A few of you have recently asked how I went from being told I’d never lift again to competing in a strongman competition. A valid question! I had an optometrist appointment today and wanted to delay writing this post so that I wouldn’t jinx myself.
I don’t write about this often as I have family that read my blog and don’t want to worry them. Although it may not seem like it, I am constantly thinking about my eye.
To quickly recap, I had an operation to fix my retinal detachment in February. I was initially told I could never lift heavy weights, as it would increase the pressure in my eye too much and therefore risk another detachment occurring (repeat detachments are very common).
I was distraught and sought a second opinion. The doctor who operated on me seemed to have the complete opposite opinion – he said I would be fine lifting as heavy as I liked, so long as I didn’t do increase the intensity too quickly. I spent a few months easing back into lifting and then started training for my competition.
I have spent a lot of time researching the link between retinal detachment and weight lifting. The general consensus seems to be that as long as you are not performing the Valsava manoeuvre (holding your breath for the entire duration of a repetition) or constantly lifting maximal loads, you should be fine.
Since my accident, I’ve become incredibly in tune with my eye. I know when something feels off and I monitor it to the point of obsession. At first, it seemed like almost every exercise created pressure in my eye. I didn’t feel pain, but I could feel my eye getting tired, if that makes sense? It gradually improved to the point where only a few exercises cause problems, depending mainly on the angle of my body.
Push ups are out. I can do them with my hands elevated, but anything else causes the blood to rush to my head too much. I never liked push ups anyway, so no complaints there!
I can’t do max bench presses, again because the blood rushes to my head and it just feels a little off.
I initially struggled with overhead pressing and squats because I learnt to hold my breath during them. Given all the pressing practice I’ve had over the past few months, I’m now a pro at breathing properly during overhead work.
Squats are okay as long as I don’t go super heavy. Combined with no benching, this basically means that any kind of powerlifting competition is out. I could compete at maybe 95 per cent of my true max, but having now been through a competition, I don’t trust myself to block out that pain and hold back from giving it my all.
The difference with strongman competitions is that it’s a different kind of intensity. It’s not all about lifting a single maximal, body-crushing, eye-popping load. Each competition generally has no more than one max lifting event. When I’m doing a log press, for example, I’m (hopefully!) getting at least five repetitions out, so it’s not a max lift.
During my competition, I did a max zercher squat. If you watch the video of me failing the 120kg attempt, you will notice that I stop and pull back from the bar. Right at that moment I experienced a pain in my eye (not a sharp pain, just similar to what I experience during push ups). I made one more attempt, but I didn’t exactly try very hard.
None of the other events cause any problems. Things like farmers walks, tyre flips, atlas stones and bag carries are more a test of overall strength and don’t raise your blood pressure as quickly. The only thing I’m not sure about is yokes. I know they put a lot of pressure on the body and I haven’t had enough practice with heavy weights to know if it’s problematic or not.
Funnily enough, I’ve never had a single problem doing heavy deadlifts or rack pulls. Almost all of my sets are three repetitions or less, with a lot of heavy singles, and I never feel anything in my eye at all. Perhaps it is because the range of motion isn’t very large, or perhaps my body just knows how much I love deadlifts and couldn’t bear not to do them.
Things changed when I had my operation last Thursday. My face swelled up again, all the way up to my lower eyelid. Around Monday, my eye started feeling very heavy and tired, and I had nightmares three nights in a row that I had lost my sight. Every five minutes (seriously!) I was checking to make sure my field of vision wasn’t closing in. I became so paranoid that I convinced myself my retina had detached again.
I booked an appointment to see the optometrist ASAP. If I had really thought I was experiencing another retinal detachment, I would have high-tailed it to the hospital right away.
I left the gym in hysterical tears this morning because I started thinking I would never be able to do strongman again, if I indeed needed another surgery. The operation (gah, reading that post back makes me feel sick!!) was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever gone through and I would rather have a million more bone operations than do that ever again.
Soon after I left the gym, I received an email from my lovely client and friend, Brandi. She is an optician and I had confided in her. She calmed my nerves more than she knows, as she said it’s very normal for eyes to feel a bit weird after any kind of mouth/sinus issue. Deep down I knew she was right – if I had hurt myself during the comp, I would have known right away and not over a week later. Thank you for calming me down, B!
I had a few different optometrists look at me and perform 90 minutes worth of tests, and I’m perfectly fine. It’s all in my head! My field of vision is terrible in the upper part of my eye, but it hasn’t gotten any worse since the operation. At least I know that in the future if anything does go wrong, I’ll be on it super fast. If I get any flashing lights or floaters in my vision, it’s straight to the hospital!
Having this hang over me is a horrible feeling. I think about it all the time – every time I’m in the gym, flying, and even just every day moments where people playfully throw stuff at me or come too close to me (I have to avoid all blows to the head). It’s something I’m always going to carry with me, so I just have to stay calm and trust my body. There are a lot of strongman competitions on the circuit, so I will just avoid the ones that have any crazy heavy lifts! At the end of the day, I am sane and I would always choose my health/vision over competing.
I will be back with some more interesting posts next week. I’m so busy at the moment (lots of work things in the pipeline to reveal soon!) but I have lots of post ideas 🙂
Have you ever had a recurring injury?