Getting My Head On Straight

It has been two weeks since my follow up appointment with the spine surgeon when I was cleared to ease back into lifting.

So far I have introduced light deadlifts and lat pulldowns (in addition to the planks and side planks which were included in my physical therapy). I’ve had zero nerve issues from these. My back, while not 100 percent, is feeling better than it has in months. My mood and motivation levels are better than they have been in months too.

I feel like myself again, and what amazes me is that I didn’t need to do an ambitious or time consuming program to drastically improve how I feel. I just added 3 sets of deadlifts, 3 days per week, and 3 sets of lat pulldowns, 3 days per week. I do the deadlifts in my living room in the morning, and the lat pulldowns at the Y before or after swimming.

For me, lifting weights is a far more effective anti-depressant than swimming and the SSRI I have been taking. That said, I am grateful for both swimming and the SSRI. Even though they were not as effective for me as lifting, they still helped me somewhat. The SSRI helped me get from “really bad depression” to “mild/tolerable depression/apathy.” Swimming helped me continue to be active when everything else made my back ache, and it felt good in the moment even if it didn’t help with day-to-day motivation and mood. Note: I know that effectiveness of depression treatments vary widely from person to person so please keep in mind that I am talking about myself only in this post. I’m in favor of everyone doing what makes them feel best, whether that is medication, movement, or some other choice.

I am grateful for my injury now because I think it helped me get my head on straight. Now that I realize just how much lifting helps me with depression and back aches, I also realize that my number one fitness priority is to keep myself lifting. Being free of depression and hopefully back aches means much more than any PRs or feeling proud of my lifting numbers. If I re-injure myself, there is a lot more at stake than some lost months of lifting progress… like my sanity, my mood, my productivity, my focus, and my ability to contribute at home. I don’t need PRs to be awesome. But I do need lifting to be my best self. Not for others, but for my own experience in this body as a comfortable place to live.

So there won’t be any more impressive lifts from me any time soon, or possibly ever again. Just day to day self-care and habits. You know, the boring stuff.

Here’s what’s next: since it has been two weeks and I’m not having any nerve issues from deadlifts or lat pulldowns, I plan to experiment with some very light front squats to see if my body can tolerate them now. I’m a bit gun-shy on back squats due to the nature of my spinal injury.

Very glad to be feeling better and to have my head on straight!

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What’s in My Home Gym (Complete with Non-Instagram-Worthy Photos)

I am asked somewhat often about the gym equipment I have at home. I thought I’d do a quick post, with some unedited, un-posed photos. Because we were all up late at a seder last night, and I couldn’t be bothered to make them look nice.

A 15kg barbell. Commonly known as “the women’s bar” in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit.

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The white thing next to it is a PVC pipe from Home Depot. My three year old calls it the “ABC pipe.” Used for movement patterning and mobility work. Some people use a broomstick for the same stuff.

Various bumper plates (5kg, 10kg, 15kg, 20kg, 25kg), change plates (.5kg, 1.25kg, 2.5kg, 5kg) and fractional plates (.25kg, .5kg, .75kg, 1kg) to load onto the barbell, and collars to hold them in place.

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A heavy rubber honeycomb mat that stays put and doesn’t slip, and protects my floor. (Note to self: needs washing). Fun fact – the mat itself weighs around 100 lbs. It’s not going anywhere.

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A squat rack that is in two pieces so I can shove it into a corner when it’s not in use.

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A flat bench.

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Chalk. Which I hate the texture of, but my kid loves it and I occasionally catch him playing in it.

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A foam roller and lacrosse balls for recovery work.

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A 20lb kettlebell which I have not used in a while.

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A yoga mat which is mostly used by my kid. Pretty sure a cat barfed on it and it needs washing. (The knife is wooden and it belongs in my kid’s toy kitchen).

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Assistance bands (two different weights). These live in my backpack or in my car. I use them when I go to the park to hang from bars to improve grip strength and shoulder mobility. And maybe one day I might do assisted pull ups with them.

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A doorway pull up bar and a pair of gymnastics rings. I used to do ring rows with these and I haven’t used it in a while. I hesitate to hang from it using bands because I weigh more than the weight limit, but if I do ring rows, my feet are on the floor taking some of the weight.

Sometimes I hang it up and let my kid play on it. He likes to grab the rings and swing.

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My kid’s toy barbell. He got it for his birthday. There was a picture of someone setting up a snatch on the box. I asked my kid “what do you think is inside?” He answered “some guy weightlifting?”

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And there you have it! What’s in my home gym. If you are looking for suggestions for setting up yours, I collected some other links here.

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New Habits, and Several Updates!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted. (I’ve been more active on my Facebook page, so if you missed me, you can follow me there as well.)

New Habits (Movement and Productivity)

I’ve added some new habits to my routine that I haven’t actually added to my spreadsheet:

  • When I drive somewhere, parking at the far end of the parking lot, as long as the weather is good. This helps me get more movement into my day without having to think about it.
  • On work days, eating my lunch somewhere other than at my desk, whether it is outside, in my car, or even at the conference table – what matters is that I am walking away from my laptop screen. I have been having trouble focusing at work, and that is getting much better with my sleep apnea being treated. However, I also find that if I don’t take an actual break, I have more trouble focusing later in the day. So, I am consciously taking a break at lunch time, so my mind doesn’t force me to take breaks later in the day.
  • I have begun leaving my lunchbox in my car on workdays, instead of bringing it to my desk in the morning. That helps with a few things: 1. It forces me to get up and walk to the car when it is time for lunch, which helps me remember to take the aforementioned break. 2. It prevents mindless eating in the afternoon. When I didn’t take my break away from my desk, my mind would wander, and sometimes I would grab a snack to procrastinate. Now, if I want my food, I actually have to get up and go get it. and 3. It puts a little more movement into my day, even if I don’t have time for formal “exercise” on a workday.
  • Putting my phone away in a drawer while I’m at work. I didn’t realize how easy it was to check the phone to procrastinate when I needed a break. I don’t feel comfortable leaving the phone in the car, in case my son’s babysitter or my coworkers need to reach me. But I turn the volume up so I can hear it if it rings, and tuck it away so I have to consciously take it out if I need it (instead of mindlessly picking it up off my desk).

I didn’t add those habits to my spreadsheet as something to track; I just changed my routine up. Since it feels pretty painless, I don’t feel the need to track them at this time.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Update

Everything has been going really well. The CPAP machine has added at least a decade back onto my life. It has reduced my breathing events by over 99 percent. Some things I have noticed: I am able to focus more clearly at work. I feel more ready to engage with people. I sometimes sleep all the way through the night now. My husband says I no longer snore. Plus all the stuff I listed before.

I am also noticing a huge difference in what I can do at home now. I am doing things that my husband always had to do in the past. I cleaned out our car (voluntarily), and cleaned up after the weekly cooking (voluntarily).  I won’t say I am able to clean up every day, but even being able to do it some days is a huge improvement for me. I feel very pleased that I am able to do more to contribute to our household now.

I finally had my first appointment with a sleep specialist and I am happy to report that I had a positive experience, as a fat person. The only time she mentioned my weight was to ask “how has your weight been,” while she was asking the typical medical history and symptom questions. She did not lecture me. She seemed pleased about my habits. When I asked her if sleep apnea could cause weight gain, she said yes, and explained about leptin, and said that untreated sleep apnea could make weight loss difficult.

And then she looked in my mouth and told me that the size of my tongue was almost certainly the reason for my sleep apnea. So, that was positive! And it means that my suspicion that I have had this for many years and at many different weights is likely correct.

Movement Update

Lifting has been going well. The simplified program I started in January is still working well for me. It fits well into my life and I am making progress, feeling good, and recovering well.

Meal Prep Update

We are still in what feels like a pretty sustainable groove with meal preparation. I did spend more money eating out than I would have liked, last month. But I also had days where I felt tempted to eat take out, and I packed a meal or cooked a meal at home instead. So there is definitely improvement. Patience is my friend.

That’s all I have to report today! More posts in the queue soon….

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Still Getting Better!

I had a great week. Everything keeps getting better. Last week I wrote some posts about how CPAP therapy is going for me. You can read them here, and here.

My kid had an ear infection this week, so he woke us up a lot at night for a few days, and I felt tired. But the amazing thing is, my mood was still good.  Even after 4 nights of interrupted sleep. In the months before I got my CPAP, if my kid had a bad night, my mood was terrible the next day. I found dealing with people to be too overwhelming. I felt irritable. I don’t drink coffee regularly, but I would go get coffee on those days. It didn’t help much. So, it was a big deal that this week we had four nights of interrupted sleep, and my mood was good even though I was tired.

In fact, I even did some housework after that fourth day! My kid was taking a nap, and a friend called. While I was chatting with her, I noticed that I had energy and didn’t want to sit still. So I got down on the floor and began stretching. Then I was done, and looking for something else to do. So I started cleaning off my bathroom countertop. Then the floor around the toilet. Then the baseboard. Then the sink. Then a couple spots on the walls, and the mirror. Then  dusted the bookshelf in my room, and in kiddo’s room. Then I took the trash cans out to the curb. Then I changed the cat litter. And all this was on a day I had already lifted in the morning, and after 4 days of sick-kiddo-interrupted sleep.

This was more housework than I would get done in a month or two, before. Before, I never had any motivation to do housework. The thought of it always seemed overwhelming.  I felt self conscious, thinking that everyone thought I was lazy, but I still couldn’t get myself to do it.  And I never would have done it on the same day I lifted weights. I always needed a lot of rest and recovery time afterwards. Essentially, I had to choose between lifting and housework. I always chose lifting, because it was more fun and it gave me lots of benefits, such as normalizing my blood sugar and just feeling better. It is amazing to me that now I can do BOTH sometimes.

My complexion is also improving. The photo on the left was taken a couple weeks before I started CPAP. The photo on the right was taken 12 days after I started CPAP. Look how my skin and eyes have brightened up!
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I still haven’t been able to take a nap with the machine on. I tried for the second time this week and couldn’t fall asleep. However, laying in a dark room breathing deeply for 30 minutes was refreshing enough in and of itself.

On the training front, I finished my second Wendler 5 3 1 cycle of the year. The new minimalist lifting schedule is working out great. I still feel strong, and I still have enough energy to handle my other shit. So I will be keeping that up.  Unfortunately I caught my kid’s bug, so I will be waiting a few days to start the third cycle.

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Weekend update – New Wendler Cycle, New Habits, and other Miscellany

Nothing exciting today. Just a weekend update. Boring ass real life on the habit train….

Last week I finished my first cycle of Wendler 5/3/1 and this weekend I started my second cycle. So far it’s going well. I like the flexibility. I can spend less than 20 minutes per day if I want….or if I prefer I can combine days. I like how I feel so far.  Some days I’ve lifted first thing in the morning. Other days, after my kid goes to bed.

For this cycle, I am going to try including Olympic lifts 1 day per week, and see how that feels for me. I did them last night while watching Grease Live with my husband. The clean and jerk still felt pretty easy. The snatch felt a little awkward after a four week break.

I’ve been having some issues with my medical insurance not wanting to cover the recommended follow up testing for my diagnosis. Looks like I will probably be getting a machine soon, however. Fingers crossed! Now that I know I’m not breathing well at night, I want to fix it as soon as possible.

I went in for some routine bloodwork and weighed myself on the scale at the lab. The scale confirmed what I already knew by the way my clothes fit – I had lost a few pounds since I last weighed myself 3 months ago.  I didn’t do anything to intentionally lose the pounds; I just continued with all my habits, with the addition of using my new intuitive eating skills.  I’m trying not to get excited or put too much pressure on myself. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

It’s been about 5 weeks since I added a new habit. I am adding two more habits to my list today:

  • eat a vegetable with at least two meals (goal: 150 days by the end of the year).
  • do something myself instead of asking my husband to do it (goal: 150 days by the end of the year).

I’ve already been doing these items more than usual, so I’m pretty sure I can succeed with these goals.

Minimalist Lifting, Week 2 Training Log

I am about halfway through my second week on a more minimal lifting program.  Here are some thoughts and observations.

If you read about the Wendler 5/3/1 program online, you will see that each day has you do 3 sets of the main lift. There are different templates you can follow for assistance work. The templates have names like “Big But Boring,” and “The Triumvirate.” The template where you do just the main lift, with no assistance work, is called “I’m Not Doing Jack Shit.”

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Simplifying My Fitness Plan So I Have Energy for Real Life

I’m noticing some uneasiness about my new fitness plan. I’m simplifying it a lot, because I have more responsibilities while my husband can’t do housework or drive. Jennifer Campbell of Healthy Habits Happy Moms suggested that I may need to re-examine my expectations for myself and my habits while my husband is laid up. I didn’t want her to be right, but I quickly learned that she was. Plus, it is winter and my kid is driving me a bit crazy anyway. So, my new fitness plan is as follows, for as long as it serves me:

  • One lift each day, using the Wendler 5/3/1 template. Wendler’s program uses the back squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press. I’m gonna add a day of Pendlay rows because I can’t leave well enough alone. So that’s 5 days of lifting, for maybe 20 minutes each. 30 minutes if you count warm ups and stretching/rolling. Hopefully fast enough to be done before my kid drives me batshit crazy.
  • Olympic lifts technique practice if/when I feel like it, to keep technique in my muscle memory. Nothing too heavy. Or not.
  • Walking when the weather and my schedule allows.
  • Doing “on my feet” tasks around the house as I feel like it.

It feels too….easy? Short? Mild? I’m not used to having so much gas left in the tank to handle household tasks (but that is the point of simplifying so I guess it is working). I’m not used to having a clean living room that I cleaned myself. I’m used to my muscles being tired so that lying on the couch feels good. I’m used to my legs being tired and needing to rest a lot. I’m used to being more sedentary when I am not actually lifting. I’m used to not wanting to walk up the stairs to get something. I’m used to my living room being more cluttered. I’m used to my husband doing some housework, and me doing less housework. Now that my husband is injured, I’m doing almost all the housework….and I’m keeping up with it for the past few days myself, and not feeling tired and resentful about it.

Noticing that life feels easier to handle is GOOD. My mental uneasiness, however, means I clearly have some beliefs to work through – such as “exercise needs to be intense in order to do anything.” Or, “being tired means my training is working.” Or “being tired means I’ve done something” or “not being tired means I haven’t worked hard enough.” I thought I was over these beliefs, but clearly I’m still hanging on a bit.

I also have some nagging thoughts like “what if I lose all my progress on the Olympic lifts?” To that thought I respond that nobody is paying me to get good at those, and that my number one priority is my health and my family. If that means taking a little break for a while to do something else, that is okay. Once a hobby adds stress to my life during a time period when I have plenty of stress from other areas, I can stop telling myself that it is helping my  health.

Over the past month I’ve also challenged some of my food beliefs and been happy with the results. We are eating a lot of sandwiches, salads, and cereal in our house these days, in order to minimize cooking. I am buying packaged sauces and dressings rather than making them from scratch. It’s helping us get more flavor variety into our meals without too much work. I’ve been eating a lot more salad. My favorite salad dressings right now are Annie’s Papaya Poppyseed, and Brianna’s Blue Cheese. I have a bunch more I want to try. We’ve been eating off disposable dishes, and I’m just now starting to phase my regular dishes back in, now that I have some extra energy.

So, just as I am adjusting  my family’s food plan to minimize stress, so too I am adjusting my movement activities to do the same. Yesterday I went to barbell club and did bench presses, some light snatches, and some experimentation with hanging from a pull up bar using bands. Today I did deadlifts at home. My hamstrings and glutes are like “oh hey! We forgot about deadlifts.” But my legs still had enough energy in them to keep up on the dishes today. We used some disposable and some regular dishes. Because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I can phase the regular dishes back in gradually, and see how it’s working for our sanity.

My kiddo was sick today, so I had plenty of quiet time. It was a much needed recharge day for me.

Here’s to a week of feeling oddly energetic! I can get used to this :).

Realization: My Workouts Should Not Drive Me to Drink!

To be fair, it isn’t really my workouts that are driving me to drink. It is my three year old.

I’ll back up a little.

While the weather was warm, having a porch gym has served me well. I could lift on the porch while my kiddo played outside. If it took me an hour or two to get my warm up, lifting, and mobility and recovery work in, that was usually fine. My kid would play, eat snacks, and generally entertain himself.

Now though, it’s winter in New England. The gym has moved into my living room. My husband is injured and can’t play with my kid as much, and it’s too cold to get out much at all. Basically, my three year old is bored, and in mama-obsessed mood. He wants a lot of attention from me. And yes, he gets out of the house. He goes to his babysitter a couple days per week where he plays with other kids and goes on outings, and I take him to gymnastics class and swim class and the library and the grocery store and…..it’s still not enough. Especially since my husband and I were sick for a couple weeks on top of everything. My three year old is bored.

I’ve been trying to get back into my routine of lifting 3 times per week, for 1-2 hours start to finish.

Yesterday, I really had trouble getting going. I didn’t really want to lift. I wanted to go for a walk. It was sunny outside, and 27 degrees, which was the warmest it had been all day. I didn’t listen to myself though. I didn’t want to throw off my lifting schedule. In truth, it made me a little nervous to do it. So, I decided to lift instead.

Within the first sets, I noticed I felt irritable. I tried to get my kiddo to go upstairs and play with my  husband. No dice. He spent the whole workout running laps around the living room and trying to climb all over me between sets.

At one point, I decided to try a bench press. One of my coaches at barbell club had shown me how to do it the way the powerlifters do it. I got my rack out, figured out the height adjustments for benching, figured out where to place the bench in my set up. I got myself in position and ready to do a bench press.  I was about to lift the barbell off the rack.

And then something soft hit me. My kid had taken a sock and launched it at me, slingshot style.

I sternly told him that it was not safe to throw things at me while I am lifting, and carried him upstairs to my husband.

He still made his way back downstairs before the end of the workout, and climbed on me while I was stretching. And climbed on me for a while afterwards. He hadn’t napped. I made plans to go buy wine and cook some macaroni and cheese as soon as I put him to bed. Comfort and decompressing was needed.  As I was cooking dinner, I realized “I should have just gone for the walk I wanted to. I’d probably be in a much better mood right now!” I had a great time watching the Bachelor and felt better when I went to sleep.

And then it hit me….this isn’t working for me right now. I shouldn’t finish my workouts so stressed out that I need to decompress from them. And right now my kiddo is making that a reality.

The positive side is, having equipment at home gives me loads of flexibility to make changes! What if I tried something different? I’ve been wanting to try more powerlifting again (after taking a break for a while to focus on Olympic weightlifting). What if I just committed to one exercise every morning? I could do a Wendler style 5/3/1 program or a Stronglifts 5×5 model. I could make a schedule, for example: Monday deadlifts, Tuesday bench press, Wednesday squats, Thursday overhead press, Friday Pendlay rows. Each morning I could spend less than half an hour on a lift. While my kid ate breakfast. I’d be able to crank it out and be done before he started driving me batshit crazy. I could do it even on the three days of week that I go to work. On days I stay home I wouldn’t be too tired afterwards to do all the extra stuff that is on me to do while my husband is injured. I could maintain and even increase my strength. I could maybe do an Olympic lift on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday if I feel up to it if my kid is entertained, but I could take a break from focusing on them.

And I would be able to take a walk in the afternoon if the weather is nice enough that I actually want to.

So, this morning I came downstairs and did some sets Pendlay rows as my kid ate breakfast. And wrote this post. It feels strange to just do one exercise and still have this much energy after a workout.  And it feels nice to be done with a workout and not be ready to drink. Let’s see how this goes!