Nicole Balkau || Meet Prep Musings & Adaptability ||

I’m currently 8 weeks out from the USAPL NJ State Championships in Somerville, NJ. This will be my first meet with the USAPL. This has been an interesting prep so far…

My training has varied slightly than my past two meets. Accessory work has been altered slightly to account for specific weaknesses and I’ve been pulling on a stiff bar, which in a strange way I feel stronger with. I’ve been focusing more heavily on depth as well since it’s been quite inconsistent over the last couple of months. However, the biggest challenge has been working around an injury while also gearing up for a meet.

Brief synopsis. I’ve been rehabbing a bout of pretty severe shoulder bursitis and bicep tendonitis. For weeks I had experienced a gradual onset of pain and numbness spread throughout my shoulder/neck/arm, lack of stability, overall weakness, and eventually a frozen shoulder. I ignored it for weeks until I was forced to address the issue because the pain was so severe benching the bar brought me to tears and it’d be extremely difficult to move my arm upwards or across my body.

I consulted a few different physicians and eventually we came to this diagnosis. Needless to say I was advised to not bench for the foreseeable future. The first course of action was to reduce the inflammation in my bursa, then break up the collagen that was coating my bicep tendon. This has been extremely frustrating in every way possible, but has really provided me a chance to address issues that I’d have otherwise looked over and have never focused on; like my posture and overall biomechanics.

Training wise, I’ve still been able to squat and deadlift with no issues. I’ve been able to train my upper body as well, just drastically modified as there were a handful of exercises in addition to benching that I could not perform; pulldowns, pull-ups, lateral raises, rear delt flys, dips, etc. With regard to nutrition, we’ve used the decrease in training as a chance to lose a little bit of body fat without effecting strength. This has been successful so far.

I began benching again two weeks ago and to put it lightly, it’s been an uphill battle. I started off with much higher expectations than I should have had and instantly had to reevaluate my reality so I wouldn’t become too discouraged or even re-injur myself by pushing too hard, to soon. Every training day has shown improvement; less pain, better range of motion, more stability and control, etc. I do still have a lot of limitations at the moment and I’ve had to force myself to listen to my body and know when to back off. That’s no easy task. There is no room for stubbornness or ego when you’re under the bar, particularly when rehabbing an injury.

I’m back! Kind of, actually not really. But this is the first time since benching again that my shoulder has held up without me wanting to rip it off. Not the control I used to have, but slowly improving each session. Lowered all expectations and just focusing on getting healthy again by addressing all the issues. We gonna make it fam. @jasonmanenkoff165 #ironarena #completehumanperformance #standforsomething #disciplesofiron #rogueamericanapparel #invadercoffee #rehabthings

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It really hits you hard when you go from being the strongest you’ve ever been to the weakest you’ve been in a long time. It’s especially a tough pill to swallow when you’ve just hit a pretty big lifetime PR with high expectations of what you’ll hit at your next meet, only to be benched, pun intended. These are not easy emotions to manage. I’m extremely hard on myself, though I think as athletes, we all are to a degree. We all want our training to go perfectly according to plan and unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen. Progress isn’t linear and injuries, whether or mild or severe, are part of the game. The challenge is being able to adapt to what’s thrown at us and train what we can even if it’s under the most undesirable scenario.

Going through a meet prep is physically and mentally hard enough even under the most perfect of circumstances. Throw in an injury with someone who doesn’t adapt to change well and you’ve got a pretty hairy situation. If nothing else, this really has been a fantastic learning experience and teaching me skills that I know I will apply in the future to create longevity in this or any other sport I choose to compete in.

So why am I even competing? Shouldn’t I just pull out of the meet if I’m not physically 100%? If it were an injury that wasn’t improving and one that I’d risk worsening, yes. Even though that isn’t the case, I’ve considered it. I’ve put immense pressure on myself and more times than I’d like to admit, have considered pulling out for the sole reason that I won’t be putting up the number that I was on track to do. I’ve feared failing, looking like I don’t belong on that platform, and embarassing myself. It would actually be easier for me to pull out of this meet because my prep has not gone according to plan.

I do not adapt well, to any kind of change, under any kind of circumstance. It has been a major focus of mine this year to work on this, in all aspects of life. Pushing myself to go through with this meet, assuming my rehab moves forward and not backwards, is really more a chance to work on adapting and overcoming obstacles when the conditions are not perfect. It’s easy to do well under desirable conditions and when nothing goes wrong. This is solely to prove something to myself.

So I’ll be competing in 8 weeks and I’ve eliminated all expectations from my bench. I’m continuing to rehab this as I would regardless of a competition and whatever happens on the platform come June…is what happens. Not really the most ideal situation, but you work with the hand you’ve been dealt and learn to adapt.