The mental game is the hardest part of bodybuilding for me. Probably for most competitors. I haven’t wanted to write because I didn’t want to give the “monsters in my head”, as my coach called them, attention. I would also prefer to write about successes instead of struggles. But they aren’t going away, so I better address them. But first…
For about a month now, I’ve been cutting calories. My daily deficit has been between 400 and 500 calories a day. During most of that time, I’ve been packing, moving, and setting up a new classroom so the calorie burns have been high enough that I could still eat a decent amount of food and have that deficit. Once the room was set up and I needed to spend a little time writing lessons plans, the calorie burn dropped off by about 600 calories – felt that. I go back to work tomorrow and I expect the daily activity level to jump back up to normal, but to get through these last few days of vacation, I have split my workouts into 2-a-days. That bought me an extra couple hundred calories to eat.
I have been on some kind of calorie cut since September. Started pretty slow – 100 to 200 calories a day at first and a little more aggressive lately. I just looked back on my logs and I have lost around 8 pounds since summer just from a little calorie restriction. Slow and steady.
Since last summer, all my training blocks have been based on Daily Undulating Periodization protocol with alternating hypertrophy days and strength days. (If you want to know more about it, here is a nice place to to start. There are a lot of resources that come up with a search on “What is DUP training?” I did not design my own program, so I’m not a good resource.)
There are three main lifts and three secondary lifts. This isn’t a ‘body part’ split. Exercises change, but I’m usually working chest, legs, back, and shoulders every other day. Rep ranges and weights vary. I like it. It’s fascinating to me that my body has adapted to handle the frequency. My capacity for work has increased. When I can get sleep, I recover well. So when I wasn’t sleeping – job stress – I wasn’t recovering and I started feeling it in my knees. And then there was that quad pull.
For the last four weeks, coach had me working a program he named “Tammy’s Healing Block”. I had a quad pull that needed time to heal. My knees needed a break from squats, but I believe it was standing all day at work that was killing them. I’m done with the healing block and I’m happy about that. I’m bored with it. It was nice to have a little back-off time to work on my Sumo dead lift technique. After a couple weeks of form check videos and coaching, I think I’m on the right track.
Monsters in My Head
Before I wrote about these things, I waited to see if I would work through some of it so I could write about how I got around it. Or just wait to see if it passed as I rested and healed up. The negative thoughts do get worse when I’m tired, but they haven’t been going away, either. It’s worse now than it’s been in a long time.
I can’t dismiss the possibility that I might be working through a mild depression because of some circumstances. 2014 was an incredibly difficult year. I can’t write about everything because some things are private, but I have shared a couple things…
- husband’s car accident (He’s OK, but we had to change our daily routines quite a bit.)
- not one, but two, job changes (Moving a classroom is very much like moving an apartment.) If you haven’t seen it, here is my new room’s transformation.
The stress of these things have taken a toll. I’m probably feeling it. The structure of my training and having a goal for next summer help me quite a bit. (Fingers crossed that this new teaching position is going to be a smooth transition and a nice place for me to be.)
The thing that is really hard for me lately is that I feel like a misfit. I don’t really belong anywhere. Most women I know don’t train or have different goals for their training. Most people I know my age are busy being parents and grandparents. Most bodybuilders I know are male, younger, and are in a different life stage. People in general just look at me funny when they find out I’m a bodybuilder. (One kid even said “You don’t look like a bodybuilder.” Ouch. But that is what I tell myself almost every morning, too.)
I don’t toot my horn that much, but I am an award-winning, accomplished, educator with a degree in mathematics, 19 years in the classroom – I’ve got some skills and damn near killed myself to get them. I am just a few years away from retirement. I’m at a certain point in my life that is different than many people I interact with in bodybuilding. I say this because when I look at what is posted on social media by fitness people, I cringe. There are very few things out there worth following. Too many egos, too much soft porn, too much fat-phobia… not much intellect, grace, poise, or reflective thought. A few exist, but not many. But more often than not, they are social idiots. Smart, but their arrogance or makes them boring. (There was one guy, highly respected and referenced, who I followed for a few days. Didn’t take long for an argument to break out in the feed and his comments quickly deteriorated to using female genitalia in a derogatory way. Boys posturing in the gym. Not much different than what I deal with in the classroom, so in my mind, I see kids, not grown-ups.)
I haven’t written much about this feeling of isolation, but I think I should. It’s hard to set goals and go after them because that separates you from the crowd. There is a psychological need to “belong”, so pushing yourself out of the pack can be hard. This year, I’ve had a couple of split-second moments where I thought about setting competing aside. Pretty sure I’d get a lot of support for that decision, too. It would make some people more comfortable. But I can’t do that. This is important to me. So I rely on my coach to keep things on track. If I had to do the thinking and planning on my own, I would fall away. Whatever is working is working because I’m just following directions. There are weeks when that is a struggle, too. (Like this week. I felt like a slacker all week.)
The “You’re-Too-Old-What-Are-You-Thinking Monster” never goes away. If I were 20 years younger, my story wouldn’t be the novelty in social media that it is now. You probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if I were 35. In a month, I will be 53 years old. I struggle hard for every ounce of muscle now because I’m an intermediate lifter and have moved past the phase of “newbie gains”, but in my mind, I wonder if I’m struggling because of my age. I have a meno-pot that is slowing converting to loose skin as I lose weight. It will show up on stage in certain poses and I wonder about how that is going to hurt me in judging.
I feel a sense of urgency about chasing this bodybuilding dream because I don’t know how long my 53-year-old body will allow me to train this way. The younger ones I follow online talk about how they can be patient because they will be able to compete into their 50’s. (Yeah. Until they are that old. Wow.) When I read comments like that, the more I feel like I’m working against the clock as someone who is just getting started in her 50’s.
Will I have time to build the physique I see in my mind?
Will I ever be competitive or will I always be the “Good-For-Her-Getting-Up-There” last place competitor?
And that’s the biggest monster in my mind – the one that comes out and tells me repeatedly that this is folly. This is some kind of mid-life crisis. It is a mid-life transformation, that’s for sure. A course-correction. But am I too late? Am I a silly, female version of Don Quixote? Having the phrase “World’s Oldest Bodybuilder” after my name is NOT the goal.
So that’s where my head is at. Fighting it does no good. Denying it doesn’t help. I will find a way to snuggle up with the monsters in my head to quiet them down, I guess. I’m going to keep my focus on the goal and train. Lifting helps everything.