Monday, March 30, 2015

March Review and April Goals

I was sick the first week of March, and I had a business trip the last week, but in between I stayed mostly on track.  Here's how I did:

Skating.  I made it to five of ten practices this month.  It's not great, but it's not bad considering being sick and out of town.

Lifting.  I got my three days per week (volume, assistance and heavy) two of four weeks this month.  I would have gotten them all in the week I was out of town if the stupid hotel "fitness center" had free weights.  I did my volume and heavy days and skipped the assistance work.

Lifting did not go well this month, especially squats.  Before I got sick again, I squatted 200 pounds for 5 reps on my heavy day.  Returning to the gym after being sick, and with a sore hip flexor (which is still sore but getting better), I failed at 190 after two reps.  The following week I took off five pounds and missed 185 after three reps.  Finally, today I managed to hit 185 for five reps, which is what I was doing the first week of January.  So, yeah, basically I made no progress on my squat in the last three months, which is a huge bummer.  Dead lift is a little better.  Today I did 215 for 5 reps, which is 10 pounds more than at the first of the year, but still not where I had hoped to be.  I've made very little progress on bench press either, but I did change my grip at Frak's suggestion, so I am hoping that will help in the long term.  If nothing else, my form is getting better.

High Intensity Interval Training.  I met my goal of fitting in a weekly HIIT session three of four weeks this month.  I did two track workouts with my teammates, and I did treadmill intervals in the hotel "fitness center" one week.

In Other News:

Travel Team.  The travel team is having a mid-season tryout tomorrow, and for a hot second I thought I'd give it a shot.  It's hard to feel like I'm missing out on an opportunity to improve, but then I reminded myself how desperately I need a break, and how much I am looking forward to making my own off season in July and August, and I told myself I can still improve if I actually get my butt to practice more than 50% of the time and do some independent practice during the off season.

Deciding to Eat More.  I am starting to suspect that the crappy gym performance may also be the result of not eating enough. In the last couple of months, I've made some positive changes to my nutrition.  I also reduced my calories because I was concerned that my skirts weren't fitting right anymore, and I thought I was gaining some fat in addition to muscle.  With my half-hearted calorie tracking, it's hard to say for sure, but I think I have been getting about 2,200 calories a day.  While I was sick and on some non-workout days, that number is likely to have been closer to 2,000 a day.  I lost the five pounds I was worried about, but every weight lifting website and podcast I have ever seen says the same thing: You can't build muscle in a calorie deficit.  So I think I might need to add some more calories, but this time I'll focus on making sure they are from nutrient-dense foods and I'll tighten up the calorie tracking a bit so I don't end up eating, say, 2,700 calories when I am supposed to be eating 2,300 or 2,400.  Frak sent me a spreadsheet to help me with the tracking, so I'll give that a shot in April, and if that doesn't get me back on track I might consult with the nutritionist at my gym as well.

April Goals
April is going to be a challenging month.  Work is going to be insane for the next week or two, and there are only two weeks between yesterday's bout and our April 11th bout.  Having the bouts close together makes it hard to follow the lifting schedule because you need more rest before and after about.  I've got everything all planned out on my calendar, and I'm going to try my best to follow the schedule for myself.  That and tracking my calories in the new spreadsheet are my only goals for the month.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Protein: The Struggle is Real

I feel like I've made some nutritional strides in the last couple of months.  I've been doing more cooking, and working really hard to get more vegetables and protein.

When you're trying to build muscle,  you have to eat a lot of protein.  I have been aiming for 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight, or about 155 grams a day.  It's not easy to eat that much protein.  In addition to protein powder post-workout and in my morning smoothie, I have been eating more poultry (a good source of lean protein) than I ever have in my life.

I have been making shredded chicken in the crock pot, but for weeks had been struggling with how to make it palatable.  It was kinda dry and boring.  I tried guacamole for awhile, but that wasn't really cutting it.  Then I tried peanut sauce, which was ok but not something I wanted to eat every day.  Finally, I landed on peach salsa, and I think we have a winner.  I've been eating the chicken and salsa over spinach, another food I have struggled to work into my diet in a palatable way, and I actually find myself looking forward to eating this for lunch.

In addition to the chicken, I've been making this turkey and black bean soup that is full of vegetables and lean protein.  It's really tasty, and it's easy to make a big pot of it that will feed me for a week with leftovers to freeze.

In addition to these items, I am working on making sure I eat some carbohydrates post-workout because I know that's as important for recovery as protein.  I have always gotten plenty of carbs in the morning in my fruit smoothie, but my post-workout meal tended to be mostly protein.  So I added sweet potato.  I mash it up unadulterated, meaning without butter, and drizzle a little maple syrup on top.  It's pretty tasty.  Plus, it's high in fiber, and it's an other vegetable!  I am getting really good at eating my vegetables!

Here's my soup recipe:

Turkey and Black Bean Soup

1 lb ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
16 oz. can beef broth
28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 8oz can tomato sauce
16 oz. can black beans
1 tbsp chili powder (more if you like it spicy)
1/4 tsp pepper
1 can corn niblets
2-3 cups frozen broccoli

Saute turkey, green pepper, onion and garlic in olive oil.  Add remaining ingredients, except corn and broccoli, and simmer covered for 45 minutes to an hour.  Add corn and broccoli.

This makes about ten one-cup servings.  You can also eat it over rice or pasta if you want, but it's good and filling on its own.  And so many vegetables!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Bad Gym Day

Weight lifting is systematic and quantifiable.  (Yay data!)  You follow your program, you do a certain number of reps or add a certain amount of weight, and you can easily track and quantify your strength gains over time.  I have a little notebook for this purpose.  Everything I do goes in the notebook.  It's great.

On the other hand, weight lifting is an extremely mental and emotional sport.  If you don't believe you are going to make your lifts successfully, it's likely you won't.  I spend most of my mental energy in the gym convincing myself I can do whatever I am supposed to be doing that day.  It's only five more pounds than last week!  You can do it!  

Of course it doesn't always work, and sometimes you have a bad day. Today was one of those days.

Thanks to the cold that wouldn't die, t hadn't lifted for eighteen days.  (I wrote it in the notebook.)  Then, my first day back at roller derby practice, I strained my hip flexor...during warmups of all things.  It's not that bad, just enough to be mildly irritating, but I wasn't sure how it would feel to squat today.  So I started my evening at the gym with muscles that hadn't lifted anything heavy for more than two weeks and a little kernel of doubt about my ability to follow my plan for the day.

My squat reps were awful.  My hip didn't hurt, but I was definitely preoccupied with its potential to do something wacky at an inopportune moment.  It was volume day, and I did five pounds less than my last volume day before I got sick, and every set felt super hard.  In fact, I failed my last set, which almost never happens to me on volume day.

Then I moved on to bench.  My progress on bench has been slow, and I've been stuck at 85 pounds on volume day for months.  I did my first set, and it felt quite a bit harder than usual.  Then, when I went to do my second set, I went to lift the bar out of the rack, and it literally didn't move.  It was quite pathetic, and I'm sure it was just a fluke, but I was so over lifting at that point.  I took ten pounds off the bar, which is a lot of weight when you are only starting with 85 pounds.  I figured it was better to lift something than nothing at all, and I finished my remaining four sets with the lower weight.

It was a bad day, made even more frustrating by all the fits and starts since my meet in December.  Leading up to the meet, I felt so strong and awesome.  Every heavy day was a new PR.  It was amazing.  Then I took a break over the holidays.  I got sick in January and I was only starting to feel like I was getting back into a good groove and making decent progress when I got sick again.

Once upon a time if I had a bad day, I would assume it was because there was something wrong with me.  I wasn't fit enough, dedicated enough, good enough.  Now I have a lot more confidence in my athletic abilities, not to mention more experience trying, failing and trying again in various athletic contexts.  Also, I have the notebook.  I can look back and see not only how much stronger I am than I was six months or a year ago, but also how I progressed past other setbacks--the time I hurt my back dead lifting, the month I couldn't lift because of my sprained wrist.  Numbers don't lie, and the story they tell is that setbacks are temporary, bad days happen, and consistency over the long term is what matters most.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

February Review and March Goals

February was just a repeat of dumb old January as my best workout intentions were derailed by a cold that would not die.  In fact, it still hasn't died.  It has pitched a tent in my lungs and is happily making s'mores while I attempt to send it packing with an infusion of cough syrup every four hours.  February, you sucked.

Here were my goals for February:

Miss no more than 2 roller derby practices.  Up until I got sick, I was on track to meet this goal.

Lift 2-3 times a week according to my program.  I met this goal in the first two weeks of February and was on track to meet it in the third.  I had done my volume day and my assistance day, but I missed my heavy day when I got sick.  I didn't lift at all in the last week of the month either.  In fact, I actually stayed home from the gym again tonight (which is not February anymore) because I am really just trying to rest and beat this cough and save my energy for derby practice the next two nights.  I have to say, I really miss lifting.  A lot of skaters say they get cranky when they don't have a chance to hit people, but I have never really felt that way about roller derby.  I can tell you, though, I am beginning to feel very cranky about not lifting.  So that is an interesting thing I'm learning about myself.

Do one extra cardio workout per week.  I missed this goal in the first week of the month, but then I got myself on track and met it in the second and third week.  I changed up my lifting program a little bit to make it easier.  On my first lifting day of the week I did my volume sets (squat and bench) and then did high intensity intervals on the treadmill.  On my second lifting day I did all my assistance work (strength exercises for the smaller muscles that support the big power lifts) and mobility class.  Then on my third day I just did my heavy sets of squat, bench and dead lift.  I loved this schedule because I felt a lot less tired than I do when I try to squeeze all of my lifting into two days, and I was able to add the intervals and the mobility work.  Last week my lungs still felt miserable so I obviously didn't attempt any cardio, and I probably won't this week either.

So now it's March.  I'm still forcing myself to rest this week.  I'll go to derby, and hopefully next week I'll be ready to get back on track.  And once again, I'll just recycle my goals from last month in the hope that eventually I will actually meet them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What is Mobility?

A poster at my gym showed a group of people with foam rollers and lacrosse balls with a caption that said something like, "Do you ever wonder what these are for?"

The answer is yes.  Yes I did.

I see a lot of people using these things in the weight room.  Frak foam rolls before she starts lifting, and she sometimes uses a lacrosse ball when her hip is giving her trouble.  Nevertheless, I did not really understand what these items are supposed to accomplish.  The one time I ever tried foam rolling was in December 2013 when I hurt my back dead lifting and it made me feel a thousand times worse, so I never tried it again.

But lately, I've been thinking if all these good lifters are doing it, maybe there's a reason.  I wasn't able to find much research on the benefits of foam rolling, though.  This article cites two studies with sample sizes of 11 and 40 respectively.  Nevertheless, the class advertised on the poster at my gym was taught by a physical therapist so I figured she must know what she's doing.  So I went.  Frak came with me, and a couple of the other ladies who are regulars in the weight room were there, too.

The thirty-minute class was called mobility essentials.  We spent the first half of the class doing dynamic stretching, which makes sense since you aren't supposed to do static stretching when you're not warmed up.  It was quite similar to our roller derby warmup, actually.  Then we spent the second half of class foam rolling all our major muscle groups.  I discovered that when your back isn't injured, foam rolling feels pretty good.  Kind of like a nice massage that you can give to yourself.

What I gathered from the class and from what I've read and heard is that mobility work like stretching and foam rolling improves flexibility and range of motion and reduces soreness.  As for the foam rolling, I figure, why not do it even if there's not much research?  I mean, we all went about our static stretching in blissful ignorance until a few years ago when science taught us otherwise.  If it doesn't help, probably it won't hurt.  Especially since I have noticed that I've become less flexible overall since I started lifting, and I have never felt that my hips were as flexible as they should be for derby.  Plus, if it feels good, why not do it, right?  (Although that is how I got into trouble eating cupcakes, but that is another issue.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

January Review and February Goals

I hit all my fitness goals the first week of January, and then I promptly got sick for two weeks.  Also, we are in the depths of winter, and all I want to do is lie on the couch until spring.  Here's how I did on my goals:
  • Skate three times a week.  I met this goal one week in January.
  • Lift 2-3 times a week (following my program).  I met this two of four weeks.
  • Do one extra cardio workout a week.  I met this goal only in the first week.
Sigh.  On the bright side, I'm over my cold, cherry blossom season is only two months away, and February is an excellent time to get back on track.

Here are my February goals:
  • Miss no more than 2 roller derby practices in February.  I've planned it out, and there are two I can't make, but I will be at all the rest, skating 2-3 times per week depending on our practice schedule.
  • Lift 2-3 times a week according to my program.
  • Do one extra cardio workout a week, even if it's only high intensity intervals on the treadmill after lifting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Not Making the Travel Team

I started the December derby break the way I start every derby break.  Exhausted.  I had two dates fixed in my mind: January 5, the end of league break, and January 12, travel team tryouts.  The thought of picking back up in January, adding back the intensity of travel team, and pushing through at least nine months without another break filled me with dread.

Somewhere in the second week of break, I woke up and had an epiphany:  I don’t have to do any of this.  It occurred to me that I didn’t have to try out for travel team.  If the home team season was already making me exhausted, why not just stop there?  Why add all the extra time and money and exhaustion of travel team into the mix?

For the first time in weeks, the feeling of dread subsided, replaced by feelings of freedom and self-determination.  Nevertheless, I knew this was not a decision to be taken likely.  I also knew it was not a decision to be made logically.  There would be no pro/con list.  Not that I couldn’t recite all the pros and cons without writing them down.  On the plus side: More practice time, greater improvement at a faster rate, opportunities to travel the nation playing roller derby with awesome people.  On the minus side:  All the books I wouldn’t have time to read, no social life, no free time, never enough sleep, no money to spend on anything else except plane tickets and hotel rooms, physical and mental exhaustion.

I told a few people, none of them skaters, I was thinking of not trying out, just to hear how it would sound coming out of my mouth and to test how it felt to say it.  It felt scary, and I quickly followed it up by saying, “But I need to think about it a lot more.”  One of my friends said, simply, “Your heart will tell you what to do.”  I believed this to be true.  It’s the reason no pro/con list could suffice.  I knew if my heart wasn’t in it for the long haul, there was no point in trying out.  Without heart, I wouldn’t make it through the season whether I made the team or not.  A resolute heart, on the other hand, is exactly what I would need to overcome all the items on the con side of the list.

I decided to stop thinking about it for awhile.  I had time to make up my mind.  I decided just to enjoy the rest of my break and see how I felt at the end.

And then, on the last day of 2014, I went to spin class.  The last song of the class was “Pompeii,” which is a song that means a lot to me.  Pompeii is a fascinating place.  It’s a place I visited on my honeymoon, and injured myself, and even wrote a poem about after my marriage ended.  Beyond all those associations, it’s a song that played frequently in Dual Hitizen’s car on the way to and from travel team practices and games last spring.  In particular, I remember one day in April, traveling to a bout in Virginia.  Dual was driving.  Frightmare was in the passenger seat.  By this time, both of them had announced plans to move to the west coast.  It was a warm, sunny day.  The car windows were open, and the mood was light and relaxed.  I thought about how things wouldn’t be the same when they left, and how lucky I was to have had the chance to play with them, and how lucky we all were to be on our way to play roller derby on a Saturday afternoon in April in the DC suburbs.

So the song came on in spin class, and all those associations and feelings flooded my brain and my tired body as I pushed through the last sprints of the last day of 2014.  How it felt to leave a marriage in hopes of pursuing extraordinary adventures.  How it felt to be in the car that day with Dual and Fright in the middle of one of those extraordinary adventures.

And I knew.  My heart said very clearly as I tried not to cry in the middle of spin class, how could you give that up?

The extraordinary is so elusive.  I decided to try out.

Then I got sick a few days before the tryout.  I spent the day before tryouts sitting on the couch feeling miserable and trying to mentally prepare myself to skate through my misery the next day.  On the morning of tryouts I still felt awful, and I realized even if I could power through the tryout, I shouldn’t go infect everyone else with my germs.  I requested to be assessed based on past performance instead.

Today I learned I didn’t make the team.  So after all that angst, the decision was made for me.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about not making it.  Part of me, the part that was feeling all that dread before, feels relieved.  But the part of me that teared up in spin class is sad.  Then there’s the weirdness of not actually getting to try out.  I don’t know if the outcome would have been any different, but I really wish I would have had the opportunity to try out alongside everyone else.

Still, the fact that I do feel a little bit relieved is probably a signal that it’s for the best.  There are so many people who want those spots, and they should probably go to people who aren’t so ambivalent about wanting them.  Maybe a break will make me want it more again.  I certainly won’t stop trying to improve.  I’ll wait for the formal feedback from the tryout assessors, and I’ll work on the things they say I need to work on.  Just like always.