26 Weeks Out: Monsters in My Head

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…

Food Update

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.

Lifting Update

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.


Filed under Competing, Life, Motivation, My Lifting Log, Teaching, Videos

7 responses to “26 Weeks Out: Monsters in My Head

  1. Brenda

    Great Post Tammy, thanks for sharing … I can relate… I wish you lived in my area we have so many women our age supporting each other with our goals and struggles etc… I’ve been out of the gym for a month and I have lost a lot and it’s not coming back like it used to… Not a fun process.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tamara

    Love your post on many levels. I totally get the math teacher persona as it was me during my teaching career. I also love the way you describe bodybuilding…it is an art form that takes amazing dedication and commitment. But, when you see results it is exciting!

    I am 55 and love watching my body transform through workouts and clean eating both expertly designed by my coach.

    Yes, it’s hard. It’s not supposed to be easy. And, I can eat whatever I want, but I choose to fuel my body with healthy choices.

    When I was little I used to run to jump on. My bed at night so the monsters under the bed wouldn’t grab me as I got in. Sometimes I would muster up all my courage and lean over to look under the bed only to find (to my amazement and relief) nothing.

    Don’t let the monsters under the bed keep you from your goals!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you are inspiring. I am envious of your accomplishments in the gym. Do you still get intrinsic benefits from hitting your goals in the gym? That keeps me going. And taking all those negative vibes out on the weights can be so therapeutic for me too. Squash those monsters beneath your bed. Keep up your great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are inspiring on so many levels. Just like with teaching, you may not always know that what you are doing day in and day out is actually having an effect on someone. Trust me though, many people are reading your blogs and FB posts and are inspired to make a move to better themselves. “If she can do it, I can do it…she’s not letting age get in her way, neither will I”… I have been inspired by you many times and you don’t even know me and up until now, you have not known that your work in the gym and your warrior outlook has inspired me. I am 42 and feel similiar to you in that I wish I was younger and often think about how my results would be different if I were younger. I also struggle with finding role models or fitness people to relate to when I see all the young ones having all the reign on social media and fitness blogs…etc..that is why I was happy when I found yours…and yours IS truly more intelligent and relatable..so, don’t give up…dont ever give up! What else would you rather be doing anyway??? We are all going to the same place…and getting older day by day…why not KICK ASS and be a trailblazer and inspire people while shooting for your own goals.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Shallinar

    Preach it sistah! I am 51, grown children, no grandkids and I am conscientious about my health — more so than most of my compatriots. I started working out in 2009. By 2011 I was benching 125 and damn proud of it. Hurt my neck at the gym (I guess) and am felled by dizzy, crazy dizzy spells ever since. I want back in the gym so bad I can’t stand it. I finally have health insurance again and am working to determine the cause of my dizziness. I am pre-meno — according to lab tests and OB. GAH! I thought I was on the other side or close to it. =}

    Basically I have no contemporaries that I have found. The friends my age are of the “Oh. No. I CAN’T do THAT” mindset (which I despise) and/or on so many prescription drugs it’s astounding. Consequently I spend a lot of time alone. HA HA HA. My choice. After awhile, the negativity and the lack of support get to me. I do not misunderstand my firends’ intentions — they are well intentioned — the simply don’t see how really nay-saying they are.

    You inspire me so don’t quit. I look for people my age and older who inspire me, who don’t listen to the ‘norm” and just are … them. You do you and keep doing you. See Ernestine Shephard and others like her. They are monumental woman who support themselves and others. Let them inspire you. Know that I read your blog — I support and cheer for you. I learn from you. I appreciate you and what you do. Toot away with that horn cuz no one else can play your tunes!!!

    PS: Tamara — I totally relate to making that amazing leap from the light switch to the bed … I did it for many years too! LOL!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I understand self doubt. I keep reminding myself that Ernestine Shepherd started lifting at the age of 56 and still competes at the age of 77. There are others as well.


  7. I just found your blog and I’m so impressed. You’ve done good, girl, don’t kid yourself!
    As for not fitting in, I can totally relate. I’m 46 years young, mother of 4 adult daughters. I’ve been lifting on and off since I hit my teens (in the closet, of course, for many years. Girls didn’t do that kind of stuff in those days). I hear stuff people are saying about me from my daughters, because I workout at the college gym where they attend. There is no one there like me in that gym. But it has never mattered what gym I’ve attended, I’ve never run into anyone I can relate to.
    I’ve never competed, but that’s because of my own monsters – stretch marks, injuries, health issues I feel might hold me back, etc.
    I’m in one of my off periods due to prolonged illness since Christmas, and have been lacking motivation to getting back into the swing, but your blog has inspired me to get moving again. Thanks for that!

    Liked by 1 person

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