Monday, October 13, 2014

Visiting an Unfamiliar Gym

Although I was scared in the beginning, I've gotten comfortable at my gym over the past year.  In fact, I'm so comfortable in the weight room now that I was certain traveling to an unfamiliar gym while in Florida for a teammate's wedding last weekend would be no problem at all.

I was wrong.

My teammate Frak had done the research and found a gym within walking distance of our hotel.  We planned to lift together on Sunday, along with a third teammate.  However, I arrived in Florida on Friday, a day earlier than everyone else, so I decided I'd go by myself on Friday, too.

Could we just pause here for a moment to appreciate the fact that I have become a person who would choose to go to the gym during a weekend getaway at the beach?  Holy crap.

So anyway, I went to the gym.  The nice lady at the front desk asked what I was there for and I said, "Just some power lifting stuff."  She told me the squat racks were in the back.  So that's where I headed.  Except there was only one squat rack like the ones at my gym.  There were two other strange contraptions that looked sort of like squat racks, but not really.  They had built-in pins that pointed up at a weird angle so it would be difficult to adjust the bar to the correct height and even more difficult to get the bar in and out of the rack safely.  They also had built-in safeties which were also not adjustable and therefore not great for short people.  Both of these strange racks were already in use (not by people doing squats), so I was not entirely sure if they were made for squatting.  And of course, the one normal rack was already in use.

As I stood on the gym floor trying to figure out what to do next, I felt all the old familiar gym anxiety come sweeping back--that uncomfortable feeling that I didn't belong there and must look like an idiot standing there looking confused.  A year ago, I would have turned and walked out immediately.  This time, I forced myself to think things through a little bit.  First off, I reminded myself that I have been lifting for a year and can, in fact, squat and dead lift more than my body weight.  In other words, I was qualified to be there.  Then I reminded myself that no one was looking at me because they were all too busy worrying about their own muscles.  I felt a little bit calmer.

Next, I wandered around the rest of the gym to see if there were any other racks.  There weren't.  But there were a couple of Smith machines.  My gym doesn't have Smith machines, so I wasn't really sure how to squat in one.  I went into the locker room, got my phone out of the locker, and looked it up on youtube, at which point I was feeling very proud of my resourcefulness.  I went back out onto the gym floor and did a couple of warmup sets in the Smith machine, except my form didn't feel quite right in the machine, and I could also tell that the bar did not weigh 45 pounds.  I googled "how much does Smith machine bar weigh" and got answers ranging from 5 to 45 pounds, which was no help whatsoever.  I asked a guy near me if he knew, but he didn't know.

At this point, I really was frustrated.  I was scheduled to do my heavy lifting day that day, which meant I really needed to be sure I could squat safely and with accurate weight.  I didn't want to mess up my heavy day as I only get one a week on this program, and I have goals, damn it!

So after all the positive self-talk, youtubing and googling, I finally did pick up and leave without lifting.  Nevertheless, I felt somewhat victorious for sticking it out as long as I did, trying to figure things out, and not immediately caving in to the discomfort.  Plus, I knew that Frak would be there on Sunday, and she could explain to me the many mysteries of how to work out at a strange gym.

And she did.  When I told her about the strange racks she said, "Those are squat racks, they're just shitty squat racks."  When we went back on Sunday, she let me have the good rack.  (Letting your friend have the good rack for her heavy day is a sign of true friendship.)  I asked her how I would have done my heavy day if the good rack hadn't been available.  How would I handle a failed set?  She recommended not going to failure in a rack like that unless the gym had bumper plates that you could throw off your back.  So this was good to know.  Frak also told me not to squat in the Smith machine, and I am more than happy to follow her advice on that.

With my squats and bench presses successfully accomplished, it was time to move onto dead lifts, where I encountered another challenge: hexagonal plates.  Instead of nice round weight plates, this gym had hexagonal ones.  This meant that after every dead lift rep the bar would roll forward or backward and I would have to reset my stance and start over.  One way to avoid this is not to set the bar down completely, just to tap it on the floor between reps, but Frak explained that I should not do this because you can't do it in a power lifting meet, and it is a bit easier because there is a rebound effect that you don't get when you are picking the bar up from the floor.  So that was kind of a pain, but I managed to accomplish my dead lifts also.

After all this, I had a revelation.  All of my gym discomfort on Friday was completely unnecessary.  I wasn't the problem.  The crappy gym with the subpar squat rack and hexagonal plates was the problem!  Woah.

So now I feel more confident about going to an unfamiliar gym while traveling, just in time for a business trip later this week.  This time, I'll be visiting a strongman gym, so I feel confident they will have plenty of squat racks and round plates, but of course visiting the land of the giants brings a whole different kind of intimidation, so we'll see how I handle that.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Goals for Season 9

I've set two simple but powerful goals for season 9.

1. Talk in every jam.  
Back when I played volleyball, it was my job to talk in every play.  I was the setter, and the second hit was always supposed to be mine.  Every time one of my teammates returned a serve, it was my job to yell either "mine" or "help."  It was automatic.  Alas, roller derby is a lot more complicated than volleyball, there's a LOT more to say, and communication is not my strong point.  There are lots of reasons for this.  Partly it's because I'm an introvert.  Talking before processing inside my head first is not my natural tendency.  Partly it's that my brain has enough to deal with getting my body to do what it should.  There's not a lot of bandwidth left over.  But partly, I think, it's also that I just haven't formed the habit.  

My team lost eight skaters last season and has drafted several new skaters this season.  Many returning skaters, like me, took time off for at least part of the summer.  While we're getting used to playing together, learning to trust and anticipate each other, communication is going to be more important than ever.

One of my teammates suggested I could begin to strengthen my communication skills by narrating the location of the jammer.  It's something I am already watching for, and it's not something that requires my brain to process strategy.  It seems like a reasonable way to start.  I'm going to work on this in scrimmage, and as the year goes on, I expect I'll get better at talking about other things during jams, too.

2. Find my learning edge in every practice.
When I was learning to skate, everything I did took me to the edge of my comfort zone, or as I like to call it, my learning edge.  Now that I'm a bit more advanced, I feel that it's important to remind myself to really push myself to that edge, which is where growth happens, every time I put on skates.  Otherwise, what's the point?  Whether it's speeding up my transitions during warmups, or forcing myself not to use my toe stops in agility drills, or putting on the pivot panty once in awhile during scrimmage, I'm going to pick at least one thing every practice and push myself to the edge.  Notice I said one thing.  It's not about being perfect.  It's about cultivating the right habit of mind every single day.  I believe if I start with one thing, the focus will naturally carry over to more things every time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Back to School...I Mean Skating

When I decided to learn to skate, back in the spring of 2010, I went to the now-defunct Black Eyed Susan's Skate Shop in Baltimore to get all my gear and to be fitted for my skates by a woman named Marzipain.  She had two options to choose from at the time, but she told me if I went with the lower priced skates I'd probably want to buy new ones in a year.  If I bought the pricier ones, she said, they'd last me my entire derby career.

Four years later, I'm still playing derby on those skates, and four years is indeed a longer derby career than many skaters enjoy.  Nevertheless, roller derby technology has evolved quite a bit in four years, and I began to suspect that the old-school, extremely heavy plates on my skates were not doing me any favors.  (For readers who are not roller derby skaters, roller derby skates consist of the boot, which is the shoe part of the skate, and plates, which are screwed onto the bottom of the boot.  Other pieces called trucks and cushions are also attached to the plates.  Cushions help you turn, and the wheels go on the trucks.)

Anyway, my plates were really heavy, and I don't know any other skaters who have plates like that, so I thought it might be time for an upgrade.  New plates are a significant financial investment.  I opted to keep my four-year-old boots, partly because it would cost even more to replace them, too, and partly because my greatest fear in roller derby is losing a toenail.  I have heard so many stories of skaters whose boots don't fit quite right, and suddenly their toe is a bloody mess and they have to skate the rest of the season without a toenail.  I never, ever want that to happen to me, and my boots have served me well in that regard.  Anyway, here's what I ended up with:

Those are Reactor Pros, pretty fancy.

While I was at it, I also took stock of the rest of my gear.  Then I headed up to Five Stride Skate Shop in Brooklyn, New York to go back to derby shopping.  Which sort of feels like back to school shopping when you were a kid, except a million times better.  In addition to the new plates, I ended up replacing one pair of wheels and bearings, my elbow pads, mouth guard (again, because mouth guards are gross), knee gaskets, toe stops, toe guards, and waxed skate laces.  (At least my super awesome hockey helmet and super cushiony knee pads did not need replacing.)

Today was my first day back at practice, and I got to break out all my new gear.  It was a scrimmage practice, so the skates got put to the test right away.  The plates are definitely much lighter and more responsive, which is awesome.  Even so, they're going to take a bit of getting used to.  I'm glad there's plenty of time to break them in before our first bout.

As for being felt great.  It wasn't my best scrimmage ever, and my derby brain wasn't quite as sharp as I would have liked it to be, but all in all, it felt great to be back on the track with my team.  I'm ready for Season 9.

How I Spent My Derby Vacation: September Review and October Goals

I took the month of September off from roller derby.  It's the longest break I've had from derby since I had surgery in 2011.  Needless to say, I was tired.  I have to say, September didn't turn out to be nearly as restful as I'd hoped it would be.  Work got crazy, and the business side of roller derby didn't stop just because the skating did.  Also, in the second week of September, I experienced a bit of physical and emotional trauma.  I'm not going to write about it on the blog.  (Believe it or not, there actually are some things I won't write about on here.)  But it wasn't some dumb trauma like getting my heart broken by an oyster farmer.  It was pretty serious, but I'm fine now, and I'm only mentioning it because it disrupted my workouts that week.

September Goals

Five workouts per week.  I only completed one workout, a slow three-mile run, the first week of September as I began the month with a sore knee, which I think may have been a strained IT band.  By the second week, I was ready to do more, but then I had my secret trauma, and I only managed to complete two lifting sessions.  After that things got better, and I finished the last two weeks of the month meeting this goal.

The majority of my workouts were weight lifting.  I did run four times this month, which was enough to make me feel a bit more confident that my endurance is still ok.  I also did two boot camp workouts because my gym, Balance Gym, is a sponsor of the DC Rollergirls and offered these training sessions specifically for us.  The boot camp workouts were similar to what I used to do a couple times a week before I replaced them with lifting heavy, mixing cardio and strength exercises that use your own body weight or light weights for resistance for more reps than I do in the weight room.  After not doing anything like that for over a year, I found them really challenging.  It made me think I should try to find a way to work some of that back into my workout routine, although I'm not sure when I'll find the time for that.  At the very least, I can run up the four flights of stairs at the gym and get a little high intensity interval training.

Chinups daily.  I don't know why I find it so hard to make myself do this every day as the chin-up bar is right here in my apartment, but I only met this goal thirteen days this month.

Mentally prepare for the next season of derby.  I said I would prepare mentally by having fun, watching derby, and thinking about my goals for the next season.  I did all of these things.

October Goals

Our first bout of the season is seven weeks away, and my first power lifting competition is ten weeks away.  So that's what I'll be focusing on.  I'm not sure how I'm going to feel when my new lifting program meets my old skating program, but time will tell.  Also, my knee is hurting again so maybe that IT band didn't heal as well as I thought it had.  That's a lot to deal with in October, but my goals are pretty straightforward:

  • Go to as many roller derby practices as possible.  (I'll be traveling quite a bit this month and will have to miss a few because of that.)
  • Lift three times a week.
  • Chinups daily.  For real.  Although I'm already behind on this one.  Sigh.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Testing My Maxes

I signed up for my first powerlifting meet on December 12th here in DC.  My teammate Frak is helping me prepare.  She gave me a new lifting program to follow to help me get ready.  (It's modified from a lifting program called the Texas Method.)  And last week she helped me test my maximum lifts for the first time ever.

Testing your maxes basically involves doing one rep, adding more weight, and repeating until you can't go any higher.  It gives you a sense of what you could do in competition, and for me it is a nice opportunity to benchmark my progress.

We did the lifts in the order they would be done in competition: squat, bench press, dead lift.

Here's a video of me squatting a new PR of 175 pounds.  To give a sense of how much strength I have gained since I started lifting, the first time I squatted out at the strongman gym, the heaviest weight I could do was 100 pounds, and I thought that was astonishing.  A little over a year later, 95 pounds is my warmup.

After successfully squatting 175, I tried 185 and failed.  Watching the video now, it doesn't actually look like I was struggling as much as I thought I was at the time.  You can hear Frak yelling at me to push out my knees, and I think if I had focused on that, I might have been successful.  Frak explained that since it was my first time doing this, I'm not used to struggling to complete the lift.  As my comfort with being on the edge of failure improves, I should get better and be able to push through more.  Although she also said that a lot of the time, your max will feel relatively easy, and then adding just ten pounds will make the next lift impossible, which is indeed how my failures felt.

I want to show my failure video because I think it's important to show that nothing terrible happens to you when you fail a lift.  As you can see, I just kneel back down and let the safety catch the bar.  Easy peasy:

After squat, I got a PR of 95 on bench press and failed my attempt at 100 pounds.  Then came the most exciting part of the night: dead lifts.  I have a complicated relationship with the dead lift.  It's probably my favorite lift, but it also scares me the most because it took me awhile to learn the proper form, and I hurt my back last year while I was still learning.  Last week, I managed a PR of 220 pounds, which is 35 pounds more than I had ever done before.  Frak was encouraging me to add more weight.  She showed me the video and said as fast and "easy" as the bar came up on 220, she was sure I could do more.  I decided to stop, though.  I was trying to be cautious and not hurt myself.  Now I kinda regret that I didn't keep going, but it's probably just as well that I didn't.

Here's the dead lift PR.  So exciting!

After I was done, Frak sent me these weightlifting performance standards, which show how much a person should expect to lift based on how long they've been training.  It's useful to see these charts because it's easy to lose perspective when you're in the gym surrounded by gigantic dudes and women like Frak, who weighs about 20 pounds less than I do but who can lift way more.  (She tested her maxes last week, too, and got 300 on her dead lift!)

It is pretty exciting to see that my squat and dead lifts are right in the middle between intermediate and advanced for my weight class.  (I weigh 155 currently, so I'm looking at the 165 weight class.)  My bench press is novice level, but hopefully my new program will help bring that up a bit.

It was a year ago this month that I started lifting.  I've come a long way since then, and testing my maxes was a good way to remind myself of that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

August Review and September Goals

My goals for August were:
  • Lift twice a week.
  • Run once a week.
  • Do chin-ups daily. 
  • Complete two individual skating practice sessions.
  • Be on skates three times a week.
I met none of these goals.  Also, I threw away my goal tracking sheet in a fit of relief and excitement that August was finally over, so I can't even tell you how close I got to achieving them.  I am so done with August.

On to September.  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm taking the month off from roller derby.  I am loathe to set too many goals, since this is supposed to be a break.  On the other hand, I have to set some, since I am also supposed to be getting ready for the upcoming home team season.  I have sort of a three-step plan.

Step 1: This Week
  • Rest and ice my injured knee.
  • Play it by ear with training--Maybe a slow, easy run, maybe a trip to the gym that doesn't involve dead lifting or squatting too heavy, maybe just a bit of strength training at home.  The goal is do something but to give the knee a break.
  • Attempt to get back on to a sleep schedule, ideally one that has me up early enough to run in the morning since that is when I like to run.
  • Chinups daily.

Step 2: The Rest of the Month
  • Five workouts per week.  This will be some combination of running and lifting, maybe even some skating.  Again, playing it by ear.
  • Chinups daily.

Step 3: Mental Preparation
  • Have fun!  I was trying to recall the last time I went to a museum.  Mind you, I live in a city that probably has more free museums than any other place in the United States, at least.  It has been so long that I couldn't remember.  Eventually I did recall that it was a Van Gogh exhibit, last Christmas vacation if I'm not mistaken.  Eight months.  This month, I would like to read some novels and go to a museum or two.  Maybe even go to happy hour with my non-derby friends.  
  • Think about my goals for the home team season.  
  • Watch derby.  The WFTDA Division 1 tournament begins this month, which will be a great opportunity to learn more about derby while not playing derby.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The End of the Travel Team Season

We played the last bouts of the travel team season in Chicago over the weekend.  My team, the B-team, finished our season 7-4.  The All-Stars ended their season with a sixth place finish in their WFTDA Division 2 playoff bracket.

It was a long, grueling season.  By the time I came on board at the mid-season tryout, we were already four months into it, and that was six months ago.  The last six months have been an amazing opportunity to grow as a skater.  Because the A and B teams practice together, I get to practice with the best skaters in our league, and our All-Stars are one of the top fifty roller derby teams in the world.  How lucky am I?  

On top of that, I finally got to live the dream I had back when I first started skating, to travel around the country playing derby.  I felt so grateful for that on Saturday night in Chicago as we skated our final lap around the track slapping hands with the fans.  That final lap never gets old.

Nevertheless, the last couple of months have been hard.  My sleep schedule has been a mess.  My cross-training schedule has been erratic.  My diet has been less than optimal.  Despite all the hard training I did this season, over the last couple of months I have grown less and less confident in my body.  The nagging injuries didn't help, first the sprained wrist followed by a knee injury sustained while squatting about ten days ago, which I think is a strained IT band.  Plus, not having time to run regularly has made me somewhat less confident in my overall endurance.  This last week heading into Chicago I was so exhausted and overwhelmed I kept telling myself, all you have to do is make it through Chicago.  

On Sunday morning, the morning after our bouts against the Chicago Outfit, we got up early to play more derby.  We combined our A and B team rosters to play two more scrimmages against the Windy City Rollers in a second-story warehouse lacking air conditioning.  The scrimmages were optional, and when my alarm went off just six hours after I'd set it, I really wished I hadn't signed up.  As the morning went on, we found ourselves counting down the time until we were finished...Only two more hours, one hour, thirty minutes, ten minutes, two minutes.  Even so, it was so much fun.  And at the end, sore, exhausted, dehydrated, hearing our captain say how proud she was to have been part of this team this season, I got a little bit teary-eyed.

It's always like that in roller derby.  You think you can't make it through another practice, another week, another month, but you always do.  But just because you can doesn't mean you should.  It's time for a break.  I'm taking the month of September off to rest, to lay a good solid foundation of cross training for the next home team season (or as solid a foundation as one can lay in a month), and most importantly to get mentally ready for another marathon of derby.  I don't want to feel like I am crawling on my hands and knees muttering, all you have to do is make it to...whatever is coming next.  

Scrawled on the wall in Windy City's warehouse was the question, Are you better today than you were yesterday?  I'm taking the month of September off from roller derby.  It's what I need to do to ensure that, come October, I can answer yes to that question for yet another season.