The past several years I have watched my friends, and other lifters that I admire, compete at USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals and I always thought to myself, “how awesome would it be to compete there?” So earlier this year I decided to sign up for a meet and make it a goal to one day qualify for Raw Nationals, which is a pretty lofty goal for a new mom, but who am I to set limits on myself? This past year I trained my ass off and on December 2nd, 2017 I competed in the Brother Bennett Memorial in Mississippi, which was my first ever USAPL meet.
My first powerlifting competition was in 2014, about a year after I started barbell training. I did a small local meet in the 100% Raw Powerlifting federation and y’all... it was sooo fun! I was very happy going 9/9 and breaking a few North Carolina state records in the 52kg class, but I trained through some pretty aggravating anterior hip pain when squatting and the week after the meet I was unable to squat 85lbs. below parallel. At that time it took me about 2 months of working with a Starting Strength Coach weekly to improve the technical flaws that were causing the impingement and tendonitis. Although I received great coaching (shoutout to Josh and Shelley Wells, miss you guys!), I was bummed about losing those months of progress. Nevertheless I was able to progress again and ended up performing for reps the weights that I had lifted at the competition a few months prior. So that was neat.
After rehabbing my hip I had wanted to go to Raw Nationals in 2016 but in June 2015 I became pregnant (oops). Nausea wasn’t terrible but I still only trained sporadically throughout my pregnancy due to the overall fatigue from working full-time, a new puppy, trying to put our house on the market and get ready to relocate (who can relate with this?!), and just the general stress of my husband being deployed during that whole time (another shoutout to all the parents who hold it down during deployments with small children… you da real MVP). In March of 2016 I delivered a healthy baby girl via natural childbirth with no complications, no medication and a very quick labor. I can’t say that it was the training that contributed to my birth experience but I do partially attribute my overall pain- and complication-free pregnancy to continuing to train as able.
After I delivered I dealt with postpartum depression for about 4-5 months. Needless to say, training was the last thing I wanted to do. I think that because I was already feeling out of control as a mother, I didn’t want my training to go poorly and feel like a failure as an athlete as well (more on my postpartum journey to come in future posts). But my best friend and coach, Rori, encouraged me to get back under the bar, even if I only got in one lift per day. My first day back, 4 months after having my daughter, I squatted 85lbs, benched 55lbs, and deadlifted 115lbs. For 2 months I felt like I had very poor control over my core when lifting. My technique was sloppy, I constantly skipped workouts, and to top it all off I developed moderate pain in my elbow from my squat grip as well as lingering pelvic pain from childbirth. Luckily, through some perusing of the Starting Strength website and a few form checks from friends and coaches, I was able to make some technique adjustments and nip that in the bud before it started seriously affecting my training. I trained sporadically, at best, for the rest of 2016 and multiple times had to reset back to my postpartum starting point.
In January of 2017 I decided to get serious and commit to not missing workouts no matter how I felt. I signed up for a meet at the end of the year to give me some motivation to train and thought that maybe I could even qualify for Raw Nationals in 2018. I did pretty well sticking to my training schedule when we were home but I had a lot of paranoia surrounding pain and my training because my hip pain started to come back. I obsessed and reset my squat repeatedly trying to control knee slide, knee caving, and a left hip shift. Finally I said “okay, I need to just get strong, and maybe this stuff will work itself out as I increase my strength”. It kind of worked, but the pain was still noticeable and I was always worried about it in the back of my mind. Due to a ridiculous amount of traveling this summer (I live in Mississippi, so I try to leave as much as possible), it took me 10 months to run out that linear progression. The end of the LP sucks. I was sore all the time, but I ran it further than I did the first time around so I was encouraged by setting all-time PRs after having a baby! For whatever reason, my deadlift has always been my weakest lift and usually hovers right around the same weight as my squat. But with the advice of other experienced coaches I was able to clean up my technique and adjust my programming to try to push my deadlift back ahead of my squat, at least a little. I know you’re all thinking, “Did it work, Liz? Tell us! We can’t bear the anticipation!” Well, hang tight, I’ll let you know in a few paragraphs.
I had about 6 weeks between the end of my LP and my meet and was worried about not responding well to a new program so close to the meet, but Rori did not let me down with her programming! My lifts continued to climb weekly and compared to how I felt at the end of the LP, I was feeling great and not at all under-recovered. I was eating a ton and walking around at about 53kg. Sidenote: I also got new shoes for squatting. As silly as it sounds I think they made a big difference in helping to set my knees and lessen my hip pain. I’d marry these shoes if I could.
I realized it might not have been my brightest idea to do a meet the week after Thanksgiving. Traveling 2 time zones with a small child, staying in a different house, and training at a globo gym really threw a wrench into my training week. The week before my meet I lost focus and confidence and missed reps that should have been no problem. Ultimately, it was a good test and I learned that I need find ways to stay focused and perform in less-than-ideal situations. This is something Rori really talked me through when I was panicking that I’d lost some of my strength and would perform poorly at the meet. This experience probably prepared me mentally better than anything else. I also ended up having to lose about 3lbs after getting home from our trip (too much stuffing!), but, again, with Rori’s guidance I was able to do it purely through water and sodium manipulation and weighed in at 51.5kg on the morning of the meet.
The meet itself was an awesome experience. It was extremely well run and we met some great people.
My final numbers were:
Squat: 95kg/209lbs (4lb PR)
Bench: 47.5kg/105lbs (PR tie)
Deadlift: 102.5kg/226 lbs (11lb PR)
Wilks: 307.71 (PR)
I went 8/9 missing my third attempt on bench (45kg). 110 was the weight I missed in the gym the Friday prior and I really wanted to hit it. I was disappointed in myself but also really happy that I smoked the weight I missed on my squat the week before. I also broke the Mississippi state records for the squat, bench, and total in the 52kg open weight class.
It’s funny, before this meet I had no concept of what a true grind feels like. When you’re a novice, EVERYTHING feels like an RPE 10 because it’s the heaviest thing you’ve ever done. I thought my third squat and deadlift attempts felt SO HEAVY but looking back at the video they flew up! I still have issues with knee caving, and I am really wanting to take some time to work on that, but otherwise they looked great. My competition bench needs some work also, but I am determined to come back next meet and bench body weight, or more! I’m also happy with the progress my deadlift is making and I’m excited to see that number keep climbing.
I think the biggest takeaway from this meet was to trust the process. It’s hard for me to see the big picture sometimes because I’m the type of person who tends to worry about small details. I’m bummed that I might’ve performed better had I been more diligent about checking in with my coach during training and following the meet day re-hydrating protocol more closely. But this was my first USAPL meet and setting 2 all-time lift PRs as well as a total and Wilks PR postpartum is something I am extremely proud of. It represents bouncing back from postpartum depression and I am very passionate about how barbells can empower women and new mothers.
Once, when discussing some of my goals, Starting Strength Coach Bill Hannon told me that: “you have to have the mentality that even if you don’t get it this time around, you will get it”, and that really stuck with me.
You don’t have to give up on your goals when you become a parent. You just have to be flexible about how and on what timeline you achieve them. The only time you truly fail is when you give up.
I still have a long way to go to qualify for USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals. Will I be there in 2018? Who knows right now. I have my eye on a strengthlifting meet this spring because the overhead press is my barbell mistress ;)
Next year holds some changes for our family (no, I am not pregnant) so I am trying to stay realistic, yet optimistic, with my training goals. I’ll always keep my family first, but I honestly can’t picture my life without barbells either. Having a planned meet was an excellent motivator so I want to sign up for another one as soon as possible! I also want to encourage other women, especially moms, not to put limits on themselves or be intimidated by what others are doing. You don’t have to wait until you’re “strong enough” to sign up for a meet. I was not even close to the strongest person there, but it was so fun and motivating! If you are thinking about competing one day but haven’t pulled the trigger yet, just do it!