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Warrior Mini Challenge: Letter of Intent


Br0din

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The new year is traditionally about reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the next, and that's exactly what this first mini-challenge is going to be about. As lifters of heavy things, our training is arduous and our gains slow over time. It's not uncommon for it to take months to increase a lift by just a single increment, especially after you've been lifting for a while. On the other end of the spectrum, when first beginning, the lifts may increase quickly at first, but then you stall out, have to reset and decrease the weight, and take weeks to work back up to where you were before. Same deal with finding you have a form fault where the weight has to drop so you can drill it while you work back up. Strength training is a long bumpy road with lots of ups and downs, and takes much dedication, perseverance, reflection, and planning to be successful at.

Over the next 4 weeks, I'd like everyone to discuss in this thread their experiences from the last year (or less if you're newer) when it comes to strength training, what they learned, and how you each plan to improve over this next coming year. Take this information, both that gained from self-reflection and from the trials of others, and come up with a goal for the year and a plan on how you're going to achieve it. What did you do wrong last year? What can you do to improve upon it? What habits can you work on developing that will help you?

That brings us to the Letter of Intent. All of the above should culminate with you posting a Letter of Intent in this thread. It doesn't have to be for a competition like in the link (though I agree completely with all the points in that post and competing will be part of my own letter), but it should include some hard date to do SOMETHING related to strength training by (but can include other things as well), preferably in front of a bunch of people, even if it's just virtually here in one of our virtual lifting competitions. This is about accountability, and about building a long term strength training and overall fitness plan and goals, that you can then use to set up incremental training goals and plans (sounds like a way to plan your 4/5 week challenges better, huh?).

 

Of course, you can always post the dates of your comp right here!

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May Br0din bless you with mighty gains, and may your shaker bottle always be full.

Wheymen

 

...and, if you die...  Walk it off - Captain America

 

Level 13: 1/4 Giant Warrior

STR - 50 | DEX - 19 | STA - 19 | CON - 14 | WIS - 28 | CHA - 24

My food logging is here*: MFP: tyrsnbdr

 

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This feels a little repetitive, but I guess we have some new folks playing this round! So I'll warrior up and get the dialogue going with a wall of text. I can definitely benefit from a letter of intent this year, as can most, most likely. Not really sure what direction I want to shoot for in 2018, and spending this challenge with the Druids for a short repose of reflection. I'd love to hear your recaps from the past year and I'm sure we can all benefit from shared experiences. Anyhoos...

 

This time last year, I was peaking for USAPL Winter War, and reaching the end of a minor ED relapse. It's not surprising to me that these two things went hand in hand, I have a difficult relationship with perfectionism, and at the time, competition had a lot to do with that for me, much more so than a fun, energetic and adrenaline pumping way to observe my progress and spend time with my beloved nerds.

 

After the competition, (took home a bronze, both validating and disappointing), I went right back into a comp prep macro, starting with a volume mezo and then a strength mezo. I was also training for some just-for-fun OCRs with NF friends.

 

I had it in my head that I would do an April meet, followed by OCR season.... but it was during this time that I compounded several injuries that all kinda fell together like dominos. I think it started from the bicep tendonitis (my best guess is a combination of repetitive movement at work and too heavy lat raises during volume cycle), plus massive fatigue from work and not eating enough to support my training (shock!) I fell off a bar crossing at the end of a burner circuit post lift. I landed on my elbow from 8', but fortunately walked away with just a deep ablation. 

 

Okay, so I had a deep bone bruise, no chipping, no breaks, but damn it hurt for like... 6 months :P One day I was doing DL triples at about 90% when my arm had this shooting pain coming up from the elbow, along the bicep tendon into my shoulder, immediately followed by something snapping against my weight belt on the same side. I finished the pull (and did the 3rd, for some reason), but had to stop there. I rested for a few weeks, hoping, but It didn't get better. I finally went to my ortho and 4ish months of physical therapy ensued. (Ironically, while I was doing my orthopedic exercise ed).

 

Spoiler


One of the funniest things about the last year was that the therapy for bicep tendonitis involved doing a stupid amount of curls. One of the other trainers had snapped his achilles earlier last year and we used to joke about trading PT. (Poor bro did chest for like 9 months. Poor bogey bro.)

 

giphy.gif

 

 

So half of my year was strictly regimented by my ortho and PT, was painfully boring, and I left my coach (LOU!) who you all know I love, but it was time to move on. He didn't really help me work around my injuries and I feel like he kinda checked out on me when I fell below the athlete line.

 

I've been feeling a bit better the last few months, and wrote up a new program that's designed to help balance out the stuff that's been neglected over the last year, but going carefully. My Shoulders are still problematic (I did something to them last week and still feeling it now...) but I'm taking a more proactive approach to rehab and recovery.  Additionally, I've gained nearly 15# since my weigh in at that comp, partially good (mostly in the arms lol see spoiler), but some not so great. I gave up tracking last spring (a win for my head), but I may need to go back to it for a bit, just to get things under my thumb again. 

 

AH, also, sometime, I think in late November, I started practicing movement work with a parkour gym. It's nice to have an occasional application for all the work and something I feel I'm missing if I'm not prepping for a comp or some other performance based platform like a sport etc. I think this is one of the reasons doing competitions is great, unless you're like me and it's a no go for mental well being. Hopefully this isn't the case :P 

 

So. let's hear some of those recaps! 

 

giphy.gif 

 

 

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So 2017 was a year of ups and downs for me.

 

My goals last year were simple, compete twice, and lose at least 20kg to drop one weight class into the under 120kg.

 

I was prepping myself for a meet that was supposed to be in May, but it got canned when the Host gym pulled out and the local organizer had to figure out where he was going to start hosting his comps again. I emailed him to see what was up (as I had already committed about 8 weeks to a 13 week peaking program when the meet disappeared of the PA website) and he let me know what was going on, and that he would be organising a new meet as soon as he had a new location. Well, new location was found in about July but still no meet. So there has been an entire calendar year of no meets in my state. I'm beginning to suspect I'm going to need to travel to compete in the future. Especially now that the whole PA IPF drama has happened, and the new fed is based out of Queensland.

 

So that was my meet drama. As for my actual lifting, well, I kind of just bounced around programs for a while, generally managing to complete 1-2 cycles of each to see if I was getting anywhere, and despite both my squat and bench going up (squat went from 227.5kg in November of 2016 to 240kg in July of 2017, and bench went from 150kg to 157kg in the same period), my deadlift just wasn't moving. And I must admit there were times that I just about felt like giving up. It's my weakest lift by far, and as such the one that should get the most out of proper stimulus, and yet nothing I did was managing to provide any sort of success. Late in the year however, I stumbled upon the Kizen training infinite offseason strength program written by silent mike. He's a powerlifter and coach that I admire, and as such, someone I was willing to trust my training with. The offseason program was free, and I liked the structure so much that I bought the peaking program that goes along with it during their black friday sale just a few months later. 

 

I wouldn't however get an opportunity to see just how effective this new training methodology is for me however, as on November 7, my son was born. Pretty much from that point onwards for the rest of the year, training went out of the window. I managed a couple of sessions spread out over the last couple of weeks, but that was about it.

 

To add insult to injury, I ended the year about 7kg heavier than I started it. And I can't blame all of that on the last few weeks of no training, there were definitely some days of excess in the preceding 10 months. Needless to say, I went in with a goal, but no plan of attack on how to achieve that goal. This year I'm certain I can do better.

 

About the only positive fitness based thing to happen in my life last year was the introduction of paying myself for achieving goals. I don't feel that this is too far off what many people do already, except that the thing I want to do with my winnings is pay for a coach, something I wouldn't normally be able to afford otherwise. I figure if it takes me a full year to save up for 6 months worth of coaching, I'll call that a win. But the idea (while not my own, my wife deserves most of the credit) has helped me achieve goals that I had previously just been letting go of in favor of the easier to hit targets I set for myself. 

 

On to my letter of intent for this year.

 

1) Use the dietbet system to motivate continued weight loss. Start with 3 kickstarter competitions, and follow it up with a transformer competition. This should get you well on your way to achieving a significant weight loss for the entire year, and leave you in a better place for future competitions.

2) Stick with the offseason program until you pick a single meet sometime in the last 3rd of the year, and switch to the peaking program to prep you to hit the platform as strong as you possibly can be. Special attention will be paid to the deadlift as I have just switched to sumo stance in an effort to try and iron out some of the bugs in my pull. I need to give this until at least the end of June to decide whether or not it will work for me. Giving up sooner will mean that I haven't adequately trained the movement pattern to properly discern any potential for strength I have in this new stance. 

3) Continue saving for a coach. Hopefully by the end of the year, I'll have enough money that my christmas present to myself will be 6 months of coaching under one of three of four coaches whose knowledge and success with other clients inspires me to achieve greater and greater things. 

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Dwarf Warrior
I am today what I made myself yesterday, I will be tomorrow what I make of myself today.

Current challenge: Juni0r83 works on his Schedule-Fu

Previous challenge: Juni0r83 re-evaluates and refocuses

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Hmm, ok, I’ve fallen of the face of NF lately but this might be the only mini challenge in which I’m able to participate 100%.

 

I will not reflect only on the last year though but on the last two years (sorry Br0din, not sorry :P).

 

Sooo… around this time two years ago I wrote my first letter of intent. I had just started working with an online coach, who I still work with, and I had successfully finished the russian squat routine for all lifts and gotten new 1RMs so I wrote a very optimistic letter. This year’s letter won’t have the same flavor.

 

 

As I state in that letter I had learned the following things:

  • Not train close to failure 
  • Sometimes eat like an asshole 
  • Be consistent but not worry about taking one week off

My plan for 2016 was:

  • Try not to overthink
  • Technique is still going to be the number one priority
  • 90/60/120 (kg) should be attainable strength goals for this year which at 63kg would give me a wilks of almost 290 so for extra challenge let's round it up to 300
  • I don't intend to compete (ever) but I will submit 1RMs to the Leaderboards and might participate to one of the virtual NF comps if possible

 

What I did instead was that I ignored most of the things I learned and of course didn’t adhere to the plan for the most part.

 

 

What I actually did was:

  • I indeed didn’t train close to failure. In particular, I very rarely trained close to my max. While consistently training close to failure is one thing, avoiding “heavier/scarier” weights is also bad for me. I can’t keep up with my form once I get challenged or my brain goes into worrying mode. It's a skill I need to learn.
  • I am now conditioned to things of absolute values as heavy or light weights so even when a weight should be easy for me, I still think of it as hard.
  • Regarding eating habits, I spent most of these two years worrying about my weight and wilks, I did a cut both summers trying to get leaner and stronger. It was not until I was really hungry, gave up and started to reverse last winter that I saw some gains and hit PBs. 
  • Regarding consistency, that’s for the most part done. I rarely skip sessions unless its unavoidable or it's one of those couple of times per year that I feel lazy. One of the things I did wrong last year was that whenever I got a cold, I was in a hurry to get back to the gym. That resulted in me getting sick very frequently (January, February, March, and May in 2017). Of course I didn’t have enough time to fully recover between getting sick in order for my training to be really meaningful. I even lost strength during that time.
  • Of course I never stop overthinking, I have to try more.
  • Technique took a lot longer to work on. Squat and bench have been consistently getting better but not deadlift. This lead to the following issue which was that…
  • I couldn’t reach the number goals in 2016. In 2017, I came very close to the squat goal (87.5kg), halfway to bench but hit some nice volume PRs on the way (I’m at 55kg max achieved, although I failed that in the last max out), and deadlift hasn’t really moved.
  • Funnily enough I did participate at an informal competition last March. Unsurprisingly I came last.

 

I seriously thought of giving up about a month ago (at the max out session). I enjoy the process of lifting, getting better form even if annoyingly slowly, setting new rep PRs when possible but the thought of having a max out session which determines whether I have got stronger or not is stressing me way too much. After discussing with my coach he said i should be able to push strength this year so my intent for 2018 is the following:

 

Evaluate my strength progress. Try to learn the skill of doing heavy singles. As I said, I do enjoy lifting and training but if I’m not making any measurable progress in my 1RMs then maybe powerlifting isn’t for me. I’m in a very weird place where I don’t want to throw away 4 years of training for that but also don’t want to keep doing something and investing time and money in it if I suck at it. I'm constantly in a "what if" state where I think of giving up but wondering what if I'm really close to breaking a plateau. (I did not make any progress in 2016 and most progress was made in the second half of 2017. It's the only thing that still keeps me slightly optimistic and motivated).

 

Finally, I’ve started to feel for a while now that my battle log has fulfilled its purpose more than it needed to so I’ll probably not keep updating it.  

 

 

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Level "I have no clue" Warrior

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At the beginning of 2017 I wanted to: lose exactly 25 pounds; compete in a PL meet; get out of student loan debt; quit smoking; get better at running; go to more work networking events; and get better at yoga. In my infinite wisdom, I cut that down to just lose 25#, get out of debt, and get better at yoga. In order to do those things, I decided I would eat out less, count calories, pay extra towards loans, practice yoga every week, and go to more yoga classes.

 

The year did not go as I had planned to say the least. Though I didn’t compete, I did go watch one for the first time. But my lifts mostly stayed the same. I worked a lot on form and came back to the squat which went from 130 to 165 lbs. I haven’t done a 1RM day in a while but according to 1RM calcs, everything has stayed pretty much the same. With my calendar, this is still a great feat of strength maintenance.

 

While maintaining strength, I also did the following: ran a 10K race; ran four 5Ks; participated in 2 spartan sprints; logged my food every day; did yoga every week; and paid a third of my student loans off. So although I didn’t do everything I thought I wanted, I had a pretty successful year in terms of fitness accomplishments.

 

I think one of the biggest problems I had last year is not reflecting enough. I don’t like it. This is not fun for me. But, I think it’s important for me to say “alright, I didn’t do what I wanted a year ago. but that’s okay because what I wanted changed.” I love lifting and that’s why I’m a warrior. I think competing would be fun but it’s not necessary for me. I get a thrill out of going to the gym and lifting heavy weights by myself. So all that to say, I don’t really want to have an intent this year besides keep on doing things that make me happy. lifting, eating, dancing, singing, reading, loving.

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Will elaborate longer form later, but it's really going to boil down to this: "don't out-train your recovery capacity; enjoy progress, even if it's slow and non-linear; embrace good enough in the absence of perfect".

 

And now the REAL DEAL (apparently in spoilers, because I tried and failed twice to get it out): 

Spoiler

I started 2017 as a newly minted lifter - I had started stronglifts sometime in December 2016 or maybe super late November. I was voraciously devouring all the info on health and fitness I could, because despite having been a competitive athlete in some capacity since about the 6th grade, I was pretty clueless how to train or nourish myself.

 

Throughout 2017, I went whole hog into strength training and trying to improve my physique. I bounced a bit between programs - stronglifts turned into starting strength turned into Juggernaut, which I then bastardized to try and fit the template of a bodybuilding book I bought and an article on PHAT I read. And then I slowly kept tweaking and letting my programming drift from there. Along the way, I got a lot more comfortable and confident with weight lifting, going from very light weights to feeling comfortable squatting well upwards of 200 pounds for lots of reps and making similar big progress on RDL, Bench Press, and Press. Along the way, I let ego push me ahead of my ability in August and ended up spraining my right wrist pretty badly, which caused me to spend most of the second half of the year rebuilding my strength. The one good part about the injury was it finally got me to go through the hoops to get a Physical Therapist in Texas (seriously a pain) and in the process learn some great tools to manage my soft tissue pain more generally. In addition to making strength gains, I also got a lot more comfortable in my proprioception and body alignment, which has carried over to my competitive dancing. Unfortunately, all this strength focus didn't lead to me being much better conditioned to do well in competitive dance - my aerobic and lactic conditioning didn't really budget throughout the year. And on top of that, I shorted my recovery (get less sleep if needed to make my social life and workouts work) and used soreness as a gauge of whether my workouts were hard enough (and even got excited if I was sore for multiple days afterwards). All in all, not a super mature approach.

 

But wait, I said something about physique above? Ya, that didn't really go too hot. I tried (and failed) at cutting a lot over the course of the year, then kinda sorta said "f*** it" for the last couple months but still kinda felt guilt about it. I made a couple errors in my cut approach:

  • I tried to cut at too high a deficit, thinking more was better and ignoring warning signs (hellooooo, peanut butter binges)
  • I didn't course-correct when things weren't working, especially when I started feeling too run down from the calorie deficit
  • I didn't address my underlying disordered relationship with food: I use food as an emotional salve like, all the time - it's probably my number one "self care" habit - in quotes because it's not especially effective because I FEEL GUILTY when I eat a bunch of junk food, which leads to more emotions needing salves and suddenly the whole pint of Ben and Jerry's is gone and a real dinner with vegetables ain't happening

All the above might make it sound like I backslid - fortunately, I really didn't, or at least not too much. All the hypertrophy focus did lead to me putting on some muscle, even if my own body image issues keep me from seeing it I have gotten lots of "transformation" comments from friends and acquaintances.

 

Outside of the gym, I made a lot of progress in my sleep, consistently getting more than 7 hours for the first time in my memory. Still room to grow here, especially to support recovery, but it was progress and it helped me feel much better at work (and in life in general). On the mental health side, I listened to a lot of Brene Brown audiobooks, saw a therapist a handful of times, and did some soul-searching on ways to better cope with my anxious personality and perfectionism. I'm still far, far from perfect here but I'm definitely better than I was this time last year. So much better. I still need to embrace good enough with open arms instead of an exasperated sigh, but as a new journal my best friend gifted me says, "Embrace the Journey."

 

This coming year, I intend to: 

  • Focus my training on the aspects of fitness that will help me most in my sport:
    • Balance and control
    • Lactic capacity
    • Aerobic capacity
  • Keep my training within my recovery capacity and take steps to actively increase my recovery:
    • Prioritize sleep and try to make 8 hours the normal
    • Eat to fuel my performance - this means enough, and stuff that makes me feel good (but also stuff that's tasty even if it doesn't make me feel so great)
    • Experiment with other restorative practices (low intensity walks in "nature" i.e. the retention pond at work, stretch, salt baths, light yoga, etc.)
  • Pursue physique goals with abandon (cut -> reverse diet -> maintain), but do it smart:
    • Have tools in place to course-correct when things aren't going well (either the fat loss isn't happening, or there are flags going up that it's unsustainable)
    • Expect and enjoy slow, non-linear progress
    • Don't be afraid to get professional help if your progress stalls out
    • Find some professional help to address disordered eating - food as an emotional coping mechanism and shame / scarcity-driven overeating require something deeper than just "more discipline" to drive them out over the long term
  • Keep working on my mental and emotional health:
    • Invest time and effort in friendships and relationships (including at work - friends at the office are important too!)
    • Make an effort to get better at people skills (making small talk and enjoying it, risking rejection to form deeper or new friendships)
    • Get more comfortable being vulnerable, embrace being imperfect and still loving myself
    • Embrace slow, non-linear progress in my professional and dance life in addition to physique goals
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 Ballroom dancer, data nerd, calisthenics dabbler

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After having been largely sedentary for almost 20 years, I entered the year 2017 as a badly de-conditioned middle-aged woman. I did have prior (decades prior!) gym experience, but it was of the gym-bros-dragging-me-along-as-token-kid-sister sort, from 30-ish years ago, so I was only exposed to very detailed bodybuilding split type workouts. I loved them.  But life happened, I lost touch with the gym-bros, got busy, and - forgot - that I loved to lift? Yeah. 

At some point in mid-2016 I decided I wanted to learn to do pull-ups. I had access to a free gym (I work on a military base) and the internet. So going into 2017, I had the Nia Shanks “Beautiful Badass” lifting program in hand and I was slowly but consistently getting stronger. But … I could NOT squat. Serious form problems + fear of being under the bar = not even close to parallel, even without weights. I read a lot of the internet and the advice that resonated most with me came from people affiliated with Starting Strength. So I started reading SS books, listening to SS podcasts, and watching SS videos. Like, a lot.
 

In the spring I learned - accidentally, via podcast - that a gym very close to my home is actually a Starting Strength gym. I joined that gym at around the same time I joined NF, and since June I have been working two days a week with a certified Starting Strength coach while continuing one day a week on my own at the base gym. In 2017 my squat went from 35# to 100#, deadlift from 65# to a 3-rep max of 160#, and press from 45# to 72#. I am happy with my workout consistency and progress. The gym habits that I can improve on that I think will have the most impact are nutrition, adding a little bit of conditioning work, and focusing on one goal until I achieve it instead of always chasing a new-shiny goal (e.g. I *really* wanted an unassisted chin-up, and was getting close, and then I suddenly decided that I *really* wanted a bodyweight deadlift and quit working chin-ups entirely for a while, and then I got this><close to a half-bodyweight press, and … ) 

 

In December I had surgery on my elbow and wrist to repair nerve damage. While this does represent a significant setback, I was back in the gym three days after surgery doing everything that I *could* do without risk of serious injury. My coach is optimistic that I will regain my previous strength levels quickly. 
So am I. 

Fitness intent for 2018:
First priority: complete the rehab of my right arm as safely as possible following guidance from physical therapist and coach, until I have all my main lifts back to or better than pre-surgery levels.

While doing this, I am also participating in my gym’s Nutrition Transformation Challenge, a three month program of eating a whole foods, limited sugar, macro-specific meal plan created by an experienced nutrition coach/champion powerlifter/physique competitor.
I intend to add HIIT training to my current strength regime, starting with very small sessions and building up gradually so as not to overtax my recovery ability and slow my strength gains. 
By year’s end I intend to be able to consistently complete at least 5 consecutive unassisted bodyweight chin-ups. This is the only quantified strength goal I am going to be concerned with until I achieve it. All other lifting goals will be subordinate to this one, so I can focus on one at a time. The other lifts will progress, anyways, because my final intent is to:
Continue the workout consistency habit I have worked so hard to establish, and be in the gym and doing whatever my coach recommends three days a week every week, only missing workouts in times of serious illness/emergency. 

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“To see that your life is a story while you're in the middle of living it may be a help to living it well."

-Ursula K. Le Guin


2022 Challenges: Push, Core, Simple

                                                                                                                                

 

 

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