I have been trying to lift heavy for a while now, ever since racing season ended and I moved into the part of my year where I focus on building strength. (I’ve found it really hard to work on building strength when I’m in the midst of endurance training. I hear this is not uncommon.) But my lack of training and input from skilled professionals left me rather wary of trying squats and deadlifts with anything heavier than the Olympic bar with a few of the dinner-plate sized weights, lest I wrench my back out of place and find myself hunched over like a blonde Quasimodo, trying to explain to my sports doc that I totally blew it while trying to set a new one-rep max. Considering that I have already established myself in that office as someone who isn’t the most cautious athlete – witness the multiple visits I made earlier this year because I refused to stop marathon training or competing in duathlons even though I had a monster sinus infection and the worst allergies ever – I’d really rather not give my medical professionals another reason to roll their eyes when I walk into the waiting room.
But then I noticed some trainers at my gym helping clients work with the trap deadlift bar, and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Specifically, I was doing some planks and crunches while surreptitiously watching a trainer work with a middle-aged woman on a CrossFit-style circuit (because I try to be subtle about being a total creeper). Part of her circuit had her doing deadlifts with the trap bar, and she was doing them like a boss, with these huge plates that I later saw were 45-pounders. She had two of them on each side! And the bar itself weighs like fifty pounds! I did the math in my head and then had to restrain myself from running up to her and telling her that she was a bad ass for the age, because, again, not a creeper.
In case you are not familiar with the trap deadlift bar, here’s a video of a lady using one:
So the next day I decided I’d try it myself. I laid down the bar and put some teeny little weights on it, then squatted, grabbed the handles, and then, with my head up and back slightly arched, I stood up. I felt every single muscle in my lower body – from my hamstrings to my glutes to my lower back – and even my traps and delts engage as I went through my reps. I decided to put a little more weight on, just to see. It was difficult, but I was able to do it. The weight was more than I’d ever lifted with just the Olympic bar. The following day, my quads and hamstrings ached with that masochistically pleasurable soreness that comes after a good workout.
I realized that the trap bar forced me to have good form, which in turn gave me the ability – and more importantly, the confidence – to try lifting a little heavier. I’d plateaued with the Olympic bar because I was too afraid of loading up and possibly hurting myself by losing my form mid-lift. So the next time I trained legs at the gym, I put on a little more weight and lifted. I kept at it, a little bit at a time, until finally, I deadlifted more than 100 pounds. Now, there are a lot of women out there for whom deadlifting 100 pounds is not really a big deal, but the amazing thing about fitness is that, unless you are a competitive athlete, the only person you are competing against is previous versions of yourself. And I had never, ever, ever deadlifted 100 pounds before. It made my fucking day. Actually, it made my whole week.
Yesterday, I pulled 135 pounds using the trap deadlift bar, which was by far the heaviest I’d ever lifted. I groaned and made the kind of noises that would have gotten me thrown out of a Planet Fitness, but I did it. It was so hard, I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to lift the weights off the ground. In fact, when I first tried to pull the bar, it almost didn’t budge. But I reached way down deep inside my gut and I found the strength – psychological as well as physical – to lift those weights. And when I finished my sets – four sets of five reps, plus two warm-ups and a cool-down – I felt amazing.
BUT. There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?
I’m a little wary of continuing to use the trap deadlift bar as I increase the weight I’m pulling, because I’ve done more reading and evidently it is possible to hurt yourself while using the trap bar as well. (Basically, what I’m learning is that it is possible to hurt yourself doing just about everything in the world.) I figure that once I hit the point at which I’m pulling my body weight, I’ll change over to the barbell. But now I have the confidence to know I can do it right, and for that, I have to thank the trap deadlift bar.
Quick note: I haven’t been updating my blog as much as I normally do because…*small voice* my life has been taken over by AMC’s “Breaking Bad” marathon. Damn, that is one incredible show. Every night I go home and I watch at least two episodes, which has left me approximately zero time for things like blogging, email, research, etc. I apologize for this. I’m halfway through the third season and I swear I will get back on my shit once it’s over. I promise. Cross my heart, hope to die, needle in the eye and all that.