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Training into the Unknown

Updated: Nov 27, 2022


If you've followed my training on Instagram for any amount of time, you would be able to figure out that I rather enjoy Powerlifting! The purpose of this post is two-fold:

  1. To update you all on the current status of my Strength Journey, so that you'll understand the changes you may see in my future training and content.

  2. To provide an anecdote that could be useful in your own training if you ever encounter a similar situation.

I have learned so much about myself and about human potential throughout my Powerlifting journey and I truly hope that I can continue in some capacity. I want to continue learning and sharing what I've learned so that together we can Craft a Stronger World. However, it's just too early to tell and I need to start exploring the possibility that it may not be realistic, at least in the current way I train. Be sure to show your support with a like, comment, or share.


Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or physical therapist, and I might not be YOUR coach or know YOUR specific circumstances. The following information is a personal account and may not be applicable to your situation.


WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS...

On Saturday November 19, 2022 I proceeded to execute my competition SBD training session as usual. Unbeknownst to me, that training session was going to lead to a series of events leading me to question where to go next. It's important to note that I was not squatting weights I was not accustomed to, and I had moved these weights many a time before. In fact, I had gradually been working up to these weights over many weeks.


I warmed up for squats as I always did and felt no signs of what was about to happen next. While executing my top set squat of 405 lbs, I began to feel a pain behind my left eye. On the first rep, I don't think I noticed anything. On the second rep, the sensation became more pronounced. Then on the last and final repetition, the pain became sharp and shooting. After re-racking the weight, the pain subsided and seemed to disappear.

After about 5 minutes, I proceeded to execute my first backoff set at 80% of my E1RM on that day which was about 360 lbs for a set of 4 repetitions. The same exact thing happened... Rep 1 was not too noticeable, rep 2 was very noticeable, and rep 3 was probably a 7 out of 10 sharp pain sensation behind my left eye. I ended the set at 3 reps and ended the training session altogether.


While pain is not necessarily an indication of damage, I did not want to take any chances that day. Sharp and shooting pains are generally a red-flag symptom. So I proceeded to search the internet for possibilities and quickly found some disturbing things which definitely needed to be ruled out.


EMERGENCY ROOM OR BUST!

Everything else felt fine after my lifts, and I wasn't in pain, nauseous, dizzy, or incontinent. I didn't feel the need to call an ambulance but I did take a trip to the Emergency Room to make sure there was no immediate threat to life or limb. After initial intake, some eye exams, motor coordination and strength exams, a CT angiogram, and 3 hours, I was discharged with an unknown bill of health with instructions to follow up with my Primary Care Physician and possibly a Neurologist (scary).


Side Note 1:

They had to use the large blood pressure cuff on my arm :) Sadly though not the extra large or extra extra large :(

Side Note 2:

The dye they use for a CT Angiogram makes you feel all warm and like you are peeing your pants.


On the plus side, we ruled out any bleeding or unruptured aneurysms which was a HUGE sigh of relief. However, that does leave unanswered questions regarding my health and future training. There are many other possibilities, some of which are so scary I don't even want to write them down and create some digital blog self-fulfilling prophecy. My hope is that is something that can be managed or treated non-invasively. Best case scenario, there is no developing health issue and it was a one time thing. 2nd best case scenario, it's some issue with occipital nerves not due to a developing a health issue and we can train into the pain or around the pain.


SO, WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?

At the moment my plan is to move away from the competition Powerlifting movements and focus on overall athletic development through the use of Olympic movement variations. This may be for a week or perhaps even longer depending on what the Doctors find or don't find. The reasons I am pivoting my training in this manner are:

  1. To detach myself from competition squat, bench press, anddeadlift

  2. To develop competency and strength in different movements and positions

  3. To re-sensitize myself to the competition powerlifting movements

  4. To troubleshoot

  5. To provide options for future development

Detach Myself from Competition SBD

If you've trained in any specific way for multiple years, you likely have numbers in your head attached to every movement or variation. Numbers associated with a good day, a bad day, or a personal record for different rep ranges or even body weights. I very much identify as a "Powerlifter," so thinking about the possibility that I may not be able to approach competition movements at the same loads or intensities again is quiet discouraging. Focusing on other movements in the interim is a more productive distraction that can give you multiple options for future training as further described below.


Develop Overall Movement Competency and Strength

By detaching from Powerlifting specific training, I can focus on the craft of just improving overall movement competency and strength. Developing movements that I don't consistently train allows me to focus on tasks that require less external load while still allowing me to chase progress as I am not as proficient at these other movements. For example, I could be "advanced" at the low-bar and high-bar back squat but a "novice" at the rear foot elevated front squat. If my pain sensation was related to the load, developing skill in movements that require less weight will certainly help bide time until we can figure out what exactly is going on.


Re-Sensitize Myself to Competition SBD

The more you train for a specific task, the more you need to train for improvements in the specific adaptation you seek. Depending how long you've trained, the amount of time it takes to improve strength increases while the amount of strength added decreases. Adding a washout or pivot block is a great way to re-sensitize yourself to the stimulus of squat, bench, dead, repeat. Even if you do multiple SBD variations, the brain doesn't necessarily know the difference between a high-bar squat or a 555 tempo pause high-bar squat. While you as a Coach or Athlete see two different squat variations, your brain might just see "squats and more squats."


Troubleshoot

In addition to all of the previous reasons, a BIG reason for moving away from Competition SBD is to just troubleshoot. I don't know whether the experience was related to the low-bar squat specifically or if it will apply to other movements. I don't know whether it is related to body position, bracing, absolute intensity, relative intensity, proximity to failure, etc. There are too many unknowns at the moment so I'll be taking a ton of training notes as I explore what movements and intensities do or don't trigger a similar pain experience.


Provide Options for Future Development

My final reason for this change, whether temporary or permanent, is to give myself options. Thinking of myself as more of a "Strength Athlete" instead of "Powerlifter" means my world won't end if I can't max out on a low-bar squat again.


STAY TUNED!

This has been a crazy year for me! Everything from starting a blog, to competing in my 2nd Powerlifting meet after many years in pandemic hiding, to coaching. Regardless of what the doctors find or don't find, I certainly plan to continue strength training and helping others do so in one form or another. Remember, strength is a journey, not a destination. At the end of the day, you are not defined by your lifts or your numbers, but by who you lift along the way.


Remember, strength is a journey, not a destination. At the end of the day, you are not defined by your lifts or your numbers, but by who you lift along the way.

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