challenges had their moments, Week Four's Up/Down Planks were the worst. I did this challenge on a Wednesday, after Arm Day (not the best idea I've ever had) and Up/Down planks are had enough without burning shoulders. Finishing this challenge was a real #wintersoldierdetermination moment, particularly when my legs gave out and I collapsed onto my knees. Honestly, if it hadn't been for Pat and Hilal cheering me on, I don't think I would have been able to see out the minute.
Which is the other thing I just want to say: cheering someone on means a lot. Maybe you feel a bit stupid yelling 'Go! Go!' or 'Come on!' but if someone is struggling, particularly when you're in a team and their score will mean something for everyone, cheering them on will give them a real boost. It might not affect their score, but it will push them to keep trying if they know there are people around them who want them to succeed.
Wonder what next week's challenge is gonna be?
I'm the kind of person who likes to personalise everything I get into. From my weight training to my pole dancing, everything I do has a personal meaning, and the Winter Games have been no exception. My goal, of course, was already very personal but I thought long and hard about my theme before deciding on The Winter Soldier (those of you not familiar with my goal setting or my theme can click on the link for more information). I'm pleased to say that I've been seeing results (HOORAY!) but I've been a little slack in posting because I've been having a seriously crazy week and I've wanted to get this post up before I really got to town with my progress.
Many of you will know that I have an instagram account attached to this blog, and I'm going to introduce you to two new #hashtags you're going to see floating around on @barbelldancer.
So, what do they mean for me, my program and my progress?
#wintersoldierdetermination: As mentioned in a previous post, one of my reasons for choosing The Winter Soldier as my theme was the character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a character, the Winter Soldier won't accept defeat and sees everything through to its end, no matter how long it takes or how hard things get. While my mission is far less bloody and brutal than anything the Winter Soldier was set to, I'm taking that kind of determination with me into the Winter Games: no surrender. I'm in this to the end and I will smash through every challenge I am put to. When I hashtag this, it means I've achieved something worth celebrating, met a goal or pushed through barriers.
#wintersoldierarms: Linked directly to my goal of gaining strength and definition in my arms, I have used the metal arm sported by the character as a fun metaphor to describe this. Similar to the way people might describe having/wanting 'abs of steel', I want strong arms and I'm using this as my motivation. If I'm struggling with an exercise (especially on [my least favourite] arm day), I will often say this out loud to myself to help me get through the exercise. So forget conventional metaphors, I don't want 'guns', I want Winter Soldier Arms! If you see this hashtag, it will relate to muscle and/or strength gains in my arms and is directly related to my goals.
So, there it is, a little introduction to two small personalisations which will be making an appearance within the next new days. Watch this space while you're at it, as I have quite a backlog of content, for both Weight Lifting and Pole Dancing, and will be doing a large update this weekend.
But, for now, goodnight.
You don't find the willpower - you create it.
Me With No Apologies.