Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 in Review

Amazing how time flies. The year is ending, and I have to admit, it was an amazing year for me in the Steel Universe! I made some amazing strength gains and learned to perfect my powerlifting technique, making me stronger than I have ever been in my life, which is exciting, at the age of 43, to know that I am approaching my best years in life. Which, is a complete paradigm shift of how most Westerners view aging. I personally have always tried to improve myself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. With the right diet, outlook on life, and amazing friends and loved ones, life can only get better. And, I am excited about the prospect of how I will grow and improve in 2011. Having stated this, I will share with you, a recapitulation of how exciting 2010 was for me and some of my milestones.

First of all, the photo I have attached was taken in the summer of 2006, by one of my all time favorite photographers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Pat Berrett. It was right before my last national level show, the Masters Nationals, where I competed as a heavyweight. In this photo, I was about one month out, and I weighed right around 185- 190-- with abs! These days, I sit right around 205. However, I have added about 10 pounds of muscle to my physique since my competitive bodybuiding days, and it is pretty evenly distributed over my 5' 9 frame. When I look back at these photos, it is evident, that my shoulders, back, trunk and legs have all thickened up quite a bit.

I moved to Holland a year after this show, and learned to live a bodybuilding lifestyle with Saskia, and this included not only getting freakishly strong, but also a high volume type of training protocol. No matter what I subject my body to, it generally responds well. I remember my joints and frame being pretty tired and sore most of the time since our trainer, Peter, was pretty merciless and we had no choice but to adapt. The point of training is always to have fun, enjoy and be competitive with myself. That is what always keeps me motivated. I still remember that the day before we left for the USA and the Arnold Classic in 2008, I was incline bench presssing 3 big wheels on each side, or 315 pounds for reps. Granted, I had a tight spot, but they were all clean and pretty much all on my own. I never thought I could ever get my body back to that point, since I typically train alone or with partners that are not up to my speed.

This past year, I lived and trained in Las Vegas, Nevada, at world class strongman's gym, called Mark Phillipi's Sports Institute. Around early April, 2010, I embarked on a strength and power program, something I have never attempted in all my years of training. Initially, I thought I was undertraining, as I was used to high volume style of training. It could not be the furthest from the truth, as I got stronger week by week. All my numbers in my lifts were increasing like crazy. Of course, if you know my diet, I like to eat a lot of wild game, including buffalo, elk, and ostrich.

I can recall my best bench was probably in the low to 200's, around 225 or so with free weights, and performed "raw", which means without a high tech benchshirt. I never wrapped or strapped into any of my weights, which helped my grip strength increase tremendously, which also helped increase all of my lifts. Soon, I raw benched 300 August 31st. My deadlift is in the low 400's, and my squat is finally 315 for 8-10 reps. With some focused work, these lifts will get better, however, I chose to focus primarily on my pressing movements this past summer and fall. I never really trained for deadlift or squat, but I gained a lot of satisfaction in learning to perfect the form and getting stronger every week. My bentover barbell rows are right at 225 for 5-6 reps no straps. I have toyed with the idea of adding straps, wraps, and a belt to get that extra push and protection, and I will begin adding them on my extremely heavy days. I even did 185 for 55 reps in the deadlift earlier in the summer with no training just to see how many I could do. I could easily performed more, but opted not to.

And, the grandaddy lift I take great pride in, the overhead press, is largely due to the fact that I am becoming a lift and carry technician, and human feats of strength, lifting people overhead with two arms and one arm. And, since I got my RKB (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) certification in April, I was stoked to get my overhead lifts way up. I started out with lifting right around 165, and now, the lift is up to right around 205, my current bodyweight, and 185x6 or 7 reps. And recently, I did a 205 closegrip benchpress for 20 reps, which is definitely the heaviest I have ever done. I love tricep work, as I know it has a direct correlation with my pressing movements, and, ever since I was a young girl weight training, I have always enjoyed pushing movements over pulling movements.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my good friends, Rebecca Swanson, the world's strongest woman ever in powerlifting (see earlier blog post) came out to visit me again. If you know anything about Becca, she was the first woman to ever benchpress 600 pounds, and to total over 2,000 pounds in a meet. I asked her out of curiosity what her best raw bench press was. She told me, "To be honest Amber, I never really focused on increasing my raw bench", and she told me how important it is to get past the learning curve on benching with a benchshirt on. She told me, that with a shirt, the proper training, timing, and coaching, I am a 500 pound bencher all day long with a shirt on. I could not disagree, as I am never fearful of handling my presses raw in the low 300s right now. In the past, I sometimes felt a bit apprehensive about feeling a certain new heavier weight over me, and if unprepared it can invoke a feeling of fear if I would actually ever be able to press the weight. Since I have been on a prescribed program fort the past half year or more, the weight has been progressive and steady. So, when this happens, one is never "not ready" or unprepared for the new heavier weight. The joints, muscles, and tendons, and bones are prepared to handle the weight. It was pretty cool to get validated by the world's strongest woman ever that I was, indeed, now in a very elite class of women. Competitive powerlifting is great, but it really was never the direction I intended, as I am mostly concerned with strength, performance, and aesthetic versus competitions or judging. That is the very reason why I left women's bodybuilding, as I found it not only boring, but also submissive and oppressive to be judged by people that did not matter to my goals and what I was trying to achieve. Granted, I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for all the women that choose to compete, as I once did, and I think it is a beautiful artform, but definitely not sport or performance based. I am far too competitive with myself to follow a bodybuilding protocol in training, as it typically abandons strength and power in favor of aesthetic. Even to this day, I am the sole creator and artist of the way I shape and build the way I want my body to look. I am the ultimate judge of how I present my body to the world. I believe if I train for strength and performance, the aesthetic will "come", and is mostly manipulated by diet and a little cardio. Admittedly, I have not focused too much on cardio, as I have been primarily focusing on my strength. I will begin hitting my stairclimber and some quick intense more athletic ways to keep my heart fit and strong.

It seems there is no end in sight for how much stronger I can get, although I am very aware of any tweaks, pains, and getting the proper amount of rest without getting injured and staying super strong. In this case, it's better to take time off than to power through. I took the entire month of September off from my training, just to give my body a break. To my surprise, I came back just as strong, as was able to get stronger. My raw benchpress is easily in the low 300s, right around 325 or so. Just a month ago, I pressed 315 after a triple at around 280.

I began peforming pull ups with a 40-50 pound kettlebell strapped around my waist--and with my super long arms, I have always loathed pull ups! But, with practice, I became quite proficient at them. I can still remember the day when I could barely do one. And, I always still look at myself in my mind's eye as the sleek, trim, thin athlete that used to rock climb and play volleyball. I find strength and power not only in weightlifting, but also in applied sport to be a tremendous natural high, and I admire and always have, powerful people, and even find it to be an aphrodisiac, amongst other qualities such as great conversationalists, optimists, a sense of humor and depth of character.

In a nutshell, I have become the amazon that I have always dreamt of, and have become the sensual powerhouse that I only fantasized of becoming. And, it's only going to keep getting better in 2011....just wait and see!