"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Monday, December 25, 2017

Tales From the Trenches: Christmas Eve in the ICU

*Warning: you will want tissues handy.*


His name was Jerry.

He was one of those cats that arrives at the hospital a terrified spitfire: screaming, yowling, and doing his best to try to kill anyone that touched him. Cats are unique creatures in that they are prey animals first, predators second, and thus when trapped, cornered or restrained, their first instinct is flight. Like a horse. Except that if they are unable to fly, then often have no qualms about resorting to fighting. It is essential that you understand this about cats when handling them in the veterinary hospital, because it is the only way you will keep yourself from getting hurt and will also prepare you to handle the cat in such a way that prevents him from becoming permanently traumatized by the hospital experience. You should never manhandle a cat.

Our shift leader and weekend head tech, Annie, is in charge of directing the chaos that would otherwise reign in our world of emergency and critical care. I live for the critical care aspect, Annie lives for the emergency side of the equation: she loves the adrenaline rush of triages and stabilizing our incoming cases, while I am usually assigned the most critical of our inpatients because I am one of the more experienced ICU techs on the day shift...but also because I adore the intricacy and attention to detail required in keeping alive the patients that are at death's door. I've been told I'm good at it. All that I know is that it is rare for a patient to die on my watch. That's all I care about.

On this particular day, Annie had brought back to the treatment area a carrier full of hissing stripey brown cat. She was able to get Linda, one of our other techs, to help her get an IV catheter in this kitty so that he could be admitted for supportive care. I had my hands full with my hospitalized patients at that moment, so I let Annie and Linda handle the small fierce tiger: Annie is an even bigger diehard cat lover than I am and is one of the best in the hospital at handling fractious cats with minimal stress: she had effectively and carefully wrapped the cat in a thick towel to form a kitty burrito so that Linda could quickly place the IV. Kitty held still, but loudly shouted the equivalent of obscenities across the ICU, letting the world know exactly what he thought about being held against his will. However, in no time the girls were done. He was placed in a cage and started on IV fluids.

I later walked by his cage and there was something about him made me stop. He was totally chill, lying comfortably on the bedding with his front legs with their white toes extended out in front of him like a sphynx, while he calmly stared at the back wall of the cage.

I didn't know his name yet, so I looked at his cage card.

"Jerry," I said softly in a singsong voice.

One ear twitched ever so slightly as he turned his head around and looked at me with widening pupils, "You know my name!" It's cute how patients always seem initially surprised when we call them by name. It's kind of like in their minds it means we can speak their language: their name is their link back to home, to their families, to a world that is predictable and familiar.

"Hi Jerry," I said with a grin, and opened the cage door. The fighting striped fireball from earlier was gone. I introduced myself, giving him the option of sniffing my fingers. He didn't. He just bumped his forehead against my palm. "Awwww..." I thought. I ran my hands along his small thin body and the rumble of his purr immediately reverberated against the cage walls. He flexed his little white toes against the bedding, kneading. Every time I stopped petting him, he'd bump my arm with his head for more, and his purr would rev up louder and louder with each stroke of my hand. I couldn't help grinning. It was hard to tear myself away.

We admitted 4 patients within the next hour. Annie came up to me, "Do you want anyone in particular?" she asked with a grin. Most of the time we don't get to choose our patients; they are assigned based on our skill level as technicians and who has the least patients at a given time, but on this day I was getting to choose.

"I want Jerry," I said without a second thought.

And so he became my fifth patient on that shift. And he rapidly became my favorite: the formerly untouchable cat let me do everything that I needed to do to him by myself. Auscultating his chest, obtaining his blood pressure with the Doppler and its cold wet goo on the probe against his foot, rectal temperatures, checking his gum color: none of it was an issue. He purred throughout his treatments. His one request was that I continue petting him while I did everything: he would bump his head against my arm insistently if I didn't.

He was hanging in there, stable, when I rounded him to the overnight technician. I told her about his medical history but also about his awesomeness so that she would know to look for it in him: when you expect patients to be good, they usually are.

The next morning he looked so much better! His head was up, his eyes were bright, and his overnight tech had fallen as madly in love with him as I had. More patients had been admitted overnight and I now had 6 to call my own, with Jerry being the most stable of them. I kept stopping by his cage whenever I had a spare moment to hang out with him.

Annie helped me get a blood sample from him around noon that day. He was so good for it; didn't even say a peep about being held for the blood draw nor about the quick poke with the tiniest needle I could find. I ran the bloodwork and handed it to his doctor without looking at it: we were slammed with incoming emergencies and I was moving as fast as I could so that I could pitch in and help. I had no reason to think it was worse based on Jerry's appearance and behavior.

A cat carrier was rushed back by one of the receptionists while I was setting up a fluid bolus on one of my other patients who was tachycardic. What is up with all of the sick cats these last two weekends? I wondered, as I heard something about "not sure if he's breathing" and "what do we have permission for?" Normally when you walk into a veterinary ICU, 75% of patients are dogs. Sometimes 100% of them are canine. Cats can get very very sick from an assortment of maladies that are any internist's wet dream to work up, but they tend to happen when cats are ancient. The question of quality of life crops up then, and it is not uncommon for clients to elect to stop. Because how much longer do you expect to prolong a 16-year old kitty's life? Cats are tough, hardy creatures, and you can tell when you look around the ICU and notice their absence. Not on these last two weeks, though: 50% of our patient population last weekend and this one was feline.

I finished setting up my patient's bolus and ran over to the wet table where we run codes as Annie pulled a very limp cat out of the carrier. Two doctors had rushed over as well. I started setting up for an IV catheter while someone else started setting up an endotracheal tube so we could be ready to initiate CPR. One of the doctors found a heart beat. It was confirmed with the EKG. We got an IV catheter into the kitty...his blood pressure was nonexistent, as no blood flashed back from the stylet, but correct venous placement was confirmed by flushing the catheter. Fluids were started. Annie was able to get the tiniest blood sample to check kitty's blood glucose...it ended up being too low to read on the glucometer! IV dextrose was given. By then there were enough people around the cat that I was able to step away when my patient's fluid pump beeped, indicating that the bolus was done. I confirmed that my help wasn't needed anymore and returned to my patients.

Under the head attending doctor's orders, Annie was able to get the kitty reasonably stabilized but stayed with him, because his condition could change at any time.

She later asked me if I could watch him for a minute so she could run to the restroom, and so I did. I leaned against the wet table and watched the kitty's EKG on the monitor across from me: his heart rate was slow for a cat's but the rhythm was normal. I looked down at the small patient. His eyes were open, with golden irises. I had applied ophthalmic lubricant earlier because he wasn't blinking. He still wasn't really blinking, but I saw his eyes moving around, watching the goings-on of the ICU. And for a second, I saw the world as he did: the beeping of the EKG unrecognizable and far, far away, as if heard through a tunnel. A dog whining in a cage in the distance. The people moving around blurry and unfamiliar, in this strange room of bright lights and medical smells. And the question of, "Where am I?" but being too weak to really care.

I slid my hand under the heated Bair Hugger blanket that covered him, my fingers running along his surprisingly soft fur. I could feel every bone, every rib. He was old and guessing by his condition, had been sick for a long time. And he was purring ever so softly: the death purr. Cats will purr when they are happy, but the really, really sick ones will also purr to comfort themselves.

Kitty's expression relaxed and he half closed his eyes as I continued petting him. He stopped purring: since he was being comforted from the outside now, he had no need to continue comforting himself.

His doctor came back from the exam room, where she had been talking to the cat's owners, at the same time as Annie returned.

"They are going to euthanize," Dr. E explained. Kitty had indeed been sick for a very long time. He had seen multiple vets and had had diagnostics performed within reason, but he had continued to deteriorate. It was a fair decision.

Annie took my place so she could scoop the cat up into her arms to take him in to the exam room to spend time with his owners. Kitty looked up right then, turning his head, and making full eye contact with me. His eyes were clear for the first time, focusing. I reached out and stroked his head one last time, and he blinked slowly at me, "Thank you."

I wish more people saw cats the way we do.

At that moment, Dr. S, Jerry's doctor, called me over to her desk. She was very serious.

"Jerry's owners are going to be here in an hour," she said. She had just gotten off of the phone with them. "There is a 50% chance that they are going to choose to stop."

I felt my face fall. I had not been expecting that. "But he looks so good!" I said quietly.

"I know," Dr. S said, "but his bloodwork is worse. And I'm afraid there is something else really wrong with him that we are missing." We went over his long list of undiagnosed problems. The chances of any of it being curable, even if diagnosable, were slim when you took into account that Jerry was also 17 years old. Again, it was fair.

I went back to his cage and ran my hands over him. He nudged them eagerly, and his purr filled the cage once more.

His owners showed up at exactly the time they had said they would arrive. Dr. S went in to speak with them first, and came back to let me know so I could take Jerry into the exam room to visit with his people. They were going to stop.

I looked for a pretty towel in our clean laundry shelves. Jerry let me scoop him out of his cage and curled up against my chest. I wrapped him up in the towel and walked out of the ICU. He was looking straight ahead, the back of his little striped head to me. I could feel his purr soft against my heart. Walking down the hallway to the exam room, I kissed the back of his head and nuzzled him, choking up for just a second. And then pushing it away so I could walk into the room where his family was waiting for him. Dr. S was in there too, talking to them again. I hadn't realized she had returned to the room. I looked around questioningly, wondering whom I should pass him to, and one of the women in the room stood up. Her eyes and nose were red. I passed Jerry to her and she held him against her chest, just like I had, as she sat back down in her chair. Everyone was talking around us, but I heard nothing: I just saw Jerry lay his stripey head against his owner, who kissed him between the ears as he closed his eyes happily.

I walked back to the ICU to continue with my other patients' treatments.

Dr. S brought Jerry back later. Except he wasn't there anymore, it was just his small thin brown and black striped body, the fighting soul gone. Usually Annie or one of the assistants takes care of the bodies: the more experienced techs on the floor often have our hands too full with the more critical inpatients. But all of my patients were stable at that time and so I dropped everything I was doing so I could take him from Dr. S to take care of his remains myself: attaching a label to his paw, to his body bag, filling out his information in the record book in the morgue.

I want to believe that there is some magikal subconscious reason why I decided to choose him, but the truth is that I chose him because he purred when I touched him. It was that simple. I had just wanted to guarantee he would continue to feel that comfortable around the veterinary staff during his hospital stay. That was all. And I had succeeded. He had left this world still purring a real purr of happiness. And that is, ultimately, the best happy ending that one could ask for for a cat.


I furiously wiped my eyes, took a deep breath and walked back to the ICU. There were more happy endings that I needed to guarantee.

The rest of my patients did well. My youngest even went home to spend Christmas with her family, happily wagging her tail at her owners. One client brought us freshly made poptarts from Ted's Bulletin. Others brought us cookies, brownies and cupcakes. Dr. S thanked me for my hard work on her other most critical patient. The doctors had gotten together to get us all cards and gift cards to thank us for our hard work, out of their own pockets. They didn't have to do that, but they did. One of the receptionists squeezed my shoulder lovingly as she walked by, which was unexpected but somehow made my day. We giggled over off-color jokes. I made my favorite doctor laugh. Clients smiled and said "Merry Christmas" and "Happy holidays!" as they took their pets home. The colored lights strung around the ICU glowed brightly, warming up the space we all coexisted in. And we sent another 8 of our 18 inpatients home to spend the holiday with their families. Many of the others would go home on Tuesday, when their owners returned to town after the holiday.

I rounded my patients to the overnight techs that would be taking over their care, and then rushed to help complete our list of shift change chores.

"Go home!" Annie finally said with a grin. "We're good." She just had to finish tying up some loose ends and she would be leaving too.

"Merry Christmas, Annie!" I said, "I hope you get to sleep in tomorrow!" She laughed. She was on call for today, the 25th.

As I walked out with my bags slung over my shoulder, I looked around at this amazing team of people that I have the privilege of working with and thought about how it takes a special kind of person to not just do this job but to stick with it for the long haul. "We are all magical here," I thought with a smile, "And not just because it's a holiday."







Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Powerlifting


I folded my body tidily into a squat with my thighs below parallel, while wrapping my left hand under the bar, my right hand over the bar. I closed my fingers tight around the iron and made sure that I was holding it even, ignoring the number of plates stacked on either end. I looked straight ahead and my reflection in the mirror across the way looked back at me as I straightened my shoulders and thought, "Heels down." I rocked my toes off of the rubber mat beneath me ever so slightly, as if they were indeed in the stirrups, and felt the involuntary smile across my lips.

"Eyes up!" Trainer says. "The body goes where the eyes go." Just like when I used to jump.

I looked up, past my reflection, held my breath, pushing out with my abs, and in one smooth move exploded upwards, bringing the bar and its 185 lbs with me as I moved into a fully standing position. My reflection looked back at me, the little veins and the striations across my shoulders suddenly visible from an effort that I was not feeling right then. "Cool," I thought abstractedly, as if I was in an art museum looking at a painting that would leave me thinking later. I was in this quiet, peaceful place in my head as I continued holding my breath and folded my body back down into a squat. There's no way to gently place 185 lbs of metal back on the floor. I let the barbell slam down before letting go. "BAM!" I was back in the moment, grinning involuntarily, as I simultaneously released my breath and my grip on the bar and hopped back away from it.

"GOOD!" Trainer said. "That was really good!"

He was supposed to fix my form. But I had finally just figured out the imagery I needed in order to nail it! Keep those damn heels down. ;)

God that felt good. Like my entire body is this...this weapon that is stronger than iron. I wanted to do it again.

"Take a break!" Trainer said with a grin, noticing me eyeing the bar hungrily. I laughed and stepped away from the barbell.

Deadlifts. Gimme more.

-------------------

As noted here on the blog before, I haven't exactly been subtle about my ever-increasing love affair with the barbell.

MINE
One day Trainer announced that next week we would be starting WestSide Barbell Training, and was told to go look it up so I could come back with questions for the next session. Because by now he knows that I tend to have 8 billion questions every time we're starting something new. I just text them all to him so I don't forget during training when my brain is lacking oxygen, that we then discuss in person when I see him next.

Just the name of the program is freaking cool. I was already looking it up the moment my butt hit the car seat before driving home from the gym!


And as a longtime South Park fan, it's also hard to not remember this when you hear "West Side"... lol

Westside Barbell Training is a method developed by Louie Simmons at his invitation-only Westside Barbell gym in Columbus, OH. This gym has produced some of the strongest men and women in the world, with the focus of their strength being on the sport of powerlifting. You can read more about his method here, which I recommend if you want to have an idea of what Trainer had in mind for me. :) He was about to use my new-found love of the barbell to my advantage for bodybuilding. I absolutely loved the concept of using function to create form!

As you can guess by the title of this post, the key word here is powerlifting.

That's me, with 205 lbs on the barbell.
And I was going to just explain in a cut-and-dry way what powerlifting is so you guys understand what it's about, how it fits in with the current goals, and why I'm totally addicted to it right now...But in looking up more info on it for the purposes of this post, I stumbled upon the history of the sport and found it too interesting to not share as well. (I'm a nerd, mmkay? When I'm really into something, I'm REEEEAAALLLY into something! ;) )

So all the strength sports originally started in the 1800s with The World's Strongest Man events, which still exist and are now known as Strongman competitions. The difference is that back then these events were deliberately not standardized: in order to draw people to the sport, it was encouraged that each competitor specialize in a lift of their choice. The lift that one person specialized in would be avoided by the other competitors because this would allow each athlete to claim they were the strongest man in the world...at that one specific lift. At the time, these were the pro competitors of the weightlifting world, and this sport lasted in this specific format right up until WWI. (I thought this was truly fascinating...talk about building up huge egos!! Hahaha)

Remember the "Caveman Olympics" sport I told you guys about in my bodybuilding competition series?

To this day, Strongman is a little...extreme.
Even though the competition format has completely changed, of course, and is now standardized to a degree.
It is insane to watch.
I'm going to just quote from this article, because I like the way they explain it:

At the same time as professional lifting was unknowingly on its last legs, amateur weightlifting was beginning to develop. Quite unlike the pros there was a need for standardization that would allow some comparison among the performers now taking up the activity. This standardization process was not smooth or straight forward. Each national culture specialized in its own verity of strength testing, many of which had been folk activities for a long time, perhaps centuries.

The Russians lifted kettlebell-type weights for repetitions. The Scottish liked to throw heavy implements. The Basques hefted their stones shoulder high. The Germans and Austrians used heavy globe barbells lifted overhead in awkward movements. The French preferred more aesthetic lifts that did not touch the body. Some liked single-lift tests of maximum strength, others multi-repetition endurance lifting, some others liked to include balance feats along with strength displays. Both one- and two-hand lifting saw popularity in different countries.

One contest in 1878 featured twenty lifts, including lifting with fingers, squats, one- and two-hand jerks, swings, presses, endurance presses, bench presses and lastly, press, snatch, and clean and jerk. Many devotees believed that a champion should be able to do everything. But such contests were unwieldy. Something had to be done, but each lift still had its proponents. It took a long time to decide just what performance principle would prevail.


The press, snatch, and clean & jerk continue to exist to this day. 
Post is from Catalyst Athletics on IG, where Lindsay Pace demonstrates both the snatch and the clean & jerk. If you do CrossFit, you are probably familiar with these movements. They are a component of Olympic weightlifting.
I could watch people do these all day long. I get the same thrill that I do watching cross country in eventing: "That is SO BADASS!" Like with cross country, I don't know if I would have the guts to get into lifting heavy weights like this above my head (if you don't know how to get out from under that barbell, it can fall on your neck if you fail the lift), but it is soooooo cool to see other people excel at it. It's one thing to be able to lift beyond your own body weight. There is something jaw-droppingly astounding about a human not only being able to just lift that weight but to also be able to safely hoist 200+ lbs of iron above them and hold it there.



Sometimes the IG videos don't work on phones, so here's an embedded video of the clean & jerk from Badger Crossfit on YouTube. In super slow-mo, so you guys can truly appreciate the complexity of this movement. 

Anyway. Back to weightlifting history: 20 lifts in one competition, and with that amount of variety, is crazy!!! As noted in the quote, obviously people had a hard time with excelling at that many lifts.

Basically after much discussion between the leading competitors of different countries, one-handed and lying down lifts were eliminated, as were single-joint movements and endurance lifting (endurance lifting would re-emerge in the 21st century as the sport we all know as CrossFit! Isn't that cool?) The three standard lifts of Olympic weightlifting were made official at the 1928 Olympics, known back then as "The Olympic Three": the snatch, clean & jerk, and the clean & press. The clean & press would be eliminated by the 1972 Olympics due to its tendency to make athletes lean backwards during the lift (dangerous), leaving only the snatch and the clean & jerk that are used today.

The snatch

The jerk portion of the clean & jerk
"Odd lifts" branched out separately from Olympic weightlifting in the 1950s, because not all lifters wanted to/were able to throw huge amounts of weight above their heads. According to one source, "odd lifts" earned its name from the weird objects competitors would lift at the time...but I can't find photos of what those objects were then (was it like Strongman events now???) or when exactly they switched to barbells, so don't quote me on that. But powerlifting would be the evolved child of the sport formerly known as "odd lifts," and they would use barbells.

Deadlift with sumo (wide-legged) stance
The three lifts of powerlifting are the bench press, back squat (barbell behind the shoulders) and the deadlift. The competition format of powerlifting evolved into lifting the heaviest weight you possibly can in each of these movements...once. You just have to lift it one time. And you get three attempts in each lift to do so.

This is Marisa Inda, performing the bench press. She is a powerlifter and the American record holder in the bench, deadlift and total in the 114 lb class of the USAPL. #badass
Yup, that arch in her back is correct. Yup, it is also safe to do. Nope, it does not hurt your spine.
Did you know the bench press was originally developed to help rehab injured soldiers in WWII? I didn't either! But that's how this particular lift would get added to the lifting sports.
Wanna know who made these three movements the lifts of choice for powerlifting? Bodybuilders!

In the 1950s and '60s, Olympic lifting was declining in popularity while bodybuilding was rapidly becoming the most popular of the weightlifting sports because it appealed to more "normal" people. Powerlifting developed alongside bodybuilding as a sport where competitors took the strength lifts to the next level and competitively aimed to lift as heavy of a weight as they possibly could. That's how you got people like Doug Hepburn, who could squat 600 lbs for reps (as in, multiple times, not just one time) in the late 1960's. O_o

This is Doug Hepburn. Stereotypically, powerlifters have a very different body type from bodybuilders, which you can see an example of here. But again, this is a stereotype.
Women had been lifting alongside men throughout most of this. Men's bodybuilding competitions started in the 1950s as well, and initially they hosted a sort of supplemental beauty show or bikini contest. Which is how the whole Bikini division started, and why it still appeals so much to genetically gifted women that don't always necessarily need to work out 6 days a week in order to achieve/maintain a super lean body composition. Physique contests for women began in the 1960s...but it wasn't until the 1970s and the advent of the feminist movement and female powerlifting events that women were seen as capable of competing in their own bodybuilding competitions.

Okay, go back to that sentence...did you catch that? :D Female powerlifting became a sport at the same time as the feminist movement started! Maybe I'm a dork but finding that tidbit of information gave me goosebumps and made me jump up and down in my seat. Isn't that awesome???! And it also explains the female empowerment that still prevails so very strongly in modern women's powerlifting groups like this one.

Dr. Jan Todd would be one of the first of these women. She began powerlifting in 1973 after marrying fellow powerlifter Dr. Terry Todd. By 1975, only two years later (!!), she broke the Guinness World Record of 394 lbs in the deadlift...this was a 49-year record that was set by a man!! In 1976 she became the first woman to lift more than 400 lbs by deadlifting 412 lbs. She would go on to be the first woman to lift a combined weight of 1,200 lbs in the three power lifts: back squat, bench press and deadlift.

In 2009, she became the first woman to be inducted into the International Powerlifting Hall of Fame.

The great Dr. Jan Todd, superhuman extraordinaire and a real-life Wonder Woman.
You can read more about her badassery here. Not only did she set all of these records, she was the one that lobbied the US's national powerlifting association to allow women to compete in the sport, and played a crucial part in the early development of women's powerlifting in this country.

Nowadays you have women like Crystal Tate, who was the first woman to squat 700 lbs. And it's on video. She weighs 198 lbs.

The army of men around the rack are spotters. That's how many people you need to grab a barbell that heavy if she were to get stuck, because if you get stuck under 700 lbs, you're kind of doomed. These spotters are all there just in case.

And here she is deadlifting 600 lbs.


Crystal in her non-lifting state.
Nikki Gunz (Nicole Gonzalez) is my size (132 lbs) and she can squat 424 lbs, deadlift 474 lbs, and bench press 220 lbs. She is ranked #3 in the world in the 132 lb weight class.

If you're thinking it doesn't  look like much, that's 424 lbs on that barbell. And again, the three guys around her are spotters. This is called a 3-point spot because you have a spotter for each end of the barbell and one for the competitor.
Nikki in her non-lifting state.
You can read about more super bad-ass powerful women here, because otherwise I'm just going to keep yakking y'all's ears off about girl power.  (I bet you never knew you would learn so much about strength sports from this blog! I never thought I'd be writing about this subject, let alone this much!)

Okay, so now that we're all on the same page as to how cool this sport is in regards to women, specifically, I can explain the point of taking on powerlifting for training in the off-season. It's actually really simple: the goal is to make me a lot stronger in a shorter period of time. Lol Alllll of that explanation above just to say that. ;) But why, though? So that when it comes time to do volume training again (volume training is the more typical bodybuilding lifting that involves 4-5 sets of slow 8-12 reps (average of 10) where you're struggling to complete the last 2-3 reps, with the goal being to increase size) I can do it with much heavier weight than I was before. 

The fun part: this is another experiment. Trainer has used heavy lifting with other female bodybuilding clients, but I am the first that is not only completely undaunted by the idea of lifting the heaviest weight I can but also seems to have a talent for it, which means I am the first female client of his to play with powerlifting training, period. And so because knowledge is power and all that, I've spent the last few weeks since beginning this new training method researching the crap out of all things powerlifting. This post is where I get to type it all out. :) Because I am madly in love with it for real. The two sports do complement one another after all, if done right...

So volume training, as explained above, is what I've described in previous exercise posts where you do the 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps. You have maybe 60 seconds of rest between sets, or you can superset opposing body parts or muscle groups so you can keep your heart rate in the cardio zone (I am usually Superset Queen unless I am specifically instructed not to superset). You also strength train five to six days a week, each day focusing on a different muscle group

With Westside training, it's kind of the opposite: you do up to 10 sets of one of the power lifts, starting with 10 reps as a warm-up on the first set with just the empty bar. You add weight for the second set and then do only 5 reps. With each consecutive set, you drop the number of reps while increasing the amount of weight exponentially, until you are literally doing only one rep per set as the weight gets heavier. Rest between sets, even when each set is only one rep, is anywhere from two to five minutes. >.< Agony. The lifting itself is challenging, yes, but the really challenging part for Miss Squirrel On Crack (as Carlos calls me) is the part where you sit down and rest for such an extended period, especially when working out on my own. And: you only lift three to four days a week. There is a lot more rest involved in this type of training overall.

The first time Trainer introduced this method was with the squat. I helped add weight to the bar and immediately went to go do another set. 
"Nope, not yet," Trainer said. 
I stopped and obeyed. We got to talking and then my internal clock hit 30 seconds. 
"Now?" I asked expectantly, putting my hands on the bar.
"Nope. Not yet."
Grrr. Okay. We continued talking.
"What about now?" I asked, after what felt like another 30 seconds.
"Not yet."
*Pout* Okay. More conversation.
"And now???" I interrupted again. He is entertaining to talk to but I was dying to continue squatting.
"Nope."
I fidgeted, then realized what I was doing and sat still. I looked at my watch. I had no idea when the countdown had started, so that was pointless. I glanced sideways at Trainer and sloooowly reached for the bar...
He saw what I was doing. "Okay. Now," he said with a grin.
"FINALLY." 
He laughed. 

There are several different methods for training for powerlifting in addition to Westside: the 5/3/1 (Trainer is combining Westside Barbell training with this to a degree), 5x5 (this is a modification of it for bodybuilders), the Texas Method, among others. The general idea among all of them is that you work on the big lifts (bench, squat and deadlift, and some also include the shoulder press) on separate days for the brunt of the workout. Once that is done, you choose accessory exercises where you work on the muscles used to support the lift you're working on on that particular day to help further strengthen those supporting (aka "accessory") muscles. Ex: if you're on Squat Day, you'll work legs and glutes for your accessory work. If it's Bench Press Day, you'll work on triceps and chest. We're doing the 5x5 format (5 heavy reps for 5 sets) for accessory work; some methods combine 5x5 with volume training for the accessory portion of the workout. 

So how is it going so far? Read on to find out. :)


The Bench Press

I knew this would be the toughest of the three lifts for me and I was right: the bench press rapidly became my nemesis. Why? Because while I've pretty much been training legs since I was in college, I had only started truly training my chest in late 2015 when I was gearing up for a 2016 of endurance. I've always been horrible at push-ups, and chest flyes and chest presses on machines were...quite wimpy. For a really long time. As in, my chest flyes were done with 50 lbs total on the machine (that weight is split between both arms btw. So the equivalent of 25 lbs each arm). And chest presses (on a machine) were with 15 lbs each arm. On my own, my focus was on core and legs mainly, since these are the muscles that get worked the most when riding. I added more upper body work while prepping for endurance because having a strong upper body was so helpful when having to swing a saddle that now felt 20 lbs heavier (from exhaustion!) at the second hold halfway through a 50-mile ride! And shapely arms are sexy, so there was also that. ;)

Enter Trainer and his methods. Pec development is not really important in Figure like it is in Women's Physique and proper Bodybuilding divisions (this is a great explanation of the different competition divisions that I never did fully go into in my series of posts), so while chest was worked in the beginning to create overall balance, as time ticked on and the first competition date approached, Chest Day was dropped out of the rotation in lieu of working shoulders, back and legs. Chest was again revisited during my second prep, but as part of Back Day: I alternated chest and back exercises for the duration of the workout on these days. This rapidly became my favorite workout day, equal only to Leg Day. But again as the show date neared, chest exercises got dropped and subbed for triceps work instead.

I didn't have a pec line, but holy shit did my strength improve during that time: once I was off of prep for a second time with carbs a daily thing again and the focus on lifting heavy AF, I realized that I could suddenly do chest flyes with 80 lbs and seated chest presses with 45 lbs each arm.

Not me. But you can see what a pec line (center line down her chest) looks like in a woman. In achieving a pec line, you tend to sacrifice boobs. I don't have a problem with that. (Shhhhh don't tell Carlos!)
But...working on machines or with dumbbells (the alternate) meant that I had never really done a proper bench press with a barbell. For starters: the bench press area is usually overtaken by guys. And I hadn't really practiced proper form with the bar, so I wasn't about to start experimenting with the bench press in Guy Land without knowing prior how to do it correctly. Also: working with dumbbells meant that I was forced to use both arms equally and independently.

Side note: I have improved in leaps and bounds this year in terms of my comfort level in the barbell and dumbbell section of the gym (aka Guy Land) but I still have moments of complete intimidation where I just don't want to deal with the testosterone in that part of the gym. Barbell training has forced me to continue to confront my own issues with this section of the gym...and in doing so I started looking around: even during the off-season, I was still more defined, vascular and muscular than 80% of the guys here. It was pretty eye-opening. And sometimes it's kind of cool to go in thinking, "Yeah! I'm the only girl here!" so long as no one comes over and tries to talk to me. #dontinterruptmyworkout

Squats are my buddy that comes naturally to me. I loved deadlifts but there is so much technique involved that they gave me pause once we started ramping up the weight. And then there was the bench press, which I already knew I was going to suck royally at: the 45 lb bar by itself was already moderately challenging. So doing 10 sets of gradually increasing weight was kind of mind-blowing when the smallest plates are 2.5 lbs. Trainer had me do my first bench press session on my own, and I maxed out at 70 lbs. I could not go heavier without getting stuck while pressing the barbell back up.

So it was re-visited with Trainer, and it ended up being one of my most frustrating sessions ever, mainly because by this point I had kind of gotten used to excelling at everything he threw my way.

It was like learning to ride for the first time: I would do A wrong, correct that, then B would fall apart. I would correct B, and then A would need to be fixed again, and then C would crop up. It is especially hard to fix posture and create new muscle memory when the bar is getting progressively heavier. Trainer was also correcting my form after I had completed whatever amount of reps I was supposed to be doing, which was unusual to me: because of riding lessons, I'm used to being corrected in real time (while performing) and in fact do better with this type of instruction because I can feel in the moment what I'm doing wrong and fix it right then and there. I didn't formulate this thought until after the session, when I was mentally going over everything I had been told, and was ready to tell Trainer the kind of feedback I needed, but I never did need to: he started correcting me in real time the next time we practiced the bench press.

Bench press is hard, guys. And unlike the squat, it is not intuitive at all for me. It actually is a full-body workout when done correctly, where you activate everything from your upper back right down to your glutes, and your arms have to be in a specific position to achieve the correct bar path...but that position and bar path can vary slightly depending on your conformation (I did a LOT of reading after this particular session!) and if you don't do it right, you are going to get stuck...or you could potentially hurt yourself. So there is a helluva lot to think about when doing what seems to be a very simple down-and-up press of the barbell.

The glutes activation part was the hardest. I understood the concept but the moment I started concentrating on pushing that bar back up away from my chest, I would forget to keep my butt engaged, and I'd get stuck. Like, literally stuck: I couldn't push the bar back up without Trainer helping. It took multiple attempts to figure out how I needed to position my body with my particular conformation (long-legged and short torso) in order to be able to use my legs while lying face-up on this bench with my feet on either side of it. Again: not intuitive at all. And very frustrating.

So when it comes to the squat and deadlift, I feel as bad-ass as the girl in front here that's owning her deadlifts. Almost makes me want to have long hair again so I can toss my ponytail back like this. :D Hell yeah.
Annnnd when it comes to bench pressing, I feel like the guy's poor girlfriend in the background...(I hope she sticks with it and that one day she gets so strong that she kicks his butt at lifting, because karma...)
We all do have to start somewhere. 

Trainer seemed amused that I was having such a hard time but was encouraging and did his best to explain. Further researching on my own was enormously helpful because it expounded further on everything he told me.

I got home that day, pulled out my 20 lb dumbbells and my stability ball and practiced my position: if I took the bench away and used only my traps against the stability ball and my feet on the floor while engaging my abs and butt, I could press the dumbbells up with ease in a position that felt like exactly what Trainer had explained and demonstrated. I did 3 sets of 10 reps, which was enough to ingrain  into my muscles  how my body should feel while performing this particular exercise. I didn't touch the bench press again until my next session with Trainer a week later.

This time, I slid into position on the bench, remembering how everything had felt while on the stability ball at home, and did my warm-up set of 10 reps with the empty bar.

"That was MUCH better!" he said with a grin. "Did you practice?"

"I did!" And I explained what I had done with the ball. He approved.

Being able to have more control over the rest of my body meant that, now that I could actually freaking push the bar up, we could then focus on what I was doing with my arms and shoulders: my angles were still wonky. Instead of increasing the weight with every set, he kept the weight moderately difficult so I could still think about what I was doing instead of blanking out at "OMG this is heavy and I'm going to fail."

And then suddenly everything fell into place. While the exercise did not in itself get particularly easier, it started to flow in a way where I didn't have to think as much while performing. I would set up with my hands on the bar, think about drawing my scapulae together, keeping my shoulders drawn down towards my waist to tighten my lats, both lifting my ribcage and contracting my abs to get a low arch to my lower back, and tightening my thighs around the bench while pressing feet against the floor to activate glutes while still keeping them in contact with the bench. Once all of that was ready, I just had to think about keeping my arms straight while pressing the bar back up. It was really cool when I finally got it because my body just kept it all together on its own without me having to overthink.

"That was a really good set," Trainer said approvingly when I re-racked the bar. I grinned. I nailed it three more times!

In 6 weeks, my one-rep max for the bench press has gone up from 70 lbs to 100 lbs, which is a pretty impressive change but is typical for noobs to the sport. When working on my own, I've been focusing on being able to eke out 5 sets of 5 reps as heavy as I can while maintaining correct form without getting stuck. I also try to alternate with dumbbells because with the bar, my left shoulder likes to scrunch up towards my ear when I get tired and since my right arm is stronger than my left, I keep pushing the bar up faster with my right arm than my left. Dumbbell work forces the left arm to work as hard as the right while carrying the same amount of weight. I think this is helping. We'll see how it continues to go.

Progress is not linear with powerlifting. Being tired, your mental state, what you ate (or didn't: I was told to increase the carbs even more; more on that later), whether you slept well the night before, if you argued with your friend or SO, stress levels, hormone levels (women legit will be able to lift heavier at specific points during their menstrual cycle), all play into how well and how heavy you're going to lift on a given day. There is as much of a mental component to it as riding, except this time it's not the horse mirroring your mental state back at you: it's your own strength! You are dealing with your mental state all by yourself. It's your mind against the iron. If you walk in thinking, "I'm not going to be able to do this," you really are not going to be able to do it. Doesn't matter if it's 30 lbs lighter from your previous one-rep max. If you walk in thinking that you're going to own that shit, you probably will. It's crazy how powerful our minds are, and how your state of mind can make you or break you. It's a lesson that has repeated itself over and over for me this year, and now I'm participating in a sport where the manifestation of my strength is a direct result of my mental state that day.

This. Yes.


The Deadlift

I love this move because it feels so fucking bad-ass when you finally get it. I also hate this move because it is so demoralizing when you fail the lift, and since I've already failed it in the past, every time I'm confronting that barbell on the floor I feel like I'm squaring off with an angry bull. Except the bull isn't really the bar, it's actually the part of my brain that wants to believe I can't do it.

The deadlift is incredibly technical. For powerlifting purposes, you start in a squat stance with your shoulders higher than your butt and your back in a straight line. Kind of like two-point.

Initial stance of the conventional deadlift.
If you're an equestrian reading this, it's going to look familiar...


...because of this.
Featured to show a solid two-point position: Beezie Madden. Like, seriously: even the knee and hip angles of the two-point are the same as in the starting point of the conventional deadlift.
It is crucial that you pull the bar straight up while maintaining your shoulders higher than your butt. Your butt should be the last part of your back to rise. Otherwise your lower back will round and you seriously risk popping a disk in your lumbar spine when the weight on the bar increases.

There are 80 million things you have to think about when going up to that bar, especially if you're like me and you've spent the last 6 months focusing on doing straight-legged deadlifts with lighter weight because the goal was developing hamstrings and not power. 6 weeks into this, I still have to think about dropping into a squat stance, I still have to think about keeping my shoulders up, about looking ahead and then up and not down at the bar while I'm lifting, of setting up but not getting into position before I'm absolutely ready to pull, of keeping my scapulae down so my lats get tight (because upper back is a huge component of the deadlift. It's not just a lower body exercise). I have to think about pushing my knees out while driving down with my heels ("Heels down!"), and about keeping the bar as close to my body as possible. It's actually normal to get bruises on your shins while deadlifting, if you're doing it right. You have to think about all of these things but you also can't overthink it too much or you'll just get lost in thinking about it and not actually do it. Or at least, that's what happens to me because I'm, well, me.

The moment described at the beginning of this post with 185 lbs was the first time everything truly clicked for me in the deadlift. I went on to pull 225 lbs for my 1RM (one rep max) that day. At that weight, the initial part of the lift, from floor to knee height, was soooooo hard, but once I was past that point on the way to lockout and at lockout itself, it felt...easy. Like I really could have lifted more.

Throwing this video here because these are GORGEOUS deadlifts. I aspire to have her form OMG...and she does 14 of them. With 315 lbs. DAAAAAAAAAAMNNNNN...
Video from here.


The Squat

If you've been reading the fitness posts, you already know this is my Pet Lift. I love the squat because it's the one lift that I own. The more I read, the more I realize that what I've done, the going up to the barbell and being able to squat over 225 lbs after only a couple of weeks of heavy-lifting-specific training, is highly unusual. Most people need to work up to that for months and months, sometimes years, depending on their starting point. In my case it's a direct reflection of years of riding and leg training and 6 months of hard-core Leg Days with Trainer...which has shot me right into Advanced Lifter range for my age and weight from the get-go in this specific lift (I'm not that far behind on the deadlift either.)

If you follow me on IG you might have caught the post where I mentioned an injury that has been keeping me from squatting to parallel with the bigger weights. It was so dumb. It happened at the last group session with Trainer almost two months ago now: we were doing sumo squats for high reps with the empty barbell. We had had a long warm-up but it was one of the first cold mornings of October. I was actually in my second set when I felt something in my left glute unexpectedly go "crunch" as I sank down into the squat. It hurt, but I altered my position slightly so that it wouldn't hurt, and finished the exercise. I went on to finish the entire session, which was a Leg Day, while continuing to successfully guard the area.

I was baffled because usually I get a warning from my body before something like that happens, and I can prevent it. There was no warning this time. I initially thought hoped it was a strain so I rested it. Kinda. But ICU work involves lots of squatting and lifting and kneeling and sitting on the hard hospital floor and in steel cages, so after 39 hours a week of using my glutes for everything my job entails, my left glute would be terribly sore again by the end of my 3-day workweek. And then the first training day of the week would often be Leg Day, which didn't help matters. Trainer moved to a public gym which meant he dropped the 5-person group sessions to paired sessions. I was switched to Westside Barbell training around that time as well, which was completely different from anything anyone else was doing, so I continued with only individual sessions because there was no one I could be paired with. I had liked the social aspect of the group sessions so I decided to dabble in CrossFit for my cardio: Carlos had decided to join our local box and we were trying to make it something we did together. Carlos was hooked and I had a ton of fun with it...but high rep leg work wasn't exactly helping my injured glute. And then I strained my abs pretty badly during a monster pull-up, sit-up combo workout at the box. And then I asked Trainer point-blank if I could use CrossFit as my cardio (after I'd been doing it for a month...)...and he was pretty adamant about me not doing this because it was going to affect my lifts in training. Arrrrrgh. But he was right. And also: two injuries now. So I dropped CrossFit (sad face) and went back to the drawing board with HIIT (no steady-state cardio right now either. I'm okay with that), and then I changed my work situation up (one day less of ICU work, one more day of anesthesia, which allows me to just sit more throughout the day), and all of this combined ensured my ab strain healed and has finally expedited the healing of my glute. I'm pretty sure now that it was a tear, not a simple strain.

I did tell Trainer about it (my ongoing joke is that I have a broken ass) because it meant that sometimes I could not drop to parallel. Or it meant that I had to slow down in order to drop to parallel...during one session I was doing paused squats with 225 lbs across my shoulders because I didn't want to pop back up to standing position too quickly. Paused squats are harder btw, but I was so focused on being careful that I wasn't thinking about the weight of the bar. I didn't really think about what I'd accomplished until later. O_o

Now that it's better, I'm carefully reintroducing dropping to and below parallel with lighter weight during my own sessions.

During my geeking-out over this sport, I stumbled upon an article on Zercher squats, where you hold the barbell in the crook of your elbows. This exercise is supposed to be super painful because of this (a heavy metal bar across the thinner skin inside your elbows is not a pleasant sensation), but is one of the best exercises for working on dropping low  in the squat while keeping your chest up. I slowly worked up to 80 lbs on this day (the most weight I could tolerate on my arms without the pain distracting me from my form) and absolutely fell in love with this exercise. It worked all the right glute muscles without bothering the injury site at all! And I was still able to drop this low, which is my norm. It works glutes, quads, upper back and biceps, so it can also be used as accessory work for the deadlift. Or you can just do Zercher deadlifts...which I have yet to try because they kinda scare me...even though every time I lift a large breed recumbent canine patient from the floor, I'm literally doing a Zercher deadlift!
I still hit my one-rep max of 245 lbs in the squat with this injury though. AND beltless, which is also an enormous deal. And is also why I'm excited to see what happens once my glute is fully healed!



Gear

I think the one piece of gear I've been the most excited about was the weightlifting belt. This also involved a whole lot more research, starting with why you should wear a belt and when <- please ignore the title of that blog and go on into the post, if this is something that interests you. It's a really great explanation. That post was crucial in me learning what to look for in a belt, which is why I skipped past the neoprene belts on Amazon, the commercially available leather belts by reputable companies like Rogue, and also right past the 4" standard belts and into custom realm. Because y'all know by now that I don't do anything halfway.

I wanted a 3" wide, single-prong, 10-13 mm belt of preferably suede (because sticky!) that was also federation approved in case I decide to compete in this sport later on. After more research and discussion with Trainer, I settled on a belt from Best Belts. They were the only ones that made a 3" belt to my specs. Why 3"? Because I'm so damn short-waisted. 60% of my height is legs, and I literally only have 4" of room between the end of my ribs and the point of my hips: I did not want a 4" belt stabbing me in the diaphragm when I'm trying to have absolute control of my breathing, especially when you're curled up into a tight little ball for initiating the deadlift.

I ordered the belt on Black Friday and it arrived about 3 weeks later, which was not bad at all considering that Best Belts apparently isn't known for fast production and delivery. We had to go to the post office to pick up the package.

I was a little excited.
My preciousssss!!!
At my first squat session with it, Trainer instructed me to get the belt tight, tight enough that it was hard to breathe. The entire point of the belt is not for it to give you support: it's so it gives you something to brace your core (both abs and lower back) against when lifting massive amounts of weight. So yes: it's supposed to be a lot tighter than a regular belt will ever be. I looked up at my reflection in the mirror across the squat rack once I had the belt in place and laughed: I looked like a wasp. My back and shoulders are wider than they've ever been, while my waist is still 27".

Pretty much. 
We worked on one-rep maxes that day and each time I was done, I automatically loosened the belt. It hit me at the end: "Now I understand why everyone loosens their belts the moment they're done lifting!" Because that's when you can finally breathe normally again!


Diet and Changes

If you want to create major changes in your body during the off-season, you're supposed to eat more. Namely carbs. Especially if you're lifting crazy heavy things. And if your goal is gaining muscle, you're supposed to back off on the cardio as well.

When you've gotten used to looking like a lean, mean athletic machine, the off-season fluff can be kind of a mindfuck. I vacillate between, "OMG I look like a tank and I love it!" and "UGH where are my abs???!" It's good to know I am not alone: most of both the bodybuilding and powerlifting athletes I follow are going through exactly the same thing right now and are currently posting photos. It's called "thickness." I am right where I am supposed to be right now...but I still have to deal with my head.

I'm currently on week 3 of Increasing Carbs per Trainer's orders. I'd been in the 100-200 g/day range on active days. I'm now in the 200-300g/day range to help maximize strength gains.

"I think you are active enough that you can stand to eat more carbs," Trainer had said wryly when I initially cringed about it. He sounded like my mom back in the day. So I bumped up the carbs. Because butternut squash and sweet potatoes and rice and oatmeal and fruit and real dairy...*drool* And OH MY GOD YOU GUYS: try this recipe (I prefer it sans cinnamon) and this one. They are two faves right now.

So what most people don't understand about carbs is that they WILL make you look fluffier. Why? Because of glycogen stores. When you eat carbs, your muscles store them as energy in the form of glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored, you also gain about 2.7 grams of water because your kidneys hold onto more sodium in response to you eating carbohydrates. These two things are why muscles tend to look "fuller" and bigger, though not necessarily more defined (striated), when you eat more carbs. People lose dramatic amounts of weight on low carb diets because they are dropping water weight due to the reduced carbohydrate consumption and the excretion of sodium from the kidneys thanks to both the decreased carbs and increased dietary protein (if you eat less carbs, you're automatically going to be eating more protein.)

My shirts and sports bras started to feel snugger across my back. And understandably so: the changes in my back were insane.

It wasn't just wider: it also had more depth. Which even Carlos, who sees me every day, pointed out.
I'd always wanted my back to look like this.

1. March 2017, before I started training for the July show.
2. May 2017, after two months of bodybuilding-specific training.
3. End of November 2017, after 6 months of bodybuilding-specific training + 1 month of powerlifting.
SO FREAKING COOL YOU GUYS!!!
And then my pants started to feel snugger across the tops of my thighs and that's where I freaked out and drew the line. I ended up confronting Trainer about it in a conversation that, in hindsight, was quite comical.

I had sent him a text to let him know I was frustrated so he'd have a heads-up when I saw him next. He brought up the text while I was warming up.

I stopped mid jumping jacks to talk.
"Okay, so first my shirts were snugger across my back and I was fine with that because I was like, 'Oooo my back is wider!' but now my pants are snugger around the tops of my thighs and my lower butt...and then I weighed myself and I'm up 3 lbs!"

"Finally!" he said.

"But I don't want to gain weight!"

"It's muscle!" he said.

"No it's not! I'm Latina! Our ass is where we gain fat!" I hissed. We were in the middle of a public gym after all.

"We're working on some pretty hard-core lifting that uses your entire posterior chain," he said. "You are going to gain muscle. It's all muscle!"

I snarled and left it at that. I wasn't going to argue with him. (But seriously: when was the last time you heard of someone arguing with their trainer about weight gain and the trainer being all for it??)

I've been taking a shit-ton of photos during this off-season to track progress and to have something to compare it to, especially because it's such a long block of time that we're dealing with. Later that day I told Carlos about the conversation with Trainer.

"Ummmmm...you are not fat," he said. "You're a brick. I can feel the difference when I touch you."

I had set up these photos as a progress update for IG, and I went back and looked at them again. I had been dissatisfied when I took them...but in looking at them again in third person, I went, "Wow. Ok. Maybe Trainer and Carlos are right."


And once I could see what they saw, I couldn't stop laughing. That little voice that exists in every woman's head, that says, "You're supposed to be skinny!" is really, really hard to get to shut the fuck up! Even when you're training for strength and power! That little voice is still alive and well in me too, just like it is in you. Please read this if any part of you thinks "skinny" = "ideal."

So I did something really ballsy and posted that triptic of photos to Facebook, with the following caption: "This continues to be a fascinating journey. My favorite part of it is blowing up the general notion of how society thinks a woman should look. 

Case in point: Conversation with Trainer this morning:
Me: 'Dude. I've gained 3 lbs. Shirts are snugger across my back and my pants are tighter.'
Trainer: 'Finally!'
Me: 'But I don't wanna gain weight!'
Trainer: 'It's muscle!'
Me: 'No it isn't!'
Trainer: 'Yes it is!'

Then I looked at these progress shots from this past Saturday. Ok fine. Maybe he's right. O_O"

I reserve my fitness posts for IG for the most part. I almost never post on FB about it because 1. I'm friends with a lot of coworkers. 2. Latinos are not keen on the athletic look, especially if said Latinos are family. 3. The second you hint at being any level of bodybuilder, people automatically assume you're using steroids. For the record: I'm NOT!! That's the whole point of this: to see how far I can go, naturally. The only steroid I take is my birth control pill!

As expected, one of my male cousins had something to say about it and called my look "extreme." Which only further proved my point about society and its expectations of what a woman is supposed to look like: thin! This cousin in particular knew me when I was anorexic to boot. I got a good laugh out of his reaction and proceeded to put him in his place...as did a whole bunch of my female friends who are also into fitness. I might have had way too much fun with this. :D Because it opened up a whole conversation about how athleticism and strength are sexy, and power and strength can be synonymous with feminine. Some of my favorite guys whom I both admire and respect joined in on this conversation, most of them in private, all of them supportive. It was awesome.

#notfluffy
Just #superstrong.
I leave you with this article, which I think that every woman who participates in a sport should read.

And also with this image and caption:

The new perfume from ThepowerliftingWomen.com - Bearded Lumberjack πŸ˜—πŸ˜™ @syattfitness - πŸ’₯WHEN WOMEN LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS...πŸ’₯ - πŸ¦„There are some dark witches and wizards who say women shouldn't lift heavy weights. One particularly nasty death eater, Dolores Umbridge, wrote in her Educational Decree number 792 that all women who lifted more than 3lbs would get big and bulky and severely injure themselves because it's so “dangerous.” - ☕️Which might sound convincing - plausible, even -until you realize most women's purses weigh more than 3lbs, for effs sake, and I don't know about you but I sure as Sirius Black don't see women strapping purses around their shoulders and all of a sudden getting jacked arms and a thick back. - πŸ¦„Listen. Women are strong as hell and should be lifting like it. They shouldn't feel weird about going into the weight room. They shouldn't feel judged or out of place or uncomfortable. Women should walk into the gym without a second thought, toss some heavy weight around, and feel good about themselves - confident and strong and powerful. Not like they're doing something bad or wrong or unattractive. - ☕️Lifting weights does wayy more than just the boring stuff like increase bone density and improve your metabolism and blah blah blah. Lifting weights and gaining strength gives you a confidence within yourself unmatched by anything else. It sounds cliche and hippy dippy but holy hell is it empowering. And in a world where women are often told to be smaller and and lesser and softer and quieter...lifting heavy weight is, I think, one of the best things we need to encourage them to do. Because screw lesser and smaller and softer and quieter. We need to encourage them to be louder and stronger and confident and proud. - πŸ¦„Lifting heavy weight does more than strengthen your muscles. It strengthens your mind and confidence and sense of self. It gives you an opportunity to identify a weakness, target it, work on it, overcome it, and turn it into a strength. That is amazing. Incredible. And every one of us - men and women - should be doing it in some Form.
A post shared by Life is Heavy. Get Stronger. (@powerliftingwomen) on
I love this group. Love. Absolutely love!

"...Screw lesser and smaller and softer and quieter. We need to encourage them to be louder and stronger and confident and proud. Lifting heavy weight does more than strengthen your muscles. It strengthens your mind and confidence and sense of self. It gives you an opportunity to identify a weakness, target it, work on it, overcome it, and turn it into a strength. That is amazing. Incredible. And every one of us - men and women - should be doing it in some form."

Amen, sisters. Amen.