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



Monday, October 30, 2017

The Experiment Continues Part IV: Power

Continued from here.


Unrelated to this post but proof that Lily and Gracie are still here. <3
As the show date got closer, I had had a feeling that something was going to happen to keep me from going. Not something catastrophic, but I just couldn't see myself stepping on that stage this time around.

Three weeks from the show, Carlos took the truck in for a routine oil and filter change and our mechanic discovered a rusty fuel line that was going to be quite expensive to replace. This threw a big ole' monkey wrench in the show plans...we could make both things work, but the adultier thing was to skip the show and invest on the repairs only.

And then there was the island situation with my family. I was grieving for the loss of everything I had formerly known as "home" and battling the beginnings of some pretty hard-core survivor's guilt and the idea of the show seemed kind of outrageous given Hurricane Maria's after effects back home. I wrote my Apocalypse post during this time (it has had a record 2,000+ hits, unheard of in the history of this blog), if you need to understand the depths of my grief...it was crippling, but I was forced to continue on with life as if nothing was going on. It just meant that I was pretty spaced out, my mind across the Atlantic Ocean on a now treeless island, unless I was 100% focused on something else.

I wish I knew the name of the artist that created this watercolor, because it is gorgeous. But it's a reflection of the sentiments of the Puerto Rican diaspora living in the US after the hurricane demolished our island. 
I don't know if everyone in my shoes would have felt the same way...some people will use something like that as fuel to push on. I was using it to push on more than ever before in my training with outstanding results, but it had simultaneously been eating away at my desire to do this particular competition. At this particular time I was having more fun with exploring my physical limits than I was with the idea of strutting the end result across the stage: I had become more performance-oriented than results-oriented, which is more true to my nature. Trying to focus on my final presentation for the show, in front of an audience, was too much at this time given everything else that was happening. I haven't given up on competing, but right now circumstances were making me lean heavily in the direction of starting my off-season already.

34 days post-hurricane Maria, my mom was finally able to send photos via phone again. This is Lulu (her real name is Lucrecia), the most recent canine addition to the family: she is a sato that my mom adopted as a puppy last year; my mom has trained her herself. The turtle is Lutmina. She was given to my mom when my brother was in the 4th grade: the previous owner couldn't keep the turtle anymore because she had gotten too big for her 10-gallon tank. Lutmina has been with our family for 26 years, has her very own kiddie pool (shown here), and the run of the yard ever since my mom and the aunts moved to a smaller house a few years ago. Here they are, hanging out together next to the clean laundry line-drying...because still no electricity in Puerto Rico.
And then the following day at the beginning of our session, Trainer announced that he was not going to be able to make it to the show himself due to Life Stuff of his own.

That was what finally took the remaining questionable wind out of my sails, when I finally knew why I wouldn't be stepping onstage. This third monkey wrench in the plan was too much: I didn't want to do this OCB show alone. If it had been NPC, where I was already familiar with the rules, it would have been different. But I had been way too excited about doing this show as part of a team with a teammate that was familiar with this new-to-me organization and I didn't feel like being the solo noob again.

I decided to sleep on it and give myself 24 hours before making the final decision. I talked it over with Carlos and he was supportive of whatever I wanted to do, as always. But in thinking about it, I realized I was relieved about the idea of not going to this specific show after all, and in realizing that I formulated what I really want to aim for competitively. The end result: I was actually really excited about these new goals! Far more than I had ever been about this second show. It was the right decision.

Now I just had to break the news to Trainer.

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

I was training with him the next morning again so I wasted no time.

"Whattup?" he greeted me cheerfully, as he always did.

I didn't even say 'Hi.' I just cut to the chase; I don't beat around the bush when I have something on my mind. "I'm not doing the show," I announced as I immediately jumped into the warm-up so I could avoid seeing his face. Why? Because of his reaction, which was exactly what I had expected:

 "WHAT. WHY?"

I explained the circumstances while moving across the floor in the series of walking stretches he has all of us do prior to our sessions. I glanced at him then. He was quiet and serious but he understood, though he looked the way I had felt the previous morning when he had told me about cancelling his show plans. He walked silently next to me as I made my way down the length of the gym with the warm-up.

"What are you going to do now then?" he asked flatly. I think he thought I was quitting entirely. 

"Keep training. I want gains. Isn't that what you do in the off-season? Train harder than ever?" I looked at him like, "Duh." That made him laugh.

I explained my competitive goals in detail, determination creeping into my voice. He liked them.

"Okay then," he said. Pause, and he added gruffly: "No more carb cycling; you're back to carb timing now."

"Got it." I grinned. The gruffness amused me: it was him trying to have the last word. Carb timing was not a problem. That was what I'd been planning on doing anyway. ;) As noted in my first series of bodybuilding posts: carb cycling is meant to be a temporary thing. For gaining muscle and for improving athletic performance, your body needs carbs. You also need a certain amount of body fat %, especially if you want to gain muscle: the magic number is 15%-20%. Now would be my time to experiment with exactly how much carbs my body needs to get to where I wanted to be. 

A post shared by Bianca Scott IFBB WP (@bianca_longsocks_scott) on 
This is Bianca Scott during the off-season. She just won her IFBB pro card this year in Women's Physique. In a separate post she wrote, "Don't be fooled by the fluff...that's just the shell keeping the baby muscles safe, happy, and hidden until they're ready to hatch." She is awesome to follow because she documents the changes throughout her prep so much...her transformations are beyond inspiring.

✖️SWIPE✖️ You know... I've had moments where I look back and question the validity of my turning pro at Jr. USAs for the sheer fact that not too many girls showed up in my class that day, and I'm super competitive. BUT! I've come to realize that I need to tell that bitch in my head to STFU πŸ€πŸ–•πŸ½. That prep was the most challenging thing that I have worked for in... probably my entire life, and I left it all on the stage that day. I've had shows and preps where things went very, very wrong... but not that day. On that day, everything came together as planned. It was MY time, and it became the proudest moment of my adult life. Looking back... I've lost all doubt. I'm beyond pleased and confident with the package that @mrhyde_xfarmy and I brought to that stage, and I look forward to seeing what type of new #xframe we bring to the PRO stage πŸ”₯... these photos were a year and a half into my bodybuilding career...... and this is only the beginning. Stay tuned 😈🀘🏼 πŸ’ŽSuit by: Yours truly πŸ’πŸ» πŸ’„Face by: @crystalmayhemmakeup πŸ‘™Body by: @mrhyde_xfarmy #whateverittakes #mostwontiwill #bloodthirsty #dontpointfingersifyourhandsarentclean #sitdown #shutupandwork #teamforgottocut #savage #wpd #womensphysique #physique #ifbb #pro #timetogrow #xframearmy #eattheweak #hungry #motivated #stayinyourlane #throwback #throwbackthursday #jrusas #bodybuilder #bodybuilding #fitchick #fitnessaddict #fitnessmodeling #fitspo #igfit
A post shared by Bianca Scott IFBB WP (@bianca_longsocks_scott) on 
And this is her at her last show this year. 


I could tell that Trainer was bummed though: he really enjoys training others for this sport and I'm the only client of his at the moment that is interested. I could also tell that he had to re-think the exercises I would do on this day: we were instantly back to the super slow 10 reps with heavy weight and longer periods of rest in between sets that we had started this prep with. No quad sets, no plyometrics; we only worked upper body with a focus on chest and back. 

Halfway through the session I said to Trainer, "I'd like to keep training 3 days a week, but I'd like to join the group for that third session."

This was something I had been thinking about for a looooooong time: that once we went into the off-season for me that I would join the group for both the social and competitive aspects. Plus I liked Elsa and thought it would be fun for us to gang up against Trainer together. *wicked grin* There was a part of me that had been really looking forward to the "after" with both of these preps, especially now that we'd be moving into a several-month period before I even had to think of cutting again. I wanted to push limits and really have fun.

A grin spread across Trainer's face at my suggestion of joining the group. He actually got pretty excited about this idea...because as he said the bar would be set higher for the group with my presence in it. (Guys, seriously: I used to think the group was going to be too advanced for me...and now he made it sound like I was above and beyond. I'm not used to being this person. A part of me is all "I'm gonna own this shit" with whatever is put in front of me now when it comes to training, but another part of me looks at myself in third person and goes, "Jesus, I want to be you! Wait...I am you! *scratches head* When did that happen?")

The group class is a weightlifting class with only a handful of people (this is deliberate so attention is more individualized) that mixes Crossfit, bodybuilding and powerlifting concepts in such a way that you end up with a major cardio workout. Yup: you can most certainly reap cardio benefits from weightlifting if you're lifting heavy enough and/or at a high enough intensity. Trainer plays with both of these variables in the class using barbells and dumbbells. 

"You should come this Friday," he continued.

"Why?" I asked.

That wicked grin, "We're doing The 100."

The 100 consists of 100 consecutive reps of EACH of these 10 exercises, in this order. It is timed: the fastest person to complete all 1,000 reps wins. Trainer had two military male clients that completed this in an hour. His fastest client was actually a woman: she completed it in 34 minutes. I had been staring at this list over the course of the last 6 months, initially thinking, "I could never do all of that." As time progressed, I gradually became able to visualize myself completing most of these exercises in a reasonable time, and was basically waiting for my off season so I could give them a whirl against the clock.

"OH..." I breathed. "I want!"

Doing it alone would be miserable, but in a group format? Bring it! Then I remembered, "Dammit I'm on call on Thursday night!"

"So?"

"If I get called in, my shift ends at 8:00 am. You guys will be long gone by the time I get back from Virginia on Friday morning."

"Don't get called in then," he said with a grin, like it was that easy. If you're on call, you're on call.

"If I don't get called in, I'll show up," I said.

He was happy with this response.

That afternoon, Trainer posted a photo of one of the group members lying flat out on the floor at the end of their Leg Day session that morning with the simple caption "#legday". Nothing else.

I commented on the photo, "I want to feel like that after Leg Day! #goals Tomorrow, yes? :D" 

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

"Ask and you shall receive," was his answer the next day.

The barbell was set up on the squat rack when I walked in, sans plates. I grinned. Yessssss! We hadn't played with the barbell on a Leg Day in ages. I got excited happy butterflies in my stomach just seeing it.

I did my regular warm-up and then Trainer put me to work with the bar: 10 reps with the bar sans weight to warm up, and then he started adding plates.

Warm-ups for heavy lifting are supposed to be short: if you do too many reps while warming up at lower weights, you're going to wear yourself out before you get to the heavy stuff.

So within 4 rounds, Trainer had the barbell stacked with larger plates than he had ever had me lift so far. I did not ask what the weight was.

"You're going to go for 10 reps," he said, as I got into position. He stood behind me in order to spot me: the spotter's job is to catch you/the barbell and assist you if you get stuck.

I shifted my shoulders around the barbell, checked in the mirror in front of me to make sure it was centered behind my neck, and lifted the bar off the rack.

That thing was heavy, guys. The heaviest it has ever been set at. My abs instantly contracted to keep my torso + the added weight upright.

I shifted my feet around carefully, making sure they were parallel with one another, with toes pointed out naturally, which would allow my knees to track slightly outward on the way down.



This is Christine Marie, a female powerlifter. She is a badass and her abs are to die for. 
Watch what she does at the beginning of the video with her feet and her breathing while lifting. 

I held my breath, contracting my abs tighter, and went down. Tiny pause at the bottom of the movement, "Heels down" I thought, and then pushed back upright. Breathe out. And again.

"I see what they mean about weightlifting shoes now..." I commented on the second rep as I felt my feet sink into the cushioned soles of my running shoes, which made my ankles bobble ever so slightly. It was a disconcerting feeling. Trainer acknowledged what I'd just said, but I went silent so I could focus. 10 reps with that weight was hard; it took all of my concentration to complete them. Trainer then helped me re-rack the barbell, and I proceeded to pace to stretch my legs out. I had a solid 2 minute break between sets. Any less and I would not have been able to finish the full 10 reps.

Once I was done with all squat sets, Trainer asked with interest, "So you've been looking at weightlifting shoes?"

What happened was that, as seems to be the norm in my life lately, I bought my monthly edition of Oxygen magazine and they had an entire article reviewing cross training shoes with a focus on weightlifting. I had opened the magazine on the article by accident and read it out of curiosity, wondering, "Do I really need a pair of these now?" I had continued researching on my own after reading the article...and then this session happened, which basically answered my question. 

Yes, if I want to do more heavy lifting, I should probably invest in more appropriate shoes for the task. All you guys need to know is that lifting shoes have harder soles to help keep your feet more stable. After doing my research, I had been leaning more towards Crossfit-specific shoes, which are lighter in weight than regular lifting shoes so they can accommodate crazy things like plyometrics, HIIT, jumping, and rope climbing. Lifting is a big component of Crossfit though, so this type of shoe tends to have a thinner, firmer sole than your average running shoe. I knew Trainer owned lifting-specific shoes, so I asked for his opinion. I had a flashback to my trainer Ron, back when I first decided to buy my first saddle for jumping, and I asked for his opinion. I don't know how to explain it...I keep finding so many parallels between this sport and when I first started riding jumpers. 

Trainer's favorites are actually the Nike Metcon 3s. I had been leaning towards those or the No Bull Project trainers. As it turns out, one of the guys in the group class owns two pairs of the No Bull shoes and has been very happy with them; Trainer had never heard of them prior. I made a mental note to continue researching both of these shoes for myself. It was good to know I had been on the right track to begin with. Again.

We talked about this while he put me through a grueling leg workout that included the sled, pistol squats on the TRX, leg extension drop sets, walking side steps with a resistance band and God knows what else...he hit my legs from every single possible angle. 

I was kind of ready for a nap after. But not ready to collapse while still in the gym! I had fun though.

There is a giant chalkboard that extends along half of one of the gym walls and Trainer has the names of all of his clients written on there, as well as his and Tony's. The board has each client's PR (personal record) for the deadlift, squat, bench press, The 100, and the push press. I've watched the numbers change for other people on the board over the course of the last 6 months but the spaces next to my name remained blank.

As I was stretching I looked up at the board for the umpteenth time and finally asked, "So when are my numbers going to go up on here?"

Trainer's response, "Well, these are everyone's one-rep maxes." That means it's the maximum amount each person could lift for a single rep. "But..." he added thoughtfully, "you beat both Elsa's and Lauren's squat one-rep maxes. You just did it times 10." With a grin he wrote on the board in the space for my squat PR "185".

My jaw dropped. 185 lbs!! "Really?? That's how much I lifted??"

"Yup!" He was still grinning. See? This is why I don't ask how much weight I'm lifting! I would have second-guessed myself!

And then in very small print next to the 185, he added "x 10." 

I happy danced to the car afterwards, feeling like an invincible demi-goddess. Remember the part where I told you guys that I didn't lose strength during this prep? Oh it gets even better...

And I did end up getting the Metcon 3s. I freaking love those shoes. They really do make a difference.

You can get these in custom colors directly through Nike which made the endurance rider in me wiggle with joy (apparently Crossfitters are as much about the custom colors as endurance riders and some eventers are)....but you have to wait 5 weeks to receive them. The impatient side of me that hates "waiting for the jump" (the entire reason why this blog has its name) wanted the shoes STAT so I just got them in standard colors.
-------------------

As it would turn out, I did get called in that Thursday night. My on-call is for the ICU/ER: if someone else calls out or they are so crazy slammed that they need a 4th or 5th hand to get caught up with treatments or incoming emergencies, the on-call technician is asked to come in. Sometimes that person only has to stay until the insanity slows down but sometimes you end up staying the entire shift. 

This time, I was called again while I was en route and was told, "Never mind." One of the supervisors had been available to help out and could stay late. So I turned around and headed back home.

For whatever reason I kept expecting them to call me again. I finally went to bed and tossed and turned all night, obsessively checking my phone to make sure I hadn't missed a call, and finally managing to fall asleep around 3:00 am...only to wake up before the alarm at 5:30 am. I was AMPED though: I had every intention of doing The 100. 

This is a typical breakfast on training days: corn or flour tortilla with one egg scrambled with spinach, grape or cherry tomatoes, 2 tbsp Feta or Parmesan cheese (both varieties have enough flavor that I don't need to add salt), black pepper, salsa and a dollop of fat free Greek or Icelandic yogurt. I vary this: if I'm ravenous, I'll add in 1/4 cup of egg whites to the one egg, and if I know there is going to be super heavy lifting or cardio during training, I bump up the carbs by adding 1/4 cup of white rice to the eggs as well. I also like to add 1/4 of an avocado to this because my body really prefers adequate amounts of fat for performance nowadays. (On this particular day I was out of avocados.) 

So I took two pre-workouts (yes, two...), drank my usual morning coffee, ate my breakfast, and ran out the door to meet up with Trainer and the group. 


I was already like this, but it was from adrenaline! My main preworkout at the moment is Hammer Nutrition's Fully Charged, which I have been absolutely thrilled with for the last few months: it's meant for endurance sports.  I do feel slightly tingly on it (this is normal with pre-workouts) but not jittery or overstimulated, it doesn't upset my stomach, and there is no crash afterwards. I do feel like I can go on forever, but I also attribute that to my current fitness level. On this morning I combined it with 5% Nutrition's Full As F*ck (yes, it really is called that *eye roll*), which is a nitric oxide booster. What does that mean? Basically that it increases blood flow to the muscles. It's meant to be "stacked" (combined) with other pre-workouts and can be used safely with caffeine. Before discovering Fully Charged, I used Full As F*ck by itself for late afternoon/early evening cardio-only workouts because it would spike my endurance if I was tired but still wouldn't keep me awake for hours afterwards. So no, I wasn't trying to make my heart explode!

I was the second to arrive at Trainer's gym: Elsa was foam rolling on the floor while talking with Trainer, who was sitting on one of the wooden boxes along the wall. They both grinned when I walked in.

"Whattup?" Trainer greeted me.

I explained the on-call situation and lack of sleep and number of pre-workouts taken. I'm pretty sure I looked like the tarsier in the meme above. I swear it was from adrenaline!

"Whoa," Elsa and Trainer said in unison.  Trainer looked at her, "Okay, so we're officially NOT doing The 100 today!" Because apparently he was afraid I might die in the process.

I was like, "Oh boooo!..."

What happened was that half the group wasn't coming: it was just Elsa, a guy named Chris, Trainer and me. Trainer wanted to wait until the whole group was present to do The 100 because it would be more competition.

Instead, we would be doing a pretty hard-core shoulder workout in a circuit fashion, drop sets included. This involved a variety of shoulder presses, including what is known as the push-press, which I had formerly been introduced to simply as a barbell shoulder press.

I watched the others take turns first, noting that they used their legs to aid in pushing the barbell above their heads. 

Correct push press technique


When it was my turn, I picked up the barbell and pushed it up in a regular barbell shoulder press. I struggled with it for the first few reps until Trainer came over, chuckling, "You're not bodybuilding right now. You can use your legs."

"Why didn't you say that from the beginning?!" The first time he had me do barbell shoulder presses, I had started using my legs to get momentum for lifting the bar over my head and had been threatened with sprints jokingly reprimanded for instinctively using a Crossfit technique. Now I was unleashed to do it.

Thank God. SO much easier! Trainer wordlessly watched me finish the set, and then turned his attention to Chris when it was his turn.

We all took turns with the warm-up, and then Trainer started adding weight. The more weight was added, the fewer reps we were doing. I had been a little afraid that things might get very competitive with these group sessions but I was relieved to note that I was not expected to lift more than I reasonably could: upper body, and especially shoulders, are not my forte. My left shoulder likes to get pissed off if it gets pushed too hard. This is something that Trainer knows about and is taken into account during shoulder workouts.

It was my turn for working on my 5-rep max for the push-press when I heard Trainer mention my name.

"Huh?" I asked as I pressed the bar up above my head, still looking straight ahead. The single syllable worked as my exhalation.

"Nothing. I'm just using your form as an example of how this should be done."

I brought the bar back down and glanced at him as I set it back on the rack. He was serious: Trainer really was explaining why my form was correct to Chris. Again: mind blown. I had not done this exercise in this explosive format ever before and no one had explained the correct form to me. I hadn't watched videos on how to do it. I've never been in a CrossFit box or watched people in person doing this exercise. If Trainer doesn't correct me it's because I'm doing it right, so I'm just careful to not change anything about what I'm doing. But apparently I have an inherent talent for a lot of things related to weightlifting that I'm just discovering...and that was exciting me tremendously.

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

My shoulders were sore for 4 days after that group session, enough to make lifting patients at work a conscious effort. I did my assigned homework in the gym over the weekend, but when I strolled into Trainer's gym on Tuesday, I requested a Leg Day because I wanted to rest my shoulders a little longer.

Trainer acquiesced, but first he pulled out a foam roller and showed me some exercises to work out the kinks in my shoulders and upper back.

And then we moved into back squats.

The warm-up was fairly quick, with Trainer having me start with one set of 10 squats with just the 45 lb barbell, then one set of 10 with 95 lbs, then 135 lbs, with a few minutes of rest inbetween each set.

I knew on sight when the barbell was set at 185.

"Have you tried to find out your one-rep max?" Trainer asked.

"Nope," I said. "I like having supervision for heavy lifting. And also, I'd rather someone else set the weight for me so I can pretend to not know how much I'll be lifting." I grinned. "I'll psych myself out otherwise. So no, I don't know what my limits are." I then explained to him how I used to do the same with jumping.

Trainer grinned and there was some excitement there.

"Well, we're going to find out what your limits are today," he said, removing the collar from one end of the barbell and sliding off one of the plates.

I removed the collar from the opposite end and followed suit with the plate, then stepped back to let him add the weight he saw fit. We were going beyond 185.

I don't know what the weight was set at, but I knew I had just stepped into real lifting territory when I unracked the barbell. I took in a deep breath to engage my core, pushing my abs out hard as I stepped back from the rack with the bar across my shoulders, and thought carefully about the placement of my feet and the angles of my knees. I continued holding my breath as I squatted down and pushed back up, releasing my breath forcefully as I reached full standing position again.

"GOOD!" Trainer said.

I later learned that that breathing technique is called the Valsalva maneuver...and I had done it completely instinctually. Here is a study from NIH on its effectiveness. (It's actually kind of controversial but the controversy stems from people not doing it correctly. The Valsalva maneuver can be dangerous if used incorrectly while exercising because its other use is for deliberately dropping a hypertensive person's blood pressure in the medical field.)

How did I know to do that??? I couldn't tell you. Not only that, but I had used it in the correct way for lifting.

I did 5 reps at that weight. It was hard to finish the last two reps but I did it. And then he added more weight. Small plates, but it was more nonetheless. I looked away as he was putting them on the bar so I could keep my brain from doing the math. I didn't want to know how much it was until after.

"You'll do this one only once," he said.

It wasn't a huge difference in weight from what I had lifted for 5 reps...and it felt strange to re-rack the barbell after just one rep because I felt like I could have done more.

But we left it there. He didn't want me to overdo it.

Trainer erased my "185 x 10" and replaced it with "225." My jaw might have dropped again.


"I'm pretty sure you can beat Chris next..." Trainer said thoughtfully. "Maybe we should add powerlifting to your repertoire!" He grinned.

"I'm in!" I said.

I don't remember what else we worked on that day. I was too excited. I was so excited that I still had energy to burn after the session so I drove into downtown and went for a 3-mile run. It was our first cool morning of fall: 55 degrees in a tank top meant I was hitting my target heart rate without feeling the effort. I was flying: the end result was that I ran the three miles in negative splits (each consecutive mile faster than the one before) and finished with my fastest non-competitive mile so far: 9 minutes. (My fastest mile ever was the second mile of this race that I wrote about this past spring with Jess.) Not impressive by running standards but considering this was the third mile after a Leg Day workout including squatting 225 lbs...I'd say that's not bad at all! And all before 10:00 am. :D

From one of my post-training runs in downtown.
This fall I've definitely made up for all the running I didn't get to do last summer post-injury, and it has been wonderful.

Oh wait. And I also rode both horses that afternoon.

I love this photo of Lily.
I continue to ride Gracie sans saddle. Carlos had ridden prior to me on this day while I was on Lily, and for his sake I had put the Woolback pad under the bareback pad so my guy could have some extra cushioning. Lol
---------------------

The next day was Wednesday, which meant the whole group was meeting up again. I had been told that the alternatives for workouts were either The 100 or Leg Day, so I showed up again.

It was Chris, Elsa, Trainer, Lauren and me this time: we had one more person with Lauren but we were still missing two people. And both Elsa and I still had sore shoulders...so The 100 was ditched again. Which meant it was going to be Leg Day.

"You're up for a second consecutive Leg Day?" Trainer asked me.

"Sure!" And I told him about my achievements from the day prior, right down to riding the girls. "So I think I can handle today." And grinned brilliantly at him. Trainer just shook his head. Elsa looked at me. "I hate you," she said, laughing. "I love you! But I also hate you."

I laughed too, "Hey, I used to be the girl that got chosen last for sports because I was so terrible at anything physical. I have no idea who this body is! I'm still in disbelief myself."

We all proceeded to warm up while Trainer set up a barbell circuit of sorts with incremental weights on three separate barbells set up on three separate racks.

We started with an empty barbell (sans plates) for 10 reps, and then 95 lbs for 10 reps. And then we started the circuit.

Chris went first. These were drop sets: we were doing the heaviest weight for 5 reps, moderate weight for 10 reps, and moderate-light weight for 15 reps. There was a modification for those who couldn't lift the pre-set heavy weight...which was 225 lbs.

I followed behind Chris and once he had moved onto the second barbell, I stepped up to the 225 that I had just met for the first time the day before. Trainer didn't stop me.

I wasn't set on doing the required 5 reps. I was simply going for more than one rep. I did not communicate this to Trainer but I think he knew. He was there to spot me.

I got under the barbell, held my breath and pushed my abs out, lifted it off the rack, and down.

On the second rep, I started to get stuck right before pushing back up. It was only a fraction of a second, too fast to give Trainer a chance to help me: instead of panicking I thought, "Commit." And I unstuck myself, pushing back up to full standing position through my heels. I breathed out forcefully and paused. I didn't want to leave it there though because it was going to mess with my head in the future. Kinda like having a shitty take-off at the start of a difficult jumper-type combination: if you don't go back and correct it, you'll second guess yourself later. So I held my breath again, and down one more time...then pushed back up.

"Okay, that's it," I said out loud to Trainer, and he helped me re-rack the barbell. He didn't say a word but he was grinning. I had just turned the previous day's one-rep max into my 3-rep max.

But I wasn't done there!

I moved on into the rest of the circuit. Elsa followed behind me, but both her and Lauren started with the moderately heavy barbell.

When my turn came again, I again walked up to the 225 barbell first. Trainer followed. "Try for 5 this time," he said.

So I did. And I nailed it!!!!

On to the rest of the circuit. And then a third time: again, completed 5 reps at 225 lbs.

So guys, really: that weight that I had only lifted once the day prior? I lifted it 15 times the day after!! O_o

But we weren't done yet. This was still just the warm-up for what was to come. Trainer removed weight from all the barbells: the heavy one was set at 135 lbs, the moderate was at 95, and the lightweight was just the 45 lb barbell sans plates. This was going to be more drop sets: 10 reps for the heavy barbell, 20 for the moderate weight, and 30 for the lightweight.

Chris still looked exhausted from the last circuit in the first series of squats (he had just come off of an overnight shift: serious kudos for just being there), so I shrugged and stepped up to the now 135 lb barbell. My heart rate was around 112, I felt rested and didn't want to cool down too much more. Chris could rest longer if he needed to. Plus I was itching to see how my body would react to this exercise in comparison to the others in the group. 

"Ah, Nicole is going first!" Trainer said. 

I spun the barbell on the rack once in quiet excitement as the same electric thrill that used to ripple through me at the thought of jumping washed over me. I deftly slipped underneath the bar, lifted it up with my shoulders and started to squat. 

I am madly in love with that metal bar and the plates on its ends. Seriously. I can't explain it.

10 reps finished. I immediately moved on to the next barbell rack, the one set at 95 lbs. More squats: 20 this time. My heart rate monitor went off at rep #15, then promptly stopped the moment I was done: yes, that's how fast my heart rate drops when I just scrape 160. 

I immediately moved on to the third rack. This barbell had nothing on it: it was just its own 45 lbs of metal. 30 reps now. 

At rep #15, the heart rate monitor went off and never stopped throughout the remainder of the exercise. Trainer had been keeping a close eye on the form of one of the less experienced ladies in the group as she did her reps with one of the heavier barbells. I glanced at him in the mirror when the beeping started; his back was to me. It took him a second to register the tiny persistent sound, but he slowly turned to look when he did. He leaned over to peek at the monitor on my wrist. He had that enormous grin on his face. I never stopped squatting throughout.

"Yes, it's over 160," I said.
He just laughed. 

I finished squatting and in the 3 seconds it took me to walk from the rack to the sled, the beeping stopped. I leaned my weight against the sled and took off, marching across the gym with Trainer insisting that I needed to go faster because my heart rate had dropped. I ignored him. I had completed the squat drop sets faster than anyone else in the group was going to be able to; my goal now with the sled was endurance, not speed, because there were two more rounds of all of this coming up. To finish is to win!

"C'mon. If you can run a marathon and ride 10 horses after this, it means you didn't work hard enough," he teased.

"For starters, 3 miles is not a marathon!" My quads were on fire after all the squats we had done, my heart rate was at 156 and I was feeling it. I most certainly was working hard! :D

"Fine. If you don't go faster, you'll have to push me as well." He stood in front of the sled, blocking me, hands on the bars on the opposite side of the sled. I came to a stop, let go of the sled and crossed my arms, starting to reply, "Fine. I'll just take a break then..." when Elsa came running out from behind me towards Trainer with one hand raised to smack him and a big grin on her face. Trainer laughed and darted away from her while I just stood there in stitches for a second. "Thank you!" I shouted after her, before digging in and continuing with my onwards trayectory pushing the sled.

My heart rate monitor went off as I reached the opposite side of the gym. "See?" I said to Trainer, "I don't have to be sprinting for it to go off!" He just laughed.

With each circuit my heart rate monitor went off sooner and continued beeping longer throughout the circuit itself, but it continued to drop immediately the second I was done with the sled. I didn't feel tired in the least, something which continues to amaze me.

Nutrition-wise, I've continued to eat clean, like I normally do. As of this writing (which is taking place a while after the events I'm telling you about) I have been doing carb timing for four weeks or so and am happy with it so far now that I'm not worrying about an impending cut a few weeks down the line. Carb timing at the moment means eating 50%-75% of my day's allotment of carbs around my morning workouts. If I'm going to do cardio later in the day, I spread them out more. And if I have a big training session planned for the next morning, I will make sure to have a small amount (maybe half a cup) of some type of carb with dinner the evening before, like roasted potatoes or butternut squash, or brown rice with pink beans, along with the usual large portion of veggies and greens, and the usual lean protein. The rice and beans was fascinating: when I first re-introduced this staple post-show prep, an hour later my body went "OMG THANK YOU" and showed it through a visible network of veins across places I had never noticed them before, like my chest and abs. I was like, "Well, I guess the Puerto Rican genes are talking!" We currently eat out maybe once a week but food choices are even more health-conscious than they were pre- first prep. I'll have a drink once or twice a week, usually in the form of wine, sometimes beer if there is something new that I want to try. I love the way I feel too much nowadays to want to do anything to spoil that. Eating for performance is an awful lot of fun when you can feel the difference in your body and you're willing to be creative about your food choices. 

Puerto Rican version of chili: we put cubed pumpkin in our beans, so I do the same when I make chili...I often sub butternut squash for the pumpkin The other ingredients are: lean ground turkey, chicken broth, a variety of beans (kidney, black, pink, pinto, for color which you can't see in this photo because of all the squash), a bottle of Guinness (this idea came from a Clean Eating magazine recipe, I kid you not!), tomato paste, and chopped onions and peppers. Season with chili powder, paprika, cayenne and black pepper to taste while everything is cooking together. I serve with sliced avocados (because I LOVE avocados) and a 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt if I made the chili extra spicy.
Meal prep for my work week: oven-roasted chicken that was marinated for 24 hours in a garlic ginger sauce prior to cooking; halved cherry tomatoes, and a mix of steamed broccoli, green beans, brussel sprouts and kale with a homemade pesto sauce. It came out amazeballs. 
Extra-lean ground beef cooked with onions, peppers and broccoli rice, over rice and beans with more avocado. :) 
This is a typical breakfast before or after a workout: scrambled egg whites or a poached egg over white rice (for easily digested fast carbs), kale, red beans and Zima or cherry tomatoes with...you guessed it! More avocado!
(I'm currently on a poached egg kick since learning how to make them myself...)

Anyway. My point is that food is a contributing factor to performance. And like I've said before, it doesn't have to be bland and tasteless.

As for the circuits, I finished them still going strong. And then we were done. Everyone else was instructed to stretch while Trainer pulled out the incline bench. 

"You," he said, pointing at me, "Leg raises. One set of 10." I just grinned. Apparently I didn't look wiped out enough in comparison to everyone else. No one else was instructed to do ab work. So I did the leg raises, making them extra slow so they would be extra difficult: I had been practicing after all. And then I got off the bench and went to Trainer.

"All done. What else?"

He pointed at the squat rack. "Hanging leg lifts." I looked at the rack. My shoulders were still so sore...
"If you can give me support for my upper arms, I can do them," I said. 

This is what he wanted me to do. You can see why having sore shoulders might be a problem.
And yes, that is me in the photo. The next level up for this exercise is to bring knees to elbows...I'm not there yet. Haha...

So he tracked down a pair of hanging ab straps and clipped them onto the squat rack. So I could do the exercise like so:



I did the leg raises, lifting my knees to my chest for 10 reps. Then he wanted me to twist, bringing my knees sideways to my chest. I did those too. 

Once done, I went up to Trainer again. If I had been a dog, I would have had my ears pricked, wagging my tail expectantly, as if anticipating a treat. Trainer looked up from putting equipment away when I stood in front of him, saw my happy puppy face and grinned, "You're done. You can stretch now."

I was the last to leave. There was amusement and maybe a little pride in Trainer's expression when I said good-bye. 

225 lbs x 15...and then breezing through the rest of that workout like it was nothing: it was intoxicating. I can't even begin to describe how or why this made me feel this way. It was akin to the first time I jumped 3'6". The beauty of lifting right now is that it has helped me remember how much I used to love jumping. I don't miss jumping itself one bit and have no intention of returning to it (sorry guys) but I had missed loving a sport so much. Jumping was all-consuming for me. It was all I could think of. Lessons over fences, once I found the right trainer, were the highlights of my week. And then proving myself to myself in the arena at shows was the ultimate test of what I was learning. This is the same: it is exactly the same feeling.

And that is why I was walking on cloud 9 as I strode out to my car. I was invincible. I wanted to shout the day's achievements from the rooftops...except most people wouldn't get it.



To be continued...the next post is the last in this series. :)



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Experiment Continues Part III: Revelations

Continued from here.

Again, I told you guys in the first post how this series seems to end...but I have not told you how it continues. This is just me trying to get you caught up to where we are at now!

And, as noted in the first post of this new series, this continues to be uncharted territory for me writing-wise: I don't know how to write these posts out in any other way that will be entertaining for the reader, other than including conversations so the training dynamic can be better appreciated. I think they would be mind-numbingly boring if I just talked about the exercises done and nothing else.

Onward:

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"It's good to see you struggling," Trainer said with a grin.

I was panting and having a hard time catching my breath despite my heart rate being in the 140s. It was the beginning of fall allergy season and I was definitely allergic to something in the air then: on some days that week it had felt like air wasn't reaching the bottom of my lungs when I breathed fast. I had forgotten to take my Zyrtec that morning too, which wasn't helping.

He had me doing this insane set at the end of the workout that involved sled sprints in one direction only, 20 seconds of battle ropes, and then whatever crazy ab work he could think of. No rest, and start over.

"No more sled after this one!" he finally announced as I sprinted back down the length of the gym pushing my not-nemesis-anymore. (I kind of adore the sled nowadays.) Something about the way he said it made me respond, "That isn't necessarily a good thing!" I figured it meant something even worse planned. He had just laughed...I would end up being right.

Abs were the worst part of these circuits because they involved stopping suddenly: it was really hard to concentrate on doing the movements correctly when I couldn't control my breathing. For this particular round of sets, he had me doing leg lifts: I was supposed to lie on an incline bench, legs facing the incline, and lift my legs and back off up off of the bench.

Like so.
(This is not me; photo is from the internet.)
I nearly broke my own spirit the first time he had me do these a week prior: I could not make it through more than 7 reps when I was supposed to complete 10. My problem was that I refused to give up and ended up furious with my body, who would not cooperate. At the time I just didn't have the core strength to do that many reps in one go but I continued until I got every last rep done, while raging out loud about my hatred of failure. Trainer had not been pressuring me: the pressure had come from myself. He'd been amused to discover something that I truly found difficult, and we'd had an interesting conversation about trying vs failing, especially when it comes to lifting: you lift until failure. That's the entire point of lifting. You are supposed to lift until you can't anymore, especially if you move on into a sport like powerlifting. This would be revisited later.

The conversation had revolved around this. I had not thought of it from this angle.
But I was so frustrated with the damn exercise that I took it to heart and practiced leg raises on my own until I owned them.

Now this? This IS me, practicing at home.
I was able to hold this position for 30 seconds straight, which would make reps that much easier. 
#truth
On this day, I was doing 10 reps of leg raises at a time and they would have been easy if it hadn't been for how hard I was breathing. Once done, I'd fling myself off the bench and pace as much as possible before being ordered to start over. This was usually only a handful of seconds, but #insanecardiacrecovery: that handful of seconds still did the trick to drop my heart rate just enough that it made the entire circuit tolerable.

I had just finished the battle ropes portion of this circuit and was working on the abs portion of the round when Trainer came up and deliberately knocked one of the wooden boxes by the wall onto its side. I continued what I was doing but had glanced in his direction, only my eyes moving when I saw him do that, my gaze then flickering to the box while trying to remain expressionless. Trainer snickered from somewhere behind me: he had seen me notice what he did. He is the worst with anticipation and mind games sometimes!

Box jumps. He made me do box jumps, after he had said last session that he didn't like making clients do box jumps. Which I surprised myself by being able to do just fine. I have zero faith in myself when it comes to those and that needs to stop!

He grinned as I made my way through circuit after circuit. I just assume the circuits will never end and that's how I get through them. I refuse to ask how many more because it forces me to get through the current moment without thinking of the future. I'd glance at him and laugh myself too: he had way too much fun with this. My saving grace was that, yeah, I might have been breathing hard the entire time but my heart rate monitor never went off. It was fun to challenge him right back.

When he pointed out that I was struggling for once, I responded, "You do realize you've created this, right?" I was serious. My endurance and strength and the difficulty he was having with making my body really work now were a direct result of his training. He was silent. I don't think he had thought of it that way.

This is foreshadowing of posts to follow :D
------------------------

This time around, as the weeks ticked on things did not get as intense workout-wise as they did last time in the sense that I didn't have to do cardio twice a day. In fact, I didn't even have to do it every day: I was only doing my 45-60 minutes of cardio five days a week with 6 days of lifting. On some weeks this actually worked out to where I had a full day off from working out a week! It was all perfectly doable with my work and sleep schedule. I was progressing at a steady moderate rate that continued to keep me from noticing daily changes, but Trainer would point them out from one week to the next. The feedback was helpful; I would have been quite frustrated otherwise. The most interesting thing to note this time around was that my clothes got looser as we got closer to the show date...but my weight remained exactly the same: a good thing! It meant I was gaining muscle while losing fat. I didn't like how thin I got at the end of last prep.

I was still on Phase 2 of carb cycling: one day of high carbs (250 grams/day), one day of moderate carbs (150 grams/day) and one day of zero carbs, in that order and then start over. This time I played the zero carb days keto style: I did not drop sources of fiber. To make a long story short, I basically started adding high-fiber (and low carb) vegetables to every main meal: cauliflower and broccoli were thrown into stir fries, kale and spinach added to scrambled eggs and egg whites, cauliflower rice was mixed into ground beef, Asian slaw was stirred into tuna, and so on and so forth. By keto diet rules, I dove into the net carbs realm. (If anyone wants an explanation about that, please feel free to ask in the comments and I'm happy to go into detail. Otherwise I'm keeping it brief for my own recollection since my previous post in this series barely got any hits.) My body's reaction to these low-carb high fiber foods was the same as if I was going truly zero carb: I still went flat on these days, and I was still lower in energy than on my days where carbs were officially allowed, but I wasn't so fucking hungry all the time because all that fiber = volume. I stayed fuller longer. In fact, during this prep I did not experience the endless ravenous hunger I had experienced the first time around, despite calorie counts being slightly lower throughout. It was a breeze this time around: once I figured it out, I had no cravings, no random desire to sink my teeth into cardboard or dry dog food (I really did get this type of urge on zero carb days during my first prep! And no, I did NOT follow through on those urges! I would just laugh and shake my head because it was so crazy.) However, I was more vascular than ever even on the "zero" carb days, and despite feeling sluggish on the "zero" carb days, I never did get to the point where I started to lose my strength like I did during my first prep. Remember that: it will be important for later.

Double dosing BCAAs 3-4 times a day really did do the trick in terms of my formerly skyrocketing soreness levels. I had added l-glutamine at Trainer's advice when I was initially so sore after workouts I didn't even want to move two days later, but the additional BCAAs worked much better. I discontinued the l-glutamine once I finished the jar and continued with doubled BCAAs only, confirming that the improvement had been from the BCAA changes. I was still sore after hard workouts, yes, but it was now very tolerable and I think this also contributed to my continuously improving recoveries. In case anyone is curious about the BCAAs that I use: I had originally started on Dymatize's MPS but it was discontinued entirely by the company so I ultimately switched to Optimum Nutrition's BCAA powder, which I can purchase with Amazon Prime at a reasonable price for the amount of servings I get in the jar: one jar will last me two months. I get the unflavored variety, which allows me to throw a scoop into my pre-workout drink (always) and into my post-workout and evening protein shakes (also always). ("Unflavored" still has a slightly bitter flavor, but it is easily masked when mixed with other flavored products.)

As for my T-walk struggles...I had relaxed considerably about it at this point. I had two songs as possibilities:

1. TroyBoi's Mantra:


I initially really liked this song because it forced me to slow the eff down while going through my poses and walking across the "stage" at home. The problem was that as I became more confident about what I wanted to do, this song started to seem too slow!


2. J Balvin's Tranquila:
This song still qualified as slow, but the beat was better suited for what I wanted to do. I had a lot more fun once I started practicing to this song. Once I put this one on the roster of possibilities, it became hard to imagine using any other song. Plus "tranquila" when used as a verb basically means, "Calm down, girl." Appropriate for a solo walk in almost your birthday suit while strutting in stilettos across a stage. ;) My routine was very basic: I was not going to freestyle; I was simply going to incorporate the model poses at the required points while moving to the music.

At four weeks out, Trainer switched up the quad sets that I described in my previous post: the first two exercises in the quad set would be upper body, with the second two exercises being legs, and one of those leg exercises involving plyometrics. In other words: I was now working legs every day I did strength training, and my strength workouts were doubling as cardio workouts thanks to the intensity of plyo. This is what finally started to really make a difference in the developing definition of my lower body.


I mean, seriously. Photo on the left: end of last prep. Photo on the right: end of this prep.
There is 3 months of training between these two pics.
I got to choose the exercises themselves when I worked on my own; I just had to follow this format. But OMG did I struggle with this type of workout on my own! Enough that I asked Trainer if I should add a third day a week of training with him in the hopes that he would say yes...except that he was happy enough with how I was doing that he said it wasn't necessary.

But a week later I asked to add the third day anyway: it was one less day of me having to think how the hell I was going to complete an entire quad set workout without interruption so the desired intensity could be maintained throughout. At this point it was easier to follow orders than to have to dig within myself to find the will to finish whatever combination of exercises I had chosen for the workout. My on call schedule for work was crazy during this time as well, so Trainer workouts would also ensure that I wouldn't slack when working on my own while exhausted from lack of sleep.

During this phase of prep, I also had the opportunity of training simultaneously with Trainer. He had mentioned at one point that he was having trouble fitting in the amount of workouts required for a proper show prep (he normally trains with the group but the group doesn't meet every day) and I had suggested it: "Train with me then!" We were supposed to be going as a team, after all.

It only happened twice but these were my favorite sessions of the entire prep. Why? Because I got to watch my mentor in action.

When I took jumping and later dressage lessons, I had a habit of dropping everything I was doing whenever my trainers were going to ride so I could watch them do their thing. I always learned something from observing them in action, and this was no different.

I trained with this woman. Her riding resume included competing in the Pan American Games, representing Puerto Rico. Diana took over Ron's lesson program in PR after he moved back to the US mainland; I loved watching her ride. She now co-owns Wisdom Equestrian Farm near Melbourne, FL.

In fact, the first time Trainer worked out with me, I kept feeling the inclination to sit down and watch during my breaks...he had to prompt me to move on to the next thing! I don't usually pay attention to what other people do in the gym when it comes to lifting because I don't want to start involuntarily imitating something that might be incorrect. It was a good learning experience: I don't really get to observe the technique of anyone else whom I know competes in this sport.


So what is Trainer's lifting style like? No video of him, but his style actually reminds me of the great Dani Horan's: clean, efficient, and powerful. She is a former gymnast and equestrian jumper (!!!) who has successfully finished in the top 20 in the CrossFit Games three times. The video above is from her IG page. I discovered her thanks to this article, a completely random stumble on the interwebz. She might be my new girl crush. God, she's a beast!

One of my favorite moments of these tandem trainings was the time he had me do leg extension drop sets at the end of a quad set. "I'm going to make you cry!" he had joked in a sing-song tone as he stacked 100 lbs of plates on the machine. I had mock glared at him. He's not that type of trainer.

5 reps with 100 lbs; remove a 25 lb plate; continue straight into 10 reps with 75 lbs; remove a plate; continue right into 20 reps with 50 lbs; remove a plate; finish with 30 reps at 25 lbs. I had my eyes squeezed shut as I powered through the last 30 reps: it felt like someone had poured gasoline over my legs and lit them on fire. Drop sets suuuuuuck, guys! I was SO relieved to be done...so I audibly gasped when he told me I couldn't drop the moving portion of the machine at the end of the 30 reps. He was adding a burnout at the end of a drop set! This didn't surprise me but it still horrified me: I had to hold the moving portion of the machine out and away with my legs, in full extension. (You know, after that most painful type of exercise known as a drop set.)

With legs even straighter than this. Unlike this dude, I was not smiling.
He wanted me to hold that position for 30 seconds.

He didn't make me cry...but by 15 seconds the fire in my quads was so intense I wanted to scream.

"5 more seconds..." he said when I couldn't anymore. I scrinched up my face, eyes squeezed shut, and counted to 5 in my head, trying to slow down my breathing. And then, before I could drop the weight he joyfully sang, "5 more seconds!"

My eyes flew open. "OH MY GOD I'm going to punch you!!" I blurted, making direct eye contact because the burning in my legs was so awful by then that I could. not. even. That made him laugh and he let me release the weight. (Obviously I didn't mean what I said and he knew it.)

I collapsed forward with a groan, my forehead on my knees, which made him giggle. And then I just sat there waiting for my heart to stop pounding and the blood to flow below my knees again. "C'mon," he prodded with a grin, "I want to see you try to get out of that seat!"

I laughed, accepting the challenge and managing to extricate myself with a fair amount of grace. I proceeded to pace to stretch my legs out...and then he took a seat: he was going to do the same thing himself.

Now THIS I wanted to see.

I was pleased to see he started out with the same weight: 100 lbs. (My legs are hard core!) He made no pause through the drop set: he'd lean forward, quickly remove a plate, toss it aside and continue into the next set of reps. He then jumped into the burnout at the end, eyes squeezed shut tight and breathing just as hard as I had when it had been my turn. It was amusing to see him make himself suffer as much as he did me. I might have been smirking the entire time.

Some trainers don't train. They can be really good trainers and have the knowledge to take you safely to the next level, but they don't train themselves (the #1 reason is often old injuries). A lot of people are okay with that: the knowledge and its correct application are the most important things after all. By the same token, there are a lot of uber-fit trainers out there that might not be as competent at safely training clients. When presented with those two scenarios, most clients will obviously go for the first. In my case though, I do find it tremendously motivating to know that my trainer both has the knowledge and wouldn't have me do anything he wouldn't do himself.

He finally dropped the weighted portion of the machine with a bang, and slowly got off of it, grumbling about his quads now not working. I had to hold back the snicker: someone was walking funny and this time it was not me!

He came over and tried to explain the next exercise we would be doing...but he was having a hard time stringing sentences together. He finally gave up, "You know what I mean." I had been able to keep a straight face up until that point but I finally burst out laughing. "I do. But it's good to know I'm not the only one that struggles with words after a drop set!" He had just grinned sheepishly. He's human too. And that was the other cool thing about training with him: I got to see that side of him, the side that struggled with a workout too, but that also kept going out of sheer will.

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On September 20, I walked into the gym an emotional trainwreck. I had woken up that morning shaking in a cold sweat, startled awake by dreams of battering relentless rain and roaring winds that were ripping apart everything in their path like The Nothing. 

Puerto Rico has been hit by its fair share of hurricanes over the last 13 years since I left the island and I had never worried much. The island was always protected. The old taino god, Yukiyu (also known as Yokahu), who resides in the sacred mountain of El Yunque, always made sure my island and its people were safe during storms. He protected us from the evil god of chaos Juracan...the word from which "hurricane" comes from (yup, it comes from a Taino god! Betcha didn't know that.) It had been this way for centuries and centuries, despite the island being a prime hurricane target due to its central location in the Atlantic. From the times of the Taino Indians, we always came out fairly unscathed, especially when compared to the neighboring islands facing the same storms. I know talking like this is why I have lost readers this past year but this is me and I really don't give a shit what anyone thinks. Part of me deciding to openly embrace my Spanish roots is accepting that my perception of reality is not the same as yours. Roll your eyes all you want, but watching enormous destructive storms veer away from us at the last second year after year after year is the #1 reason why most of us that have lived on the island believe in this legend to this day. *shrug* What can I say? Magic realism is alive and well in the Caribbean.

"In El Yunque we are ready." - Yokahu
This time...this time the fear in the pit of my stomach that morning made me nauseated. I had never felt this way about a storm. The updates on Facebook that morning from friends and family on the island were not one bit comforting: every single person I knew that still lived on the island was writing hair-raising descriptions of the winds' destruction while they still had phone signal and internet...and the eye of the storm hadn't even made landfall yet.

I had not been dreaming: in my sleep I had been experiencing what they were living.

I had been able to speak with my mom at 6:00 am that morning while getting ready. There wasn't much to say overall: she was fine, rain water was being pushed into the house through the boarded-up windows by the force of the wind, but all they could do was sit tight and wait for the storm to pass. There was nothing else that could be done. It was a very slow-moving storm and people were afraid of how bad the damage would be: Maria was going to take its sweet time doing its absolute best to make the island unrecognizable. We knew it would be bad. We had no idea just how bad it would be. 

It's not a good feeling knowing that you are talking to your mom for the last time in what will probably be days, if not weeks. If not ever.

We still said normal good-byes, like it was any other day. I had to pretend to be okay, that I wasn't worried sick about the endless "what-ifs." I had a hard time eating my breakfast. Carlos was already at work so I had no one to talk to, to vent to. And then I ran out the door for my training session. 

I was literally arriving at Trainer's gym right as the eye of Hurricane Maria was beginning to ravage its way across my island. Someone else would have not gone. Not me. I needed to work out so I could mentally check out. 

Even so, I have one of those annoying faces that literally shows everything I'm thinking. Elsa from the group session was gathering up her stuff to leave when I walked in and she saw that something was off. 

"How are you?" she asked. 

"My family is being hit by a Category 4 hurricane as we speak," I blurted, as Trainer walked in from getting something in his car. He looked up when I said that. 

"Puerto Rico?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. He didn't know prior that that's where I'm from. I liked that everyone seemed to know about the hurricane though. More things that I love about living in this region: people are both educated and informed.

Elsa looked at me with sad sympathy. "I have a friend that lives there," she said quietly. She was on her way out so her and I said good-bye and I started to warm up for my session. 

Trainer asked me a few questions about my family and the island and then went silent as he set equipment up. There really wasn't anything that could be said. Nothing that could be done that would change anything. 

He had me start with shoulder work, a new exercise that involved me sitting down. He circled around me as I was pressing the dumbbells up into the air and said, "Starting next week, I want you to come in a sweat suit so we can start sweating the fat out." He was dead serious. "And then there will be a test," he added. 

That came so out of left field that I had to stop what I was doing because I snorted with laughter and almost dropped the 25 lb dumbbells. 

He was quoting Coach. Coach had been insistent on me wearing a sweat suit to work out while still 4 months out from my show so I could "sweat the fat out." Those had been her exact words, and she really did mean them. If you've been following this blog through my endurance adventures, you already know that sweat is comprised of water and electrolytes, especially sodium, chloride and potassium. This applies to people as much as horses. You don't sweat fat; it's physiologically impossible. If that were the case, you'd get oil stains on your clothes after a tough workout, not powdery white stains (if you've been elyting yourself correctly). I had gotten into an epic verbal fight with Coach over that one: sweat suits for weight loss are 1980s outmoded exercise garbage that is in fact tremendously dangerous. You might lose water weight through sweat...but you'll gain it right back the second you rehydrate! Trainer had been horrified when I had told him that story. 

The last thing I was expecting was for him to bring that up right now, but it worked: it took me a second to be able to resume the exercise because I was laughing so hard.

"Are you calling me fat??" I retorted. I was quoting him right back at him now: anytime I had even remotely suggested that the difference in him was noticeable since he had started training for this show himself, he would bring up that question, "Are you saying I was fat before?" He was joking...maybe. 

He started laughing now too.

"What kind of test?" I asked him. 

He drew a blank. "I'm joking," he said. I knew that. I just wanted to see what he would come up with in jest. He's a college professor too, after all. 

He said he had to think about it. I don't know why I found that so funny but I did. I had just really needed to laugh that day and I got it. It didn't stop there. 

Remember when I told you guys that Trainer had always wanted to win a sword at a bodybuilding competition? Well, I had stumbled upon an NPC show held on the same weekend as our OCB one...and the awards were swords. It's a long-standing end-of-season show held in Charlottesville, VA and the classes tend to be small. In other words: it was almost guaranteed that he would finally take a sword home. I had excitedly sent him the information. An NPC show meant I wouldn't have to plan the damn T-walk.

He brought it up during this session while he was having me do box step-ups with a 15 lb dumbbell in each hand. 

"Why are they holding that show in Charlottesville?" he asked me in an accusatory tone, like I knew.

"I dunno! But they've been holding it there for a few years now. Hey, the awards are swords. You wanted a sword. I got you swords! Plus there were only two guys in the men's Masters Physique last year. That's a guaranteed sword for you. You're welcome."

He went on and on about cost and I refuted every single complaint: yes, NPC is more expensive but not so much more than OCB. I was disregarding the fact that this particular show was a 3-hour drive one-way that would require an overnight stay for all of us going (his family, Carlos and Shanna) because check-in was on Friday and the show itself on Saturday. I didn't really think he would do it, and I didn't think I would do it either, but it was an option. 

"You should do the NPC show," he finally said. 

"Maybe I will! I'll bring another sword home and I'll have more swords than I have hands to hold them with! And I won't even have to make up a T-walk for it." I grinned.

"The T-walk is easy! It doesn't count. You can do whatever you want." He was laughing.

"Sure I can," I said sarcastically. "Except you made fun of the girl that twerked her way through it. So I can't really do whatever I want, can I?" He had shared this anecdote from a past show. I was arguing for the sake of arguing now: I had not had any intention of twerking onstage whatsoever.

"I'm just going to do a stripper routine. Like a Chippendale," he said then. 

I had not seen that one coming. I had to stop the box step-ups at this point because I was roaring with laughter. The mental picture was so outrageous that once I started laughing I couldn't stop. 

He continued, "And then people will ask you, 'Isn't that your trainer?' And you'll be like, 'I have no idea who that guy is.'"

That just made it all even better. Trainer was amused that I found all of this so hysterically funny. I finally got ahold of myself and continued the exercise.

I completely forgot about everything else going on in the world and just focused on the workout after that.

We finished with the now-standard ab work. By this point Trainer had moved me into doing more Pilates-type exercises at the end of the quad sets (like every variety of plank imaginable), so I was surprised when he wanted me to start with Russian twists with a 15 lb kettlebell. It's the ab exercise I love to hate the most, and the one you're most likely to find me doing on my own, usually while suspended from the incline bench at my gym at a ridiculous angle.

This time I was to do them while sitting on the Astroturf carpet with my feet elevated off the floor, which was a new challenge. And I was to do 20 reps on each side (40 total), which seemed like an ungodly number.

Like so. But I had to touch the kettlebell to the floor on each side.
I started out with my ankles crossed, but he reached over and uncrossed them.

"That doesn't do anything," he said.

"It does in my head!" I responded with a grin.

I realized halfway through the first set that Taylor Swift's Look What You Made Me Do was playing over the Bluetooth speakers. It was appropriate since the number of Russian twists I was being made to do was tortuous. I finished the first set, rested, and did the second one at his prompting. My obliques felt like bands of fiery red hot metal under my skin.



I was finishing the set right as Taylor sang,
"I'm sorry, the old Taylor can't come to the phone right now.
Why?
Oh...'cause she's dead!"

I fell flat back onto the floor with my last rep, cackling like a madwoman. "'She's dead!' Sounds about right!" Yup: death by abs. That made Trainer laugh too.

I wasn't allowed to just lie on the floor laughing though. He got my attention and demonstrated the next exercise without ever saying a word. It was the Pilates V...while moving feet like a bicycle to the beat of the music. OMG.

This, while moving legs in a pedaling motion. Yes, with arms stretched overhead like that.
The woman in the pic is way too cheery about this exercise.
Even the basic form like this sucks.

I started as the song continued.

"Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do..."

"You know what?" I managed to say while pedaling on my imaginary bike, my butt the only thing touching the floor, "The entire song is appropriate right now." He laughed at that too, as I figured he would.

A month later, the damn song still makes me think of ab work every time it plays on the radio. :D

The world came crashing back down around me when I got back in the car later, but it was okay: I had been able to have a reprieve. I will never know if Trainer really went out of his way to make me laugh that day because it was what I needed, or if it was just a coincidence. It wasn't an easy workout but what stood out about it wasn't that, it was the fact that for an hour that day I was able to completely forget about the one thing that was troubling me the most right then. And it's what has continued to keep me coming back for more, even when I haven't felt like it or my mind has been elsewhere or I've been exhausted or functioning on less than a handful of hours of sleep from working late the night before. I always do my best to come in as the client I would like to train myself.



Which isn't hard when your trainer is the type of trainer that you would have wanted to be.

And so this post is not so much about my own strengths but about the strengths of the person I've been training with. And I'm having a hard time wrapping all of this up because I don't know how to summarize it in a way that hits the nail on the head without turning it into a list of "Qualities you should look for in a trainer." Those lists already exist. (<- That's a pretty good list right there, in case you're wondering.)

You learn a lot about yourself when you train alone, be it at the gym or running or while participating in an equestrian sport. The truth is, however, that you learn a whole lot more about what you can and can't do when you have someone that not only sees the potential that you don't, but that also shows you how to get there. You become more than you thought possible.


And so this leads into what I'm truly excited about sharing with you guys in this particular series of posts! :)

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To be continued...