Panic or Perform Part 1

I just got back from Anaheim after competing in my third American Open.  I ended up 4/6, opened the heaviest I’ve ever opened, hit a snatch competition PR at 81 KG (#178) and a lifetime clean and jerk PR at 102 KG (#224), which left me with a total PR of 183 and was good enough for 10th place overall.  Looking purely at the stats, it was a great meet, and I can’t ask for much more than 3 PRs and 4/6 (besides going 3 PRs and 6/6… still on my to do list).  The road leading up to AO was less than ideal, however, as was my competition day.  

I had a disappointing American Open Series in September in Grand Rapids, where I went 3/6, only making 1 snatch and totaling 6 KG under my best.  I had just returned from a two week travel abroad, I was still not adjusted back to the current time zone, my body didn’t feel good, and I was mentally a mess because of it.  I was scared to compete because of how I was feeling physically, and as a result, performed poorly.  I promised myself that going forward, no matter how I was physically feeling, I would walk onto the platform confidently and trust that I could still have a good meet.

I put myself in physical therapy after that meet. I had been dealing with a lot of “helicoptering” with my snatches over 70%. I would receive the bar but my left shoulder would roll forward and out of place causing me to rotate to the right and drop the bar.  The doctor who referred me to PT confirmed what I had already thought, and multiple providers had told me over the past year and a half, that my labrum was torn in my shoulder.  She also added that my scapula was moving and tracking incorrectly, and she thought that had more to do with my lifting issues than my labrum.  I was referred to a shoulder specialist PT at Med Sport in Ann Arbor, who explained that on my left side, the muscles around my shoulder blade were doing very little, and my trap muscle was doing double the work it should be.  The next three months of PT were focused on scapular activation and stabilization, and retraining my muscle patterns.  My shoulder slowly started to feel more stable overhead, and I noticed a decrease in my shifting in the bottom of my snatches.  

About a month and a half into PT, I was six weeks out from American Open, and I noticed my lower back was tight.  I have tight hips, so lower back tightness is something I’m used to and work through all the time.  I trained through two days of lower back tightness, had a great max out session on one of them, and then took my normal rest day.  I noticed on my rest day that the soreness was increasing.  I went and had my hips reset, as this tends to help with the soreness.  The next day, the pulling in my lower back had increased, and I was experiencing pain when I unloaded weight, so dropping the bar on snatches or clean and jerks caused sharp shooting pain through my lower back into my leg.  I continued to train.  Obviously, in hind sight, I would have not trained when the sharp shooting pain started, but I was six weeks out and was worried about missing training.  I made an appointment the following day for a massage, and took the day off training.  I showed back up on a Wednesday, and set the bar up for my squats.  Loading the bar hurt, squatting hurt, standing hurt.  I was determined to push through my squats.  I finished my last set, racked the bar, and couldn’t stand up straight, and was experiencing intense shooting pain.  

I finally realized this wasn’t something that was going to go away on it’s own, and I couldn’t train through it (since I currently couldn’t walk).  I went directly to my chiropractor who informed me that I had irritated the nerves around my lower disc, and while it wasn’t herniated, the pain level was the same, and pushing it too far (aka doing anything with a barbell) could possible cause herniation.  Besides the physical pain, I was in a flat out panic about lifting in six weeks.  I was unsure if I’d even be able to move normally before then, and if I could, I was worried about all the training I’d have to miss.  I was angry and frustrated that I had been working so hard to rehab my shoulder and that now my back was injured.  It was not a happy time for me.  I saw my chiropractor daily for almost two weeks.  About a week after my injury, I was able to move and empty barbell with only some pain.  It was clearly earlier than I would have come back if I wasn’t on a time limit, but with the support of my chiropractor, massage therapist, PT, and some wonderful trainers, I began to move light weights again.  I missed about two weeks of training, which put me at 4 weeks out when I was able to return to somewhat normal weights.  I was still not maxing out, or going much above 80-85%.  The two weeks before deload are typically the final push- they’re heavy and grueling.  I was constantly worried that I wouldn’t be ready to compete, that I’d ruined the ability to have a good meet, and was going to perform badly.

Luckily, I’m surrounded by amazing teammates and coach, who were reminding me daily that I was training, I’d be fine, and could still show up and compete.  I worked on setting my mind to believe them- I worked on my visualization, imagined what I’d hit on the platform once I got there.  Imagined how good the weights would feel when I had deloaded.  Two weeks out from my meet, I max out both my snatch and clean and jerk. It tends to be a solid max out session for me, and I consistently PR on this day.  This maxout, however, was pretty uneventful.  I hit 80 on my snatch, which is 7kg below my best, and hit a 102 clean, which tied my best, but missed the jerk.  I still wasn’t feeling great, my back was still tight, but I knew if I could hit those numbers in training feeling 70%, I could hit them on the platform.  

I’ve had wonderful deload sessions in the past.  The weights feel light, I feel fast, the days I hit my openers are a breeze.  That was not how this deload went.  My snatches felt off still, the first day I hit my openers I hit my snatch but missed my clean and jerk twice before hitting it.  The second time I hit openers I missed my opening snatch twice, but hit my last warm up clean and jerk.  I’ve never had such a rough time with those days.  I was constantly keeping panic at bay and keeping up a continual positive stream in my head “it’s okay that they don’t feel good, you’re going to hit them on the platform, you’re going to perform, you’re a competitor, you find a way to show up.” 

Stay tuned for part two.....

Joelle Emery