Regression in Fit Culture: A Victoria’s Secret Triumph

Before we get to the junk food that is the content of this particular blog post today (soul-baring confessionals are only something I can dole out periodically, please stay tuned for another semi-emotional-break in two or three weeks’ time), I want to give you an illustration of my current status as a human being who ingests stuff and lifts weights:

putting my artistic talents to good use, right here.
putting my artistic talents to good use, right here.

This is actually on the white board stuck to our fridge right now. And it’s a week old. Because this was drawn in homage to my last carb-loading meal, not tonight’s. Tonight’s was awesome. Do you want to know what I ate? No, no one wants to know what anyone on the Internet eats, as evidenced by the currently-trendy backlash against Instagram photos of food taken by those who then may or may not have eaten it after sharing it with the group of people on the Internet they stalk and by whom they are stalked. I scoff at your censure and raise you a list of what I ate this evening:

From Chili’s:

1 triple appetizer shared with Boyfriend Kyle–except I’m pretty sure I ate more of it. And by “pretty sure” I mean “straight up certain”

1 entire rack of ribs

1 cup of black beans

1 serving of fries

some of Kyle’s onion rings because he apparently couldn’t finish his dinner tonight and it was smaller than mine I WIN AGAIN

1 chocolate chip bar dessert thing a la mode which was goddamn good and I’m not really a dessert person but I happily eat anything with gusto on these carb meal nights right now.

So that was fun. Also, I deadlifted 255 x 6 at 110 lb bodyweight yesterday so no judging. Not that I give a damn if the Internet is judging. I’d be stupid if I expected the Internet not to judge. The Internet is expressly FOR the purpose of judging. Duh.

And I’m about to do some of it myself. Victoria’s Secret, What. The F*ck. Is this:

This is one of many images one runs across on the Internet that inspires a “what is this I don’t even.” I found it on the “Health and Fitness” section of Pinterest. Yes, I’m on Pinterest. I caved. I went over to the dark side. Feminism is falling, and it is at the hands of Pinterest. That is not an argument I’m interested in taking up in today’s post or probably any day’s post, but go ahead and ponder it if you have an interest in the site. I WILL say that Pinterest’s Health and Fitness section is one of the most horrifying “fitness”-focused collections of blithering nonsense I’ve come across on the Internet, ever. And I come across a lot of them, even here, on WordPress. Seriously, go ahead and look around the “fitness” category on WordPress and then come back here telling me you have seen much regarding accurate, insightful lifting theory and discussion.

I’ve wanted to write a blog post regarding Pinterest’s H&F section for a few weeks now. In preparation for this post, I’ve clicked my way over to that section multiple times and after 5-10 minutes of perusing am so depressed that I no longer want to write a blog post at all. So I  don’t think you’re going to get a full-blown discussion of how awful the crap is that people are posting on Pinterest about “taming tummies” and “10 10-minute thigh-jiggle fixes” and general pining for bodies that look the way they look not only because of damn good strength training dedication but also (ding!) genetics predisposing those bodies to have x muscle groups inclined towards development or (ding!) skeletal proportions that the Pinterest user probably doesn’t have and therefore shouldn’t be hoping to emulate because you can’t fix your goddamn bone lengths. You know what I don’t see on Pinterest H&F ever? Anyone posting about a 10 lb PR on a squat or a clean or whatever. There is never anyone posting about actual, quantifiable strength goals on that site. Ever. Ever! I’m just going to give up now. There is no use trying. Actually, I really don’t go on the H&F section that often–read: almost never–so admittedly I have taken a small cross section of what is actually posted there into account. But I am pretty sure I’m right about this one. I’m just right, okay? Obviously.

A big part of weight lifting, but not all of it, and some types of weight lifting more than others, is about increasing your strength. You can lift weights to have a nicer ass all day. Actually, you probably can’t, because at some point you’re going to need to use the bathroom or call your mother back or something. Actually redux, if you’re lifting weights to improve your ass in a relatively uninterrupted fashion all day, you’re probably doing it wrong. An improved ass CAN be a side-effect of lifting, but a truly improved ass is one that’s probably stronger than where it was pre-improvement. So take whatever “Victoria’s Secret Workout omgomgomg” links you’re finding with a massive grain of salt.

Cutting Weight: Manipulating My Body For Competition, the Horror!

I don’t believe I’ve noted in more than an offhand way that I’m planning on cutting to 105 for future powerlifting competitions. This decision comes after competing in two meets in a weight class I don’t actually meet in terms of my normal bodyweight; where both July and October’s meets had me competing at 114, I weighed in at 108 and 111 lb, respectively, at those meets. I normally wake up between 110 and 111 pounds. Performing a water weight cut of five to seven pounds would not be unreasonable and should not be a difficult weight cut for me. That said, I must do it right, and I have guidance from several sources in the process that will most likely help me carry it out to my best advantage.

Most people do not realize how much their weight fluctuates and is determined by water retention. That three or five pounds you gained over the holidays? That actually might be largely water weight. You “lost” one pound by the end of your workout? That would be you sweating it out; your actual body mass was not affected by 40 minutes on the recumbent bike. Changes to body mass, particularly changes in favor of a high percentage of lean mass in relation to body fat, happen extremely slowly over time. This is why consistency with one’s diet is important if you are looking to attain and/or maintain a certain body composition. Should you track your weight on the scale? This depends on several factors. If you’re not looking to compete in a weight-class based sport, you really do not need to check the scale every day to determine whether or not you’ve lost weight. This is because fluctuations in weight caused by water retention are normal on a daily basis, and what the scale says to you today versus tomorrow really isn’t telling you much beyond what your body is doing with the water and sodium and mass you’ve taken in and excreted in the last day or so. Checking your weight constantly when you don’t understand this can drive you nuts and worse, can be psychologically counterproductive, particularly if you are inclined towards an obsessive personality. To ratcheting up your anxiety levels regarding your body, check your weight every few days or, hell, once a week to see how you’re trending over time. Do this instead of daily weigh-ins because it takes time for your body to change, and one day is not a lot of time.

If, however, you’re like me and you need to “make weight” for a sport, it isn’t totally unrealistic to check your weight daily. Hell, you can cheek your weight multiple times a day and it will be edifying/supportive of your understanding of your body in preparation for doing a weight cut. What you’re doing when you check your weight this often is essentially observing how your body changes in relation to your hydration and intake levels. When I eat a massive cheat meal, I see my weight spike, sometimes a good four or five pounds. Did I just gain four or five pounds? No. After that spike in weight (usually the evening after a massive carb-up meal), I’ll watch my weight taper back down to normal within a matter of days. I note how long it takes for my weight to taper down, and this observation will help me determine how much I’m going to need to manipulate my diet in the week or two prior to weigh-in.

Oh dear god it's the ribs and sweet potato fries and black beans I ate a few weeks ago. Someone please give this to me now.
Oh dear god it’s the ribs and sweet potato fries and black beans I ate a few weeks ago. Someone please give this to me now.

I used to be anorexic. I used to check the scale once a day. I understood, even at that point in my relationship with my body, that by the end of a given day my weight would be up because I had eaten and/or drunk periodically during the day. I have learned an incredible amount about my body since those years. I’m now appreciably amused by the process of which I speak–bloating up, then drifting back down to normal water retention levels. I listen to discussion of weight carried on by women around me and know that I’m hearing them mostly talk about how much water they’re retaining–and they have no idea this is what their anxious conversations are actually about. I wish more of them did.

It might seem like a bad idea for a former anorexic to entertain the idea of “cutting weight.” Let me quash that concern right now by pointing out two important issues related to my relationship with the process:

1. I have come through a unique experience with eating disorders, introduction to weight lifting, gradual recovery from disordered eating, and embrace of my body. I can say today that I no longer think of my body in the way I did years ago, and probably never can to the same degree again because of the amount I have learned after engaging in strength training. Cutting to 105 is not a process of actually losing bodyweight, or at least not much. It is not a process that involves the same mentality held by the typical anorexic. My intent is to be able to shed as much water weight as possible before weigh -ins–and then eat and drink ALL of it back on (and probably plus some) as soon as possible after the weigh-in time in order to be at my best for lifting the next day.

2. As mentioned before, I have already competed at a weight class higher than my normal bodyweight. In other words, I have spent time NOT being concerned about “making weight” for powerlifting. I have gone through the processes of training for competition and competing without the extra weight of what I register on a scale on my mind. I believe I am now prepared and experienced enough to take on an extra step in the process of competitively powerlifting. I will be writing more about this process over the coming months, including documenting a trial weight cut that will take place in 4-8 weeks (depending on when I decide to do the trial, which I really haven’t yet). Until then, cheat meal pictures will continue to appear on this blog and I will continue to salivate over onion rings of all kinds. That said, I haven’t had any in a while…I think this needs to be rectified.

Look at this mountain of fried brilliance made sometime in december. All hail the deep fryer that now resides in our kitchen.
Look at this mountain of fried brilliance made sometime in december. All hail the deep fryer that now resides in our kitchen.

100 Ways I Can Improve My Training: Mobility Changes, Strength Changes, Evaluation is Constant

I wrote this list yesterday around a training session and a cheat meal extravaganza. Here’s a picture I took from said meal–for once, the lighting was actually good in a restaurant in which I was attempting to take a picture. Yesssss. I weigh five million pounds now! Next post will discuss my intentions of actually cutting weight in order to compete in the 105 weight class. No, seriously, I’m serious. That’s what my next post will be about. Written while I weigh five million pounds.

This was a fraction of the epic cheat meal (uh, meals) from yesterday.
This was a fraction of the epic cheat meal (uh, meals) from yesterday.

Now that we’ve had that fun, let’s get serious about things here. 100-item-list-about-how-I-can-do-things-better serious. No one’s going to read this post, and if you do I’m going to be impressed.

1. learn more. I’ve recently struggled with that sense of “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” I am overwhelmed right now. I am formulating a plan of attack and will figure out how to start “studying” what I don’t know this year.

2. Continue to tweak and perfect my diet. This involves abovementioned learning.

3. Be more proactive about prehabbing. This will include more dedication to mobility work prior to lifting sessions.

4. Investigate supplementing to a greater degree.

5. Re-evaluate macronutrient breakdown in diet to really be honest with myself about what kind of holes exist within it(and therefore changes that need to be made).

6. Stop coming down so horrendously hard on myself for, basically, everything. Generating this list is actually somewhat difficult for me because my mind is one of these lists 24/7. I cannot stop focusing on what I’m not doing, what I’m not doing right, what I’m not doing enough, and just getting down on myself for it. That’s much easier to do right now with an injury, I’ve realized.

7. Work on my mindset in training. Continue to improve on things that will often result in my emotions getting in the way of my lifting.

8. Continue to improve how much I let what is happening around me in the gym distract me.

9. Develop strategies for improved focus in training and out of training.

10. Continue my education regarding programming, which is in its absolute infancy right now.

11. Improve my strange relationship with my own ego, which hinders me when it tells me I should be doing more weight on something and also hinders me when it fails to activate when it would it be reasonable and healthy for it to do so.

12. Take pride in lifting-based accomplishments, from small PRs to large ones. My automatic response to accomplishments tends to be one of apathy. They are never “good enough,” I often think of them as steps in an unending progression of mediocrity. That’s probably not good or helpful.

13. Blog more. Blog more about abovementioned accomplishments because it will benefit me to do so even if I do end up looking like a narcissistic asshole. It’s my blog, I can do what I want, damnit.

14. Research more about the role of mental strategy in strength training.

15. MEDITATE. I KEEP SAYING I’M GOING TO DO THIS. GRRRR.

16. figure out a way to reach out to more lifters and continue to develop the way in which I am engaged in the community, whatever that means.

17. Encourage more women to join our powerlifting team. Use fellow team member Ashley to do so. Sorry, Ashley, you are now a pawn in my scheme.

18. Continue the process of beating down whatever voices linger in my mind that tell me my body is sub-par for whatever reason, particularly aesthetic. F*ck that, Jesus Christ.

19. Be able to cut successfully to 105 for competition. Success means that I will still be able to lift like a boss even after going through the carb/sodium/water retention depletion process.

20. Strengthen adductors.

21. Massive glute training (can be interpreted in both ways of interpreting this phrase).

22. If injury occurs again this year, which it probably will, survive better.

23. Learn how to coach others and articulate topics discussed in coaching better.

24. Strengthen/gain mass in quads.

25. Focus harder on core strength when my rib will let me again.

26. Raise GPP by being more diligent with accessory work timing in training sessions.

27. Attempt to separate when decisions I’m making in my training are being made from fear and when they are being made from reason and/or love. That’s right, I said love.

28. Watch my posture during times in which I am not training.

29. Be diligent about getting 7-8 hours of sleep on the nights before I teach.

30. Complain less.

31. Congratulate more.

32. Stop being ashamed of my lifting. No one really cares in either direction about my lifting, ultimately, so being ashamed of it is kind of ridiculous.

33. Learn how to fry sweet potatoes for carb back-loading. F*ck yes. Okay, this is not probably going to develop my training. But it’s a goal.

34. Start seeing a chiro semi-regularly to maintain a better idea of what’s going on with my body as I ask it to do extreme things.

35. Eat salmon more often.

36. Give more to others in training sessions. Get out of my own head in order to do so.

37. Improve scapulae retraction inequality.

38. Learn how to overhead press. I’m terrible at engaging my lats/lifting my chest into this.

39. IMPROVE MY CRAPPY BOX SQUAT oh my lord is it embarrassingly bad.

40. Focus on glute activation to develop speed.

41. Find other strategies to develop overall lifting speed.

42. Purchase minibands so I don’t have to keep asking Kyle to use his.

43. Purchase chalk because Kyle beat me to it on this round.

44. Attempt to maintain a more neutral spine during certain lifts–my head has a way of snapping back during pulling and heavy rowing that’s probably not fantastic for my neck.

45. Do VW’s more diligently.

46. Walk to the gym more in the winter even if it’s cold. I don’t really do any cardio, so this is pretty much my only option for it these days and I should probably really try to do it more often.

47. Work on embracing adversity in training more. If I’m sick, train harder. Learn from the process.

48. Auto-regulate honestly. Especially if I’m teetering on the edge of an injury/think I might be causing one. I admit that this should have been more involved in how I approached my rib, and I failed at it badly.

49. Watch how I phrase things. There’s no need for me to verbally brutalize myself through the description of my acts and/or psyche if it’s unwarranted.

50. Watch more Youtube–and by that, I mean “smart” Youtube a la Mark Bell, Dave Tate, etc.

51. Continue to keep my mouth shut and take Kyle’s advice in training. Continue to be aware how my actions and mental state might have an effect on him as he works with me.

52. Be more diligent about logging. EVEN if I’m injured, which I have a hard time doing.

53. Clarify where my motivations come from in relation to my training goals. What drives me, how can I focus on it and purify it?

54. Expand my collection of workout garb. It’s frivolous and superficial but it makes me happy and probably in some small way helps me self-identify as a lifter. I mean, damnit, my glutes sure don’t.

55. Purchase and read at least one strength-training related book. I basically no longer read these days, so this is actually more of a feat for me than it sounds. Ugh, I used to love reading, what happened?

56. Comment more on both Youtube lifting videos and training logs.

57. Network more within the lifting blogging community.

58. Determine whether or not I want to start squat work with knee wraps. Decisions, decisions.

59. Improve wide-grip press and work towards using it in competition.

60. Better myself as secretary of our powerlifting team. Pretend I’m freaking Joan from Mad Men (sans glute development) if that’s what it takes to do so. The better I am about efficiency and contributing to the team, the more prepared I am to take on a helpful role in the lifting community at a later point in my career.

61. Work on my tolerance of brospeak/people speaking about my lifting as bodybuilding when I’m discussing it with non-lifters.

62. Work on my tolerance of Crossfit. It’s here to stay, it’s going to become more and more prevalent as more and more powerlifters embrace it/incorporate it into their gyms.

63. Be a better ambassador for powerlifting. This includes fully embracing my status as a lightweight lifter. It also includes not being allowed to call myself a “novelty,” even in a facetious manner. I’m no one’s novelty act.

64. Go to a meet outside of Iowa. This might be more like in the next two years, but I REALLY want to compete in a different setting with different people around me. It would be a good challenge and I’d only get to meet more powerlifters that way.

65. Work to generate more visibility for our team within the city in which it is located. Athletically, we have some really talented team members and our club is probably one of the more accomplished athletic clubs at the University of Iowa.

66. Figure out more ways to keep my hips from doing wonky things during a pull–both breaking off the floor and at lockout.

67. Make sure I replace my mouth guard a few times per year. I’m sure that thing is going to get nasty eventually.

68. Be more diligent about SMR work, particularly through the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Possibly calves if I want to torture myself.

69. Learn to spot better. Particularly at squat. I am pretty inexperienced there.

70. Continue to think about lifting and lifters less and less in terms of gender. I wish everyone would adopt this one.

71. Do more submaximal bench work and check my pride when I do. Submaximal is about firming up motor patterns and technique.

72. Reconcile the seeming discrepancy between my sense of pride/foolhardiness when lifting and my self-loathing. It’s a weird combination of character traits to have in relation to training, and one that is one of my greatest weaknesses.

73. Improve wrist mobility, because there are some issues there right now. Particularly with the right one, which might be a scapula rotation issue, see #37. Dangit.

74. Possibly run a trial with following the carb backloading diet more correctly.

75. Help out new lifters in their first meet in April. I’ve watched a few people on our team improve quickly, and it has been exciting. I want to see their efforts pay off in a good first meet in the spring.

76. Do more prehab and hypertrophy work outside of regular training hours. I’m horribly lazy outside of the gym (I save all effort and energy for teaching and being in the gym) so this one will be a challenge for me. Small changes will get me there.

77. Drink more water.

78. Drink more green tea, something I’ve been better about lately, actually.

79. Fix the issue I’ve been having with my hips doing something wonky when I squat sometimes. The wonkiness is apparently most easily seen from the back, so I’ll have to film myself from behind while squatting and you know that’s going to be attractive.

80. No more disparaging remarks regarding my posterior plane(s). I’m sort of kidding, sort of not on this one. It is in keeping with prior items on this list, i.e. disparaging remarks towards myself just aren’t that helpful in relation to self-confidence-building. Also, honestly, my glutes are not that bad. They’re just not.

81. Laugh more around training sessions (probably not during). This seems to help my psyche.

82. Stop being as automatically belligerent when someone at the gym gets in my space.

83. (Be able to) help someone with their programming–and have enough knowledge to do so–if my help is requested.

84. Find more lyric-less music for lifting that I really like. I don’t really listen to music during many work sets right now, but enjoy it a lot when doing accessory work. I think it helps with motivation and probably has aided in pushing out a few extra reps here and there.

85. Start taping more of my bench sessions. My bench sucks, therefore I conclude that no one is going to want to watch my bench work, therefore I don’t film it and/or don’t make videos of it. This is erroneous logic if I follow the logic of #32 (premise: no one actually cares that much about what I’m lifting) and making video would only help me in being able to spot errors in form, improvement (or lackthereof) in speed, and/or make fun of crap people are doing in the gym around me as I work.

86. I’m so close to being done with this list, awesome. I bet you haven’t read this far in it. Oh, you have? Okay, number eighty-six: maintain calluses so I don’t tear one off during the course of 2013. I believe this is possible.

87. Force myself to do this “bat-hang” Donnie Thompson mobility move Kyle had me do once. It was awesome, but I’m still kind of afraid of it.

88. Remain mostly mute in response to the misplaced enthusiasm of students/acquaintances who, upon finding out I lift, launch into a detailed description of how good they are at leg press, the pec deck, or similar. I’m actually serious about this one. Telling someone why the leg press isn’t a test of their maximal strength levels is just not productive use of my time.

89. Spend less internet time doing frivolous crap and more of it researching lifting. I’m ashamed that I need to even write this one up, but I know it would help my lifting if I made a concerted effort to do so. Better yet, as referenced in #55, pick up one of my hypothetical strength training books that I WILL read this year and spend time with that instead of reddit/pinterest/pajiba.

90. Rebuild my pull-up and chin-up numbers. Improve on them.

91. Do more flat press work; I’m terrible at it and a lot of my mobility inequalities come out when I do it.

92. Max test floor press because I THINK I can probably do 135 sometime this year and that would be pretty cool. Hell, if I did 120 x 3, I should be able to do 135, or I’m close to it.

93. Use a lacrosse ball for SMR on my traps/upper back because I know the area tends to get extremely tight.

94. Try some epsom salt baths for recovery.

95. Learn more about how maximal strength training carries over into training for specific sports–and I mean literally on a physiological level how the carryover works.

96. Continue to re-evaluate aspects of my squat: grip width on the bar, stance, hip use throughout the year. Mobility changes, strength changes, opportunity for evaluation is constant. Hmm, I like that, I’m going to use that. It’s going to be the TITLE of this hulking tome!

97. Firm up my pausing work on bench. I currently pause my reps, but sometimes I juke them. Not okay.

98. Develop more meet-specific mental strategy. This means more visualization work in the week before the meet along with meet-day visualization.

99. Work on anxiety issues in the week leading up to a meet.

100. As the next few months (now through April) set in, keep a balanced mindset regarding training and the demands that will be placed on me by the end of my academic career. Turn to others for support during this time (I’m getting better at this). Train hard, do well, learn lots even when things feel overwhelming.