16 Weeks Out – Things are About to Get Exciting

Contest prep is exciting.  It allows me to see in a mirror what I think I’ve built, but can only feel from the inside.  Prep is also a challenge.  It’s pushing the fat-loss process further than most need to go.  The goal is “shredded” not “bikini body”.   I can’t lie, I’m running on faith that someone like me can attain that kind of conditioning.  I haven’t done it before.  I trust my coach and the process, but I can’t visualize yet where this is going to end up.   It can be dangerous when people try to do this too fast with extremely low calories, use drugs, or use water manipulation to create a leaner look.  I’ve done two preps with water depletion and  promised myself that I would never do another one.  To avoid it, I need to be a lot leaner.  I’ve worked too hard to regain my health.  I appreciate what it has allowed me to do and I don’t take for granted that I can do extreme things to myself and bounce back at my age.  (I wanted to take a moment to say that before I get into the nitty gritty reporting of what’s going on.  I know most people who follow my journey aren’t bodybuilders.  I want to reassure everyone that even though my goal for this prep is to push my conditioning farther than I’ve gone before,  I’m feeling more balanced than ever this time around.  Kudos to coach for that.)

Quick summary:  I started cutting calories last September.  Coach has had me doing cutting/maintenance cycles since that time.  As of this morning, my total weight loss for that period of time has been 13.8 lbs.  I call the maintenance cycles “diet deloads”.  

The most recent diet deload started on March 4th and ended on March 13th.  During that phase, I used the Bodybugg to keep track of my calorie burn throughout the day and ate those calories.  The goal was to maintain my weight.  I always keep my protein stable and will adjust fats and carbs to do whatever I’m trying to do.   I just went back and looked at the reports.  Turns out that, on average, I ate about 100 calories more each day than I burned.  That’s OK.  It’s a recovery time.  And I am working hard to not get too OCD about things this early in prep.  (Hoping to avoid calorie/marco OCD entirely, honestly.)  During the deload phase, my macro averages were…

  • Carbs = 271 grams
  • Protein = 152 grams
  • Fats = 80 grams

During the week of diet deload, I gained a pound.  Not a care was given.  It was just a normal fluctuation as my  body healed itself.   (A year before, March 2014, in off-season, I was about 5 pounds heavier and eating about 70 carbs less and 10 fats more.  Just throwing that in here because I think it’s interesting.)

I took before/after pictures during the deload phase to see what happened.  Happy to say, not much.  Just some puffy water weight.

I’ve been back on a 500-calorie deficit cutting phase for a week.  A little cardio has been added into the program now, too.  My goal for the week was to burn 800 calories in cardio.  I think I did a bit over 900.  I figured out real quick that I got to eat more on days I had that little bit of cardio because the overall deficit was still going to be 500.  I do cardio for food.  (OK – it was kind of enjoyable, too.  It didn’t take long.  About 30 minutes of walking a day.)

I hit my lowest scale weight of this prep on Thursday at 144.4 lbs.  I usually lose weight in 0.2 pound increments and will bounce up and down after I hit a low.  Got up this morning and my weight was 143.2 lbs.  I expected 144.2.  I’m happy?  OK, sure.  I’m happy.  Its just mentally hard to shrink after spending years trying to get bigger.  The scale game/weight loss process is not linear and it’s not efficient.  Biology doesn’t favor bodybuilders.  Body likes fat.  It will burn new muscle before fat.  So when the scale drops, I am accepting the data as “good” because it’s progress and it has to happen.  And then I take the negative thoughts and put them in a box, shove the box in the back of my head, throw a blanket on it, and walk away.

AND NOW, SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS…

The mental game is hard for me.  Pretty sure that comes from being an introvert and being a little nervous about the stage.   I’m not my biggest cheerleader.  Every day, I tell myself that I’m too small for bodybuilding and I’m just now approaching a decent “figure” physique – which is a good thing, by the way.  But that’s not the goal I have for myself.  But I am closer now than I was in 2013, that’s for sure.  I’m hoping that as the prep continues, I’ll see more of the FBB silhouette I’ve been working on all this time.

My attraction to this sport is the creativity of it.  The longer I do it, the less I’m attracted to the idea of ‘discipline  through deprivation’ and the more I realize that “discipline” for me is just a set of tools (lifting, nutrition, logging, rest, stress management) I use to create a living sculpture from the inside out.  I’m not really not in-love with the idea of suffering and making sacrifices to advance in the sport  I honestly don’t see the point of me, a 50-something female natural bodybuilder, of doing anything but enjoying the hell out of this as much as I can.

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Filed under Bodybuilding Journal, Competing, My Lifting Log, Weight Loss

20 Weeks Out: A Happy Birthday Happened

My birthday was a week ago today.  53 now and I’m thrilled.  Year #52 was not great and I’m relieved it’s over.  Grateful to have had a year 52, but it’s going to be memorable for being difficult.   The difficulties of last year presented lessons I needed to learn.   I’m excited to compete again this summer.  I’m excited about the program I’m doing,  and how I’m learning how to do all of this with as little stress as possible.  I’ve learned a lot about how to be a balanced competitor from my coach, Alberto, but also from the other coaches and athletes at 3DMJ.  Not surprised by that – I did my homework and chose to work with them for this exact reason.  However, that decision was made about 6 months before the poo hit the fan last year.  Grateful to God for the timing on that.

These are the progress pics I took last weekend.

2-15-15 Front

2-15-15 Back

I’ve been doing some sort of calorie cut/diet deload since last September.  The cuts to this point have been gentle to engineer a slow weight loss.  I haven’t been tracking bodyfat percentages, so I can only discuss scale weight.  In that long span of time, I’ve had a net loss of 11 pounds.  As of today, I’ve been off the last ‘diet deload’ for two weeks.   We are being a bit aggressive with the deficits for 3-4 weeks before I take another diet break.  I’ve been shooting for a daily deficit of around 600 calories.  My daily intake has been between 1600 and 1800.  That’s low for me, but it’s not unsafe.  I keep my protein and fat grams consistent and let the carbs roll up and down depending on the burn, but carbs average around 200 grams a day.  (Even on a rest day when my intake needs to roll down, I’m getting about the same amount of food as I had on a “high” day during my last contest prep in 2013.)  I track this with the Bodybugg gadget and website.  The mobile interface for the Bugg makes it easy to see what’s going on during the day.  I’ve been using it since 2009.   I’m confident that it’s fairly accurate and I know it’s more accurate than guessing.

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Yeah, I know. Not enough sleep.

I’ve still been eating fairly normally.  I just adjust the last meal of the day (bedtime) if necessary.

Last week, I felt good.  The expected water retention from the stress of the deficit didn’t happen until the middle of this second week.  It’s since released and the scale has been playing nice again.  My weight this morning was 146 even.  Coach told me to expect some visible changes in the next set of progress pictures next weekend.  I’m starting to see it in the mirror and clothes already.

However, I think the ‘feel good’ part is over for this phase for the time being.   The last two days have been – unpleasant.  Same volume of food, but it’s two weeks into it now so the body is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.  And it’s pissed about having to use it’s precious fat stores for energy.  Hunger hormones are raging.

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My first thought is to revamp food choices.  I need more volume.  I want 1800 calories to feel like 2400 in my tummy.  I eat pretty clean, but once I take a look at it, I can probably find some spots to make some lower-calorie substitutions and increase the volume. Butternut squash, for example.  Love it and it’s friendly on the food log.  However,  I’m keeping those Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches in as long as possible during the prep.   I used to make a frozen chocolate protein shake as a dessert.  I’m willing to switch out an ice cream sandwich for one of those occasionally, I suppose.

Lifting is going well.  Because of frequent injury issues, squats and deads were replaced with leg press and RDLs.  I need exercises that are safer and something I can use to track strength progress. My lifting volume was increased, too, so these moves are safer.  Not as much fun, though.   It’s also an adaptation to my life – I don’t get enough sleep because it is very difficult for me to go to bed at 7 pm.  After a coupl e weeks with this change, I’m recovering better, even with a calorie restriction.  I will be able to move heavier weight safely.  (A few years ago when I didn’t pay attention to form and had not started pulling everything, I leg pressed 720 lbs a couple times.  Doesn’t count because my form sucked.)  I’m still doing the occlusion work with my legs, so I should be able to keep my legs from losing size.  <Fingers crossed>

Cardio is still not a regular part of my program.  I know it’s coming, but doesn’t seem to be needed right now.  If I need to burn more calories, I can get more activity at work.  My calorie burn at middle school was about 200 more than at high school.  Middle schoolers require a lot more ‘proximity management’.  I’ve been sitting more lately, because I can, so getting up and walking seems like a good idea, don’t you think?  (On the flip side, knees feel better.  Always a trade-off.)

I suspect someone reading this now is thinking “Ice cream?  No cardio? She must not be serious.”  Judge if you want, but I decided a long time ago to never go “Beast Mode” again.  I knew after my last show that I’d never do a traditional prep again.  The pictures from a day before looked so much better than my stage pictures.  I won’t cut water again.  If I’m not lean enough to compete, I don’t compete.  I knew I would never get lean enough without a completely different approach in my programming, because diet and cardio won’t get me where I wanted to go.   I knew everything had to change.  And ‘everything’ takes time.

A goal is to enjoy this process and have fun.  A goal is to have a contest prep be something I can do at anytime during the year.  I don’t want it to impact my husband’s life (too much) and I don’t want it to impact my ability to teach teenagers.  I also don’t want to compete very often.  I don’t have a physique that can sustain a prep every year.  Someday, maybe, but not yet.

Maybe no one doubts that this 53 year-old, post-menopausal woman can become shredded without a ton of sacrifice.  Maybe I’m delusional.  Maybe I just need to imagine doubters and critics out there to motivate myself.  Nah – they are out there.  Doubters, anyway.

It doesn’t look like I’m going to blog more frequently like I wanted to do.  If you’re interested, I’m documenting daily on Instagram.  I’ve been feeling quite joyful and hopeful about my 53rd year and have started a series of little videos about it.  Did I say I was excited?  I’m excited.

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Filed under Bodybuilding Journal, Competing, My Lifting Log, Teaching

22 Weeks Out: Updates on New Job and Contest Prep

Sorry I haven’t written much.  It’s taken me a couple weeks to chop away at this blog, so if it reads that way, you know why.

New job is going well.  My new school’s class schedule is a rotating A-B-C block, for those of you familiar with such things.  It’s a little complicated, but the combination of the block schedule with the classes I’m teaching has made managing my life easier.  I spent the three weeks of winter break moving and setting up the new room.  School’s been back in session for another three four weeks.  I can’t lie – I have been a little lazy about working ahead with lesson planning and staying caught up with grading until this week.  I feel like I’m getting more organized and can start planning ahead.  It’s nice to be back in a system I understand.  It’s been a bit of a gear change to move from 13-year olds back to 17-year olds.  I have great students, but they come with a wide variety of motivation.  The first couple of weeks were fun, but the honeymoon was over for the kids as soon as notes were being taken every day, assignments were due, and the quizzes and tests started happening.  And yes, I will take your cell phone if you’re texting in class.  Even if you are texting your “mom”, which they tell me is happening every time I catch them.  Teaching is always a new job.  Every year you do it.

About the prep – things are progressing.  Feels a bit like two steps forward, one step back sometimes, but progressing none the less.   After about 6 weeks of dieting, the coach told me to eat maintenance calories for a weeks.  He looked at my pics and told me to eat at maintenance for another week.  YAY!    This diet deload was a nice break and it was effective.  I didn’t gain weight and it was psychologically rejuvenating.   However today, I’m back to deficit calories for at least the next month with no planned refeeds.

The ‘diet deload’ concept makes sense for me (and it’s why I researched and pick this coach – he’s smarter and more effective than most).  The body adapts.  There is no way my body would get through a long contest prep without adaptation (i.e. slower metabolism).   I have spent the last year increasing my caloric capacity (how much I can eat and not gain weight) and now is the time to use that increased capacity to lose body fat.  So far, I’m still not doing any cardio and I’ve lost weight consistently since last September.  Slow and steady so far, and it’s going to get interesting now that I’m about to start the last few months of digging.  I’m excited about this prep.  So far, doing things a little differently has been more effective and less stressful.

Interesting to compare my pics in the same suit from 2012 to last week.  In 2012, I had been lifting for two years and was following a traditional ‘bodybuilder’ diet.  Since July 2013, I’ve been more flexible with my food choices, but still tracking macros.  I am about five months out from a show in both pictures.  2012 was my first show and the one this summer will be my third.  (Learning how to pose makes a difference, too.)   This picture makes me wonder about where I will be for my fourth show in 2017?   (I think taking a year off between shows was a smart decision for me.  Seems like the most elite natural bodybuilders are patient like that, so I guess following their example makes sense.  More lean mass, improved conditioning.)

What Lifting Does Over Time

 

My lifting program is still using DUP (daily undulating periodization) where I work multiple body parts during each workout.  The volume and intensity change over the week for the same exercises.  Last month,  I asked coach to split things up to have more of an upper day/lower day focus because I wanted more recovery time for lower body.  Adjustments need to be made now to work around healing muscle pulls in my legs.  The last one was an abductor pulled doing sumo deadlifts.  Now, when I stand with feet shoulder width apart or wider, I’m hitting that spot I pulled so it’s preventing me from using weight heavy enough to work other parts of my quads and hamstrings.  So we are going to replace deads with RDLs and squats with leg presses for a while.   Frustrates me, but I know it’s OK.  I will still make progress with different exercises and I’ll stay healthy.   There is a Cybex leg press at 24 Hour Fitness here in my town that I like a lot.  The geometry of it fits my body well.  Other leg press machines are awkward for me to use.  I guess I’ll be driving into town for those lifts.  It’s a good thing – the little Anytime Fitness near my house has been too busy for the amount of equipment they have there.  (Over the last decade, I’ve accumulated three gym memberships.  I have one of those ridiculously cheap lifetime memberships at 24, so its basically free – $49 a year.   Can’t get those anymore.  If I had to go to the same gym every day, I’d probably quit working out.  I get bored and I need to move around.)

I know one reason I get hurt is because I don’t get enough sleep.  The job change has helped.  It doesn’t seem that I can actually get a full night’s sleep each night.  If I do one night, it’s hard to fall asleep early enough the next night.  So I’m trying to get a long sleep every two or three days.   As we age, sleep issues come up.  I know some of my problems are new and are related to being older.  I suspect most are related to my need to decompress every day.  I need at least two hours to sit quietly, talk to no one, do nothing but watch TV and turn off my brain.  (I’m an introvert.)  I also need a couple hours to visit with Hubby.  If I can come home from work right after school, I get those hours and I can fall asleep early enough.  If I don’t get home early, I’m up later.  After three muscle pulls now, it might be smarter for me to skip the morning lift if I can’t get to bed by 7 pm.  (Yeah, that early.)

About a week ago, I found out that my doctor died.  She was about my age.  I haven’t found out much info about what happened, but I did see a Facebook thread where someone said she had a heart attack.  That doesn’t really make sense to me.  It doesn’t fit with how I thought she lived.  If you read Dr. Conley’s bio, you will understand that she was a unique doctor and will be impossible to find anyone else like her.  I’m sad for her, for her daughter, for her patients, and for the people who worked for her.   I’m grieving my loss, too.  We were not personal friends and I haven’t seen her much lately.  I used to see her frequently.  She was the doctor who helped me when I wasn’t healthy.  She’s the one who tracked my transformation medically.  She’s the one who put me on blood pressure meds and took me off them .  I will never forget that visit.  She looked me in the eye, smiled, and said “no one gets off meds”.    I know I need to call the office and find out who is taking her patients, but I’m not looking forward to making that call.  I’m overdue for my annual – it was supposed to happen last fall.  I’m sad I missed my last chance to see her.

Well, that’s it.  Or rather, I need to be done writing today.  I don’t know how I used to find time to blog every week.  I miss it, though.  b Thank you for following and supporting my journey.  It’s been a tough year and knowing I’m accountable to others helped me stay focused.  Maybe as I get the new teaching gig calibrated I’ll be able to write more often.

 

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26 Weeks Out: Monsters in My Head

The mental game is the hardest part of bodybuilding for me.  Probably for most competitors.  I haven’t wanted to write because I didn’t want to give the “monsters in my head”, as my coach called them, attention.  I would also prefer to write about successes instead of struggles.  But they aren’t going away, so I better address them.  But first…

Food Update

For about a month now, I’ve been cutting calories.  My daily deficit has been between 400 and 500 calories a day.  During most of that time, I’ve been packing, moving, and setting up a new classroom so the calorie burns have been high enough that I could still eat a decent amount of food and have that deficit.  Once the room was set up and I needed to spend a little time writing lessons plans, the calorie burn dropped off by about 600 calories – felt that.  I go back to work tomorrow and I expect the daily activity level to jump back up to normal, but to get through these last few days of vacation, I have split my workouts into 2-a-days.  That bought me an extra couple hundred calories to eat.

I have been on some kind of calorie cut since September.  Started pretty slow – 100 to 200 calories a day at first and a little more aggressive lately.  I just looked back on my logs and I have lost around 8 pounds since summer just from a little calorie restriction.  Slow and steady.

Lifting Update

Since last summer, all my training blocks have been based on Daily Undulating Periodization protocol with alternating hypertrophy days and strength days.  (If you want to know more about it, here is a nice place to to start.  There are a lot of resources that come up with a search on “What is DUP training?”  I did not design my own program, so I’m not a good resource.)

There are three main lifts and three secondary lifts.  This isn’t a ‘body part’ split.  Exercises change, but I’m usually working chest, legs, back, and shoulders every  other day.  Rep ranges and weights vary.  I like it.  It’s fascinating to me that my body has adapted to handle the frequency.  My capacity for work has increased.  When I can get sleep, I recover well.  So when I wasn’t sleeping – job stress – I wasn’t recovering and I started feeling it in my knees.  And then there was that quad pull.

For the last four weeks, coach had me working a program he named “Tammy’s Healing Block”.  I had a quad pull that needed time to heal.  My knees needed a break from squats, but I believe it was standing all day at work that was killing them.  I’m done with the healing block and I’m happy about that.  I’m bored with it.  It was nice to have a little back-off time to work on my Sumo dead lift technique.  After a couple weeks of form check videos and coaching, I think I’m on the right track.

Monsters in My Head

Before I wrote about these things, I waited to see if I would work through some of it so I could write about how I got around it.  Or just wait to see if it passed as I rested and healed up.  The negative thoughts do get worse when I’m tired, but they haven’t been going away, either.  It’s worse now than it’s been in a long time.

I can’t dismiss the possibility that I might be working through a mild depression because of some circumstances.  2014 was an incredibly difficult year.  I can’t write about everything because some things are private, but I have shared a couple things…

  • husband’s car accident (He’s OK, but we had to change our daily routines quite a bit.)
  • not one, but two, job changes (Moving a classroom is very much like moving an apartment.) If you haven’t seen it, here is my new room’s transformation.

The stress of these things have taken a toll.  I’m probably feeling it.   The structure of my training and having a goal for next summer help me quite a bit.  (Fingers crossed that this new teaching position is going to be a smooth transition and a nice place for me to be.)

The thing that is really hard for me lately is that I feel like a misfit.  I don’t really belong anywhere.  Most women I know don’t train or have different goals for their training.   Most people I know my age are busy being parents and grandparents.  Most bodybuilders I know are male, younger, and are in a different life stage.  People in general just look at me funny when they find out I’m a bodybuilder.  (One kid even said “You don’t look like a bodybuilder.”  Ouch. But that is what I tell myself almost every morning, too.)

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I don’t toot my horn that much, but  I am an award-winning, accomplished, educator with a degree in mathematics, 19 years in the classroom – I’ve got some skills and damn near killed myself to get them.    I am just a few years away from retirement.  I’m at a certain point in my life that is different than many people I interact with in bodybuilding.  I say this because when I look at what is posted on social media by fitness people, I cringe.  There are very few things out there worth following.  Too many egos, too much soft porn, too much fat-phobia… not much intellect, grace, poise, or reflective thought.  A few exist, but not many.  But more often than not, they are social idiots.  Smart, but their arrogance or  makes them boring.  (There was one guy, highly respected and referenced, who I followed for a few days.  Didn’t take long for an argument to break out in the feed and his comments quickly deteriorated to using female genitalia in a derogatory way.  Boys posturing in the gym.  Not much different than what I deal with in the classroom, so in my mind, I see kids, not grown-ups.)

I haven’t written much about this feeling of isolation, but I think I should.   It’s hard to set goals and go after them because that separates you from the crowd.  There is a psychological need to “belong”, so pushing yourself out of the pack can be hard.  This year, I’ve had a couple of split-second moments where I thought about setting competing aside.  Pretty sure I’d get a lot of support for that decision, too.  It would make some people more comfortable.  But I can’t do that.  This is important to me. So I rely on my coach to keep things on track.  If I had to do the thinking and planning on my own, I would fall away.  Whatever is working is working because I’m just following directions.  There are weeks when that is a struggle, too.  (Like this week.  I felt like a slacker all week.)

The “You’re-Too-Old-What-Are-You-Thinking Monster” never goes away.  If I were 20 years younger, my story wouldn’t be the novelty in social media that it is now.  You probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if I were 35.   In a month, I will be 53 years old.     I struggle hard for every ounce of muscle now because I’m an intermediate lifter and have moved past the phase of “newbie gains”, but in my mind, I wonder if I’m struggling because of my age.   I have a meno-pot that is slowing converting to loose skin as I lose weight.  It will show up on stage in certain poses and I wonder about how that is going to hurt me in judging.

I feel a sense of urgency about chasing this bodybuilding dream because I don’t know how long my 53-year-old body will allow me to train this way.  The younger ones I follow online talk about how they can be patient because they will be able to compete into their 50’s.  (Yeah.  Until they are that old.  Wow.)  When I read comments like that, the more I feel like I’m working against the clock as someone who is just getting started in her 50’s.

Will I have time to build the physique I see in my mind?

Will I ever be competitive or will I always be the “Good-For-Her-Getting-Up-There” last place competitor?

And that’s the biggest monster in my mind – the one that comes out and tells me repeatedly that this is folly.  This is some kind of mid-life crisis.  It is a mid-life transformation, that’s for sure.  A course-correction.  But am I too late?  Am I a silly, female version of Don Quixote?  Having the phrase “World’s Oldest Bodybuilder” after my name is NOT the goal.

So that’s where my head is at.  Fighting it does no good.  Denying it doesn’t help.  I will find a way to snuggle up with the monsters in my head to quiet them down, I guess.  I’m going to keep my focus on the goal and train.  Lifting helps everything.

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Filed under Competing, Life, Motivation, My Lifting Log, Teaching, Videos

29 Weeks Out: Dear Santa, Please Bring Delts

delts

Full Disclosure: This photo has been altered. LOL!

 

I’ve always said that if I were to have implants inserted, they would go in my shoulders.

But no.  Not gonna happen.  I’m doing it the old-fashioned way.

I have other lagging parts, addressing them, but I also know posing can be adjusted to de-emphasize them on stage.  But not delts.  I need them for that V taper I want.

Last year, they started to grow a bit during the strongman training.  Between the log press and keg carry training, those delts were getting worked a lot.  It seems they like volume.  Coach has me doing something with shoulders every workout.  The reps and weights vary – not always heavy.  They are recovering well and feel healthy.  If I need to, I give them a break.

I like these lateral raises with kettlebells against a high incline bench to isolate the delts.  I had to modify it to a one-arm version because the little gym by my house doesn’t have pairs of kettlebells (lame), but I think that turned out to be a happy accident.  It’s easier for me to focus on form and try to keep the traps from working too much during this movement.

I received my new training block from coach this week.  It’s called “Tammy’s Healing Block”.  Perfect!  Four weeks with new exercises which will give my joints a break.  This semester has been been so stressful.  I’ve been training through sleep deprivation and distraction.   We are on Christmas break from school for the next three weeks and the timing is wonderful for this new block.  Squats have been replaced with leg press for a few weeks.  I am supposed to do sumo deadlifts instead of conventional – so I’ll have to bring the weight down since sumo is basically a new technique for me.  I’ve played around with it, but wasn’t serious about it.  This will be fun.

About Teaching…

My last week as a middle school teacher was a roller-coaster.  My algebra kids took the high school final exam on Wednesday.  Our calendar is a little different than high school, so I had less instructional time to prepare them.  We got through it, but it’s been at a brutal pace.  Grades were lower than they are used to.  Kids and parents were worried.  The district policy is that 8th graders have to earn a 70% on that exam for it to be considered a “passed” exam.  (High school kids only need a 60%.)  After so many years as a calculus teacher getting kids ready for an AP exam, I used the same strategies on 8th graders – so it was a level of academic stress they haven’t had before.  We had fun, but they worked HARD.   I gave a practice exam the week before and predicted that 65% of my kids might earn a 70% on the actual exam.  That number of kids passing would be impressive and would be a big growth from previous years’ scores.  But it didn’t work out that way.  I ran those scantrons THREE times to verify what I saw – 72% of them passed!!!  If they were 9th graders, 82% of them would have passed!!!!!   I hoped they would do well, but I didn’t expect that.  I’m so proud of them for not cracking under the pressure and not giving up.  That’s really all I asked them to do in the minutes before the exam – don’t quit.  No matter what.  Push.  Can you even imagine how a success like that will impact a kid who puts it all together and hits an academic goal that big before entering high school? I’m so excited for them!

algebra pic

Look at the future – no need to worry. They got this.

 

I planned to wait until the last day to tell my students that I was leaving.  That was Thursday.  I knew it was going to be an emotional day, but it turned out to be one of the saddest days in my career as a teacher.  Early Wednesday evening a student from our school was hit by a car in a crosswalk.  She survived and is in the hospital – I cannot share details.  I honestly don’t know exactly what is happening with her, but it’s serious.  I’m assuming that “no news is good news” in this case.  Thursday morning, some kids knew already and the rest were told.  It was also the last day before Christmas vacation, which is always emotional.  I’ve done this for 19 years and I know that three weeks at home with family is not always a happy time.  I debated about whether to tell my classes that it was also my last day, but if I didn’t tell them, they would come back in January and I’d be gone with no explanation.  I wanted them to know that I will be teaching at the high school most of them would be attending in the fall.  (Mental note to self – I need to go to freshman orientation next summer.)

I went over to the new school yesterday to pick up keys and books.  It’s huge.  This will take some getting used to.  The teacher I’m replacing was a veteran who realized that it was time to leave.  It happens.  It’s a hard, but good decision to leave the classroom when you hit that point and I applaud her for her strength to do it.  I suppose that’s what I just did, too, but what saves me to fight another day is that it’s never been about kids. The education system is more oppressive now than it’s ever been since I started.  I am hopeful that this new spot is the right spot.  Everyone is telling me what I want to hear – let’s hope it’s true.  I’m a good teacher – damn good.  I’m effective if I’m allowed to use my energy to be a teacher and not a civil servant.  The last few years have been rough.  Those 8th grade algebra kids gave me an amazing gift – validation with data that every principal will understand.  After telling 105 kids that I needed to leave to protect my health, crying with those boys and girls,  hugging almost all of them, I decided that I will NEVER allow anything to distract me from the heart of my practice again.  Principals need to be stronger.  The best ones protect their non-compliant, highly effective teachers from the system.   There aren’t many administrators like that because the good ones won’t be hired by weak superintendents chosen by school boards of non-educators elected by the public.  (Yup – I have an opinion and I’m not afraid to use it.)  Fingers crossed that I’ve landed in the right building this time.

 

The next three weeks of break will be spent hanging with hubby, resting, lifting, packing, moving, setting up a new room, and lesson planning for new classes.  It feels like I’m getting my life back.  I’ve learned a lot.  Risks sometimes don’t work out.  Or – this was the path all along.  Time will tell.

 

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30 Weeks Out: God Wrecks Your Plans When…

Some big news about work, life, stress… but first, the fun stuff.

My training program is really interesting to me.  It’s has some power lifting elements that I love – like max-testing. This week was a max-testing/deload week.  (I deload every 4 weeks and max-test every 8 weeks.)  I had four workouts this week, and for each one, I tested a lift or two, but backed off the other lifts that day.  I cut back a set and brought the weight down about 10%.

Here are the results…

Bench:  No change.  This is actually a good result.  Over the summer, my upper body responded very well to the program I was doing, but my legs didn’t grow as much.  So coach brought the bench volume down and increased volume on legs.

Squat: Increased 16% in 8 weeks!  (But I did pull a quad two days later and that rattled me a bit.  More about that later…)

Barbell Row: Increased 10%.

Overhead Kettlebell Press: Decreased 12% – but I suspect that’s not accurate.  Tested it after the quad pull and I was distracted by things happening in life at the end of this week.  I chose not to push my body under the circumstances.

Dead Lift: No change.  I tested that lift this afternoon.  It felt better than a week ago, but I was still overly cautious considering the quad pull and the mental distractions.

Ok, so about that quad pull

I ordered these shoe lifts online and they arrived in time for me to use when testing my squat.  liftsI didn’t think I would use them for the heavy set, but the warm up sets felt great, so I kept them on.  They stayed tight on my shoes and the extra heel height helped me get decent depth.  I noticed that I tipped forward a little on the bottom, which I’m told is normal when a person starts wearing lifting shoes.  I felt strong, but I had set a goal, and quit testing when I hit it.  I might have had more, but because of the new lifts, I decided not to push it.  The change in geometry could cause a problem with heavier weight.  I’ll be testing again in a couple months, so that gives me time to adjust form to the lifts.

Two days later, after I tested my barbell row, I was supposed to do three sets of light squats.  Warm up sets went well.  First rep of the working set with a weight that was 70 lbs less than what I what I lifted two days earlier – BOING!  Pulled a quad on the right side.  At first, it felt like something happened with the IT band, but after I walked on it a couple minutes and the nerves settled a bit, I could tell it was muscle, probably a part of the vastus lateralis that I hit differently  using those shoe lifts.

Well, that’s my theory, anyway.  And with that, quad work ended for the week.  Left quad is already bigger than the right, so I don’t want to work it alone.  It’s OK.  Rest is good, too.  The pull felt better the next day, and three days later, it’s just tender.  I’ve been icing it every evening.  Took ibuprofen a couple times.  I expect it to heal soon.

 

I took a rest day after this workout.  The next time I was at the gym, I tested kettlebell overhead press.  I can’t lie – I didn’t really try.  Over the years, I’ve had problems with both shoulders.  I’m usually a little sleep deprived by Thursday each week, and there was more stress this week than usual. (I know right?  How can I have even MORE stress?  You all must think I’m a drama queen by now, but I’ll explain in a minute.)   I was supposed to use the 35 lb kettlebell, and while I stared at it, I did a little inventory.  Left knee has tendinitis, right quad is pulled, but right now, both shoulders are healthy – and that’s rare.  I grabbed the 30 lb kettlebell instead.  Thought I would just go for reps, but I only got 5 when last week, I did 8 with this weight.  Know what?  I don’t care.  It’s not important.  The 1 rep max is used to set up spreadsheet numbers for the next cycle.  I can always pick up a heavier weight if I feel good.  This was not that day because I just couldn’t risk another injury this week.  I still wanted to do something heavy with delts, so I headed over to a Hammer Smith delt raise machine and knocked out a couple sets of 40 lbs for 5 reps.  That’s a safer option because the weight can’t fall backwards on a machine and rip up my shoulder.  That weight isn’t even a PR.  I’ve done 50 lbs on it before, but that was about a year ago.

And why I was mentally distracted

My knees have been hurting  and now this new pull?  I’m not getting enough rest to recover from my training.   I wake up too early with a “to do” list running through my head.   I can feel my that cortisol levels have been higher more often lately.  Hubby has expressed his concern a few times in the last couple months.  So the quad pull was the ‘last straw’ with respect to how far I’m going to allow work stress to impact my health.  I hate having to do it, but I will leave my current position after this semester and return to the high school level, even though it will be a high school I haven’t worked at before.  I know several people there, and I understand how high school works, so it should be an easy transition.  I love middle school kids and I think I’ve been a pretty good middle school teacher, but my life is not working well with the demands on energy and the long days.  That makes it a little dangerous considering how I train.  Husband’s worries are justified.

Once the decision was made, I contacted a vice principal at the high school most of my 8th graders will attend next year.  I used to work with her a few years ago and she knows how I operate as a teacher better than most.   I was asked to come over for a visit the next day.  Turns out that they have a mid-year opening in the their math department – which is very unusual.  I know things can change and usually do, but the teaching assignment they asked me to take will be easier to manage than the one I have now.    I spoke with my current principal the next morning and she was understanding and supportive.  She didn’t hesitate to agree to the transfer, even though she could have said “no”.  This is not a voluntary transfer period and there aren’t math teachers floating around without jobs in December.  Even though it took  me a long time for me to accept that this wasn’t working, once I did, the transfer happened in less than a day – yesterday.  Our district has one more week of school before a three week Christmas break. During that break, I will be packing and moving again.

I feel horrible about leaving my kids. This kind of change can be so disruptive to their learning.  It was painfully hard to leave my high school kids last June and here I am doing it again.  My decisions impact too many kids and  I lose sleep over that, too.  I am praying that the person who takes my position will know that it’s going to be hard on the kids and will be patient with them.    In 5 months, a few of these puppies have become pretty special to me.  It helps to remind myself that 8th grade is one year – they will be in high school for four years (I hope).  It’s a much bigger place and they will find all kinds of cracks to fall into without someone looking out for them.   Maybe this is the way things were supposed to happen?  I did not want to transfer to this high school last spring.  I wanted to change levels. It wasn’t a mistake.  I needed to do it.   I learned a lot and I reconnected with a passion for teaching that I haven’t felt in a long time.  When my kids get there, they will already have a “home room” and a friendly face waiting for them.  And hugs.  And pep talks.  And butt-kicks. And more pep talks.    I will find them on day 1 so they will know I’ve got their back.

 

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31 Weeks Out: And Now It’s Getting Serious

This was a tough week.  I suspected it would be since it was the first week after Thanksgiving break.  Other things made it harder to navigate.  There was an hour long staff meeting each day, Monday through Wednesday.  That’s three hours of lesson planning that needed to happen at different times those days.  My daily schedule is already tight, so losing those hours hurt.  I ended up shortening a couple lifts by skipping some exercises and I lost some sleep.  Really no where else to find the time.  There was one unplanned rest day where I decided to sleep in and lift after work, but Hubby needed the car that afternoon, so I didn’t make it to the gym.

Lifting, when I got to do it, was OK most days, but there was one really disappointing day.  I had some heavy deadlifts to do, so I split them off into their own workout.  I was supposed to do 5 sets of 3 reps at 220 lbs.  That morning, I could only handle 2 sets at that weight.  I had to drop the weight – twice – to finish 5 sets.  Another day, I was doing a couple sets of bench press with 105 lbs.  That weight should not have felt heavy, but it did.  Ugh.

Both knees have been sore the last couple of days.  Mood has been blue.  As always, lack of sleep is the major reason.  During the week, I have to go to bed at 6 pm to get enough sleep with a 3 am alarm.  That’s pretty early.  It’s hard for me to give up that time with Hubby.  I also realized this week that I don’t get much daylight or fresh air anymore.  That’s probably a problem, too.

I haven’t been at this bodybuilding thing that long, just 4 1/2 years, I suppose, but it’s the same as any hard thing I’ve done.  There will be mostly good days and a few bad ones.  The things I’ve accomplished in my life that I’m most proud of have been HARD things.  I draw a lot of discipline from my past.  All big things were done in small steps.  This year will be no different.

So what’s changed?  Why are things “getting serious” now?  I’ve been working with a coach online for the last year and we had consultations every three months.  He sent me a training protocol and the nutrition plan he wanted me to follow.  But now, we are stepping things up and I’ll be doing weekly check-in’s.  I’m excited to move into this phase, but also a little stressed about the increased level of oversight.  I have to stay current on my spreadsheet data input every week, instead of just getting it caught up every couple of months.  I use other apps to track things and then have to transfer that information over to the spreadsheet my coach uses.  I also have to be a little more precise about logging food.  I’m pretty good at that already, but I want to make sure it’s accurate.  It’s just a matter to adjusting my habits.

But I’m not going to lie – I’m a little afraid.  I’m not 100% sure I’ll be able to do what I’m supposed to do in the gym, keep food prep on point, and do this job.  I’m worried about how the lack of sleep is going to affect me.  But I’m going forward anyway.  The job is so demanding that having a goal to compete and a coach to do the thinking for me are strategies to keep my health a priority.  Otherwise, I’m afraid the job would suck everything away from me – again.

I don’t like being this busy.  I don’t thrive on it.  But this is my situation now and I’ll make the best of it.  And I have help – grateful for that.

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