Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December challenge!

I am not gonna lie. This was hard.

I'm never worried about big numbers (well, maybe for my bench press), but limiting my time to 30:00 is a whole new ballgame. I am totally the one who takes looooooong rests in between sets. This one meant that I had to go in with a plan, and my plan had to include time constraints and working on much less rest than I am normally used to. (Also, I recently took a few days off from coming in for finals and yada yada, and I'm not sleeping well, and I'm having Lady Issues, so suffice it to say that I was not at 100% peak condition coming into today.)

As I said in my caption, I didn't even match my current bench press max (but I guess I was expecting that - I had such a hard time hitting it the first time!), but I PRed my squat and deadlift. They were not totally clean lifts, but I'm fairly confident that if I had attempted them under normal circumstances, they would've gone better.

That said, I still did them, and they still count, and I'm still pleased  about it :)

Happy holidays, errbody!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Asian strong!

At Anchored we have a group of Viet girls whom Steve likes to refer to collectively as "Fitnam." 
This could be because I live in the Bay Area, but at the two powerlifting meets I've attended, I've noticed that there are a lot of Asians. There are a lot of Asians in weightlifting, period, and there was a large contingent of Asians at the Crossfit box I used to go to too. (And I include South Asians and PI-ers when I say "Asians" here.)

I'm not going to pretend that I know the whole history of Asians and weightlifting, but what I can tell you is that it's at such odds with what the rest of pop culture/American mainstream media would show you about us.

Asian men are often portrayed in such emasculated ways. (Unless they're "kung fu fighting," right?) They're always geeks, sidekicks, comic relief - so rarely the hero who gets proper respect and the love of the audience. (There are plenty of cartoonish Asian villains.) Or the love of anyone, really - Steven Yeun's Glenn from The Walking Dead is one of the few examples I can think of of an Asian man on a major show being portrayed as a love interest, especially to a non-Asian woman. (Again, I'm referring to mainstream American media. Of course Asian media is different.)

And Asian women have the double-whammy of being, well, Asian and women. (See also: intersectionality.) Women are already hyper-sexualized and held to rigid standards of beauty. Women are already told not to lift too heavy, or we'll "get too big" or "look like a man." Asian women are also exoticized and fetishized. We're either docile, delicate flowers, or we're dragon-lady seductresses. Or mysterious/borderline-MPDGs token love interests. (I'm looking at you, Wes Anderson.) We're rarely athletes in movies, and definitely never weightlifters.

What Asian people are, and what we're so rarely allowed to be in the media are... total, utterly human beings. We too can be heroes (men AND women). We too can be strong. We too can make mistakes and behave in problematic ways, but we too can inspire and uplift.

THIS is what I see every time I go to the gym - I see the Asian heroes that I never got to see in TV and movies and books while I was growing up. I see strong, sexy, fierce, hardworking, fun-loving men and women who squat, clean, deadlift, jerk, walk on their hands, and run sprints. I see men and women with bulging muscles of varying degree, crushing a heavy weight or flying through the air for a muscle-up. I see spouses, parents, pet-owners, professionals, students, book nerds, and foodies, who are also athletes with each their own strengths and weaknesses, who show up day after day to hoist some barbells and have some good laughs while getting stronger, faster, and more agile.

We're not here to be your goofy sidekick. We're not here to "love you long time." (We're not your wedge either.) We have complexities and complications and triumphs and conflicts, and we are heroes (and villains) too. We have stories that so rarely get told.

American media is changing. These changes have been slow, and we still have a long way to go, but things are changing. And in the meantime, I can take comfort in knowing that I've got a great network of amazing Asian athletes at my gym and in the general powerlifting community whom I can look up to.

*I'm not ignoring how other races are treated by the media - I'm just focusing on one particular group right now, that I identify with. There are problems all around, and there are people who are in a better position than I am to speak about racial stereotypes for groups that I don't personally identify with, and I'm not going to attempt to speak for those groups here. But know that I'm aware, okay?

Friday, December 11, 2015


Is it weird that I'm more excited about this PR than my other ones?

I think it's because I really had to fight for this one - the bench press is my weakest lift, as it generally is for women. As you can see, I'm not even up to bodyweight, though judging by the weightlifting standards for the bench press, it's generally not expected anyway. But it's my goal all the same.

Part of it is that I'm just way stronger in my legs, and part of it is that I don't bench as consistently as I squat and deadlift, so I'm much less experienced and much less confident in this lift than my other two. I haven't spent nearly as much time on this lift as I have on the other two - I literally didn't start benching until this past January, so I've been at it less than a full year. (I mean, I'm technically kind of a novice at all of this, but I am especially a novice at bench pressing.)

Confidence is super important in lifting. Strength can take me pretty far, but it's confidence that will give me the aggression I need to really move that bar. It was something I learned long ago for my squat and my deadlift, but it's something I still need to work on for my bench.

I get nervous when I test my squats and deadlifts, sure - I have high expectations for myself, and I hate to fail. But when I'm standing on that platform, staring down the barbell on the rack or at my feet, I find my game face and I GO for it. You need to be aggressive coming out of the bottom of the squat, like you're trying to hoist it at the ceiling. You need to be aggressive pulling the bar off the ground in a deadlift. You have to attack these lifts, or you will fail (or at least, you will struggle). Or so Steve tells me.

I have some sort of mental block that keeps me from applying this to my bench press. I guess I've convinced myself that I suck at this, that I will always suck at this, and moreover, that I will drop the bar on my face or something irrational like that. I'm working on changing that. I'm trying to pay more attention when I see other people bench, so I can see what it's supposed to look like. I'm trying to figure out how to position my body that works best for me. I'm trying to incorporate all the muscles I'm supposed to be incorporating, and not just my arm/chest/shoulders.

And I'm trying to just do it MORE. More practice. More consistency. Ever since my competition last month, I've been trying hard to make sure that I dedicate time every week to benching, and as you can see, it's helped.

This wasn't the cleanest lift - I didn't pause long enough at the bottom, and my bar path was slightly off, but I'm surprised that I managed to push it up at all. I remember, in the moment, I just felt so stuck and I wasn't sure how to fight through, and it felt like I was under it FOREVER. But then I got my s*** together and figured it out, and was able to straighten my arms. It looks a lot cleaner than it felt, believe me.

So, I feel like I'm making progress. I'm excited. My total now stands at 1,026 pounds.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Monday was my birthday!

It was a great day! I was absolutely flooded with messages, posts, and hugs, and even though it was a regular Monday (and not conducive to wild party celebrations), it was still a special day. Thank you to everyone who took even a moment of their day to think of me on my birthday :)

Special thanks especially goes out to my lovelies at Anchored for surprising me with cake and presents when I came in to work out!

I love these people so much! How am I ever supposed to say goodbye to them? :(

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Putting in the work

(Photo by Bobby Menbari)
After I started lifting last year, it wasn't long before some of my students - namely, my freshman boys who were hoping to make the football team - found my lifting videos on my Instagram. (It is public, after all.) It's a never-ending source of amusement to me - do fourteen-year-old boys usually look up to their female English teachers when it comes to weightlifting? I'm thinking not.

There's one kid in particular who pops his head into my room every now and then to ask about my numbers, and this week, after a particularly awe-filled shake of his head, he followed up by asking, "How do you DO that? How do you get your total so high?"

The truth is much more complex, but what I told him was: "I show up and I put in the work."

I mean, yes, my genetics plays a huge role. I honestly don't know where in my family this comes from, because if you look at my parents, my grandparents, and all my aunts and uncles, there is nothing that would jump out at you that screams "weightlifter." I don't know anything about my family history prior to my grandparents, but did I have some sturdy workhorse farmers in my ancestry? Warriors? Who even knows. But at any rate, there is some sort of Component X in my DNA. I've always been a stout, sturdy sort of girl - never in my life have I been petite or dainty.

There's also my own athletic history, which I CAN speak to, and which you are familiar with already - I've been a runner for over a decade now, and I also spent a good chunk of time playing roller derby. While I wasn't particularly great at either thing, it did mean that I needed a good amount of strength in my legs, glutes, etc., especially for derby, where you spend a lot of time in a squat.

And the last (but not least) thing, of course, is putting in the work.

I'm not the most consistent person at Anchored. That's the honest truth. I keep pretty busy, and sometimes I have to forego an afternoon at the gym due to being sick, having too much work to do, or tending to my family. But usually I try to lift about 3 times a week, and especially lately, I've been doing my knee rehab routine every single time I come in. Unless I'm particularly pressed for time, I'm there for about two hours for each workout.

People find my PR videos impressive, but in between testing weeks? There's really nothing to see. Watching me lift from day to day is probably really boring. It's not glamorous, and it's not fun. I mean, it's fun to BE there, because I love my gym family and we always have a great time together, but the actual workouts themselves are workouts. It is work. I have to struggle and fight my way through the reps and the percentages that increase weekly. I have to swallow my pride when my coaches ask me to do accessory work that often involves movements that I'm actually quite bad at. And then I DO it because I know it's good for me, and I know I will always be bad at them unless I actually put in the work to get better at them.

It's not exciting. Sometimes it even feels tedious. But it's necessary - if I want those GAINZ... if I want to walk out there at my next competition and know that I've done everything in my power to achieve my goals... if I want to protect my knees... then I have to put in the work.

Don't get me wrong - I love going to the gym. I love going to MY gym; I adore my coaches, and the community we have at Anchored is what makes all the work enjoyable. On days when my own personal motivation is lagging, it's everyone else that helps keep me going.

But what it really comes down to is the work. Day in, day out. It's hard to see it when you're in the moment, hard to see what difference just one more rep or one more set will make, but when I add up all the work I've been doing (or not doing) over weeks or months of training, everything counts. And suddenly the missed days feel like missed opportunities.

So I'm trying harder. I mean, I do try pretty hard, but I could always try harder, and I will. I've got another competition, a full meet this time, coming up in March, and I plan to put in the work, so I can go out there on that platform knowing that I've done the best I could possibly do for myself. My genetics can only take me so far (and it is pretty far, truthfully), but what it comes down to is putting in the work. (And showing teenage boys who's boss.)