The Struggle Zone

Posted by Becca Abrahams on


"Don't focus on the number on the scale, focus on the number on the barbell"

"Be strong, not skinny"

"Worry about what your body can do, not what it looks like"

"When all else fails, just get strong."

"Trust the process."

"Don't give up on something you can't stop thinking about."

Cute, isn't it?

These are wonderful catchy little sayings, aren't they? They make for great motivational memes. Living them can be a bit more tricky.

Honestly, these are great words to live by, for the most part. Strength sports have allowed women to have goals outside of looking good naked, fitting into their skinny jeans, or having flat abs. Women are embracing their inner athlete. They feel stronger, more confident, more empowered.

What could be better than a community of women supporting each other in their quest to get stronger? Understanding all the struggles that goes along with it...

But this movement has a tendency to simply trade one obsession for another. We assume that this is a healthy trade off until it creates more stress in our lives.

What happens when you are living inside the struggle zone? When you're not making progress even though you are driven, motivated, and committed to putting in the work?

We know that there are a number of factors that can affect whether or not we are getting stronger and continuing to put weight on the bar. These include:

  • Stress 

  • Sleep quantity/quality 

  • Nutrition 

  • Weight loss 

  • Supplementation 

  • Over/under training 

To some extent, most of these factors are somewhat within our control. We cannot always manage the stressful circumstances in our lives, but we who are wise will do well to manage our reaction and response to the various stressors we face and take steps to manage that stress (AHEM, Becca...). 


But the reality is that, sometimes we are doing everything right and we are just stuck in the dreaded plateau. Nobody likes this place. It's uncomfortable and we are generally in a hurry to get out of this place as quickly as possible. 




When you're not making progress, it can feel pointless to expend a ton of energy into training for the sake of training. Let's face it, this is a sport in which your progress is measured by increasing the weight on the bar.  There are times when whether we like it or not, we are simply going to have to be committed to the task of mastery, to training for the sake of training, to simply loving the process. 





But it's also important for us to keep detailed records of our training and competitions so that we are able to look back and honestly evaluate whether all hope is really lost. 


Real talk: 


I look back over my training in the past year and it feels like I have been perpetually stuck in the struggle zone. I feel like I am not progressing at all, in any of my lifts. I have had a few frustrating powerlifting meets in which I came nowhere near to performing to my (or my coach's) expectations. 




My squat has been stuck in an agonizing 1 year plateau. I'm not sure why I believe that my success as a powerlifter is tied so closely to my success as a squatter, but it is. I managed to put almost 50 pounds on my deadlift in 4 months, hitting a number (402) that was a big milestone for me. But when I look at my squat ("getting worse by the second"), I feel like a failure. As a result, I work harder, harder, harder...determining that I just don't work enough. That surely my subpar squat is the result of being lazy, not working hard enough. 


After my last meet, my coach and I met and came up with a plan to revive my squat from the dead. Both of us agreed that I needed more singles practice, more practice getting set up under the bar, more technique practice. I am finishing up a twelve week squat cycle in which I have done like, a bazillion singles, increasing in weight each week. 


Those who train with me have told me how much my squat technique has improved, how methodical they are now, how much better my walkout, my tightness, everything is. My technique is better. However, my strength has taken a bit of a hit and that can be difficult to accept. 


Thanks to Timehop (sarcasm), I'm able to see videos where I repped weights that are now a challenge for me to do for heavy singles. I have worked so hard for my strength, coming from a very unathletic background, and its tempting for me to feel like I will never get that back. 


I have to continually remind myself to trust the process and realize that in some way, every training cycle is an experiment about how our body responds to a particular style of training. The outcome that we are expecting and desiring is not always the outcome we achieve. 


Of course when we are not achieving our goals, we have to look at the factors that might have played into that. 

How is my recovery and nutrition?

Am I working my weak points?

Am I sleeping enough?

Am I over or undertraining?

Am I taking steps to effectively manage my stress?


But there are also times we have to just let go of the pressure that we put upon ourselves and simply train for the love of training...the reason that we got into this sport in the first place. 


And when all else fails, there's always Timehop to remind us that we actually have made some progress after all. Check out these pictures from my very first meet (just two years ago).


I ended up taking second place in my weight class (181) at that meet...which in reality did not mean much because I think there were only 3 women in my weight class. I totalled 693 at 181, ending up with 248/148/303. A little less than 2 years later, at Relentless Detroit, I totalled 959 (363/194/402). Even though it feels like I haven't made much progress at all, I have added 266 pounds to my powerlifting total in just two years.


Beyond that, I realize what a change has taken place in me as a person through the sport of powerlifting! Strength has done things for me that extend far beyond the weight on the bar. 



Strength sports are very much ME VS. ME. We continue to push ourselves, never being satisfied with where we once were and always desiring to move forward. But there are times we have to just enjoy the process, and not be so focused on our big goals that we fail to recognize that we have accomplished so many things along the way. 


Besides, loving the plateau makes those victories even more worthwhile. Who really wants something that they don't have to work for?


When all else fails, relax and enjoy the process. 


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