Tag Archives: strength

Explaining the (Seemingly) Inexplicable

I take a lot of pride in this here blog.  Every post I write very much comes from the heart – what I write here, I mean and believe.

But here is something a little funny about the blog.  Friends of mine who mention the blog to others who haven’t read it will turn to me and say, “Kev, tell them what your blog is about.”  And you know what I inevitably do?  I pause… like, for a while.  Not the thoughtful pause of a man with great wisdom who is merely taking a moment to let the listener pull closer before he unveils the truth of the universe.  Oh, how I wish.

No, it’s more like a pause of, “Sweet mother of God… how do I describe the shenanigans I write on this site?  Think, think, think… umm… damn it all…”

So in the interest of having a more well-constructed answer than my typical response of “Well… it’s about a lot of things…” (a real crowd-pleaser, by the way), I will seek to answer in this post.

I am a very strong believer in the idea that every person must have core principles they hold very dear which guide them through life.  This doesn’t need to be a massive list – in fact, it should be purposefully brief so as to avoid conflict, confusion and doubt.  This blog is a reflection of a few of my core views of life: (1)we are each made up of equal parts mind, body and spirit; (2) a lot of life is thoughtfully developing these things over time; and (3) the development of each of these can have a hugely positive impact on the other parts.

The best example I can give is the meaning of weight training to me and the impact it has had on my life.  Lifting weights, especially over the last 5-8 years as I’ve gotten a lot more thoughtful and focused in this effort, has certainly done quite a bit to develop my physical capabilities, but has probably had at least an equal positive impact on my mindset and confidence.  There is an inherently amazing level of self-understanding you develop when you throw a few hundred pounds of weight on your back… especially a weight you have never handled in your life… and then see if you can lift it.  You begin to wonder about things like:

Will I be able to handle it?  What happens if I screw up?  How will I handle that gnawing fear in my gut that this lift is going to go straight to hell and take me to the floor in the process?  Will I be afraid to try again if I fail?  If I succeed, how do I keep progressing?

Vasiliy Alekseyev – One powerful dude.

A great example is a story I’ve heard numerous times about Vasiliy Alekseyev, one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time.  He was stuck on one of his lifts at a particular weight – no matter how many times he tried it, he simply could not seem to complete the lift at the weight in question.  So, when he went into a competition, his coach had him lift just below at what that weight was… except that’s only what he told Vasiliy.  In reality, he had the bar set with the weight Vasiliy had never been able to lift.  Up to the platform this giant of a man steps, grabs the weight… completes the lift.

Was he physically any different at that moment?  Of course not.  He was mentally stuck about what he could and couldn’t do, so it took a little trickery from his coach to get him past that seemingly insurmountable set point.

So what does all of this have to do with Fierce and Mighty?  Oh, I have the answer for you (umm… which is most of the reason I asked the question – I don’t want to look like a complete maroon, ya know).

It can take the success of a physical act to get you to see new potential in yourself, not just in the weight room or the track or the pool or the field, but in your entire life.  When you can demonstrate to yourself time and time again that you can break through your own preconceived ideas of what is possible, the carryover to other parts of your life is absolutely striking.

That’s what this blog is about more than anything else: my personal journey on the path to developing body/mind/spirit in equal parts, learning something in the process and sharing all of it with you in the hopes you may find benefit as well.  I may give advice here, but it always comes from a place of my own steps to follow that advice too.

So that’s Fierce and Mighty, described as best I can.  Now if I can just figure out how to explain that to someone in 10 seconds or less in a conversation, I might really be onto something.

Many Steps Back

Hard Work

It’s a pretty common refrain to speak of taking a step back to make two steps forward.  It’s not a bad thought – every now and again we probably need to take stock, reset where we are on something in our lives and then let that step back lead to even better progress than when we started.  The tricky piece is that even when you logically know that you will be better off after the step back, it’s still sometimes a challenge to do that.  Why?  Because who doesn’t want to be advancing all the time.  We like progress – we fight against regression.

Today’s vlog is about how I am not taking one or two steps back, but perhaps many.  It’s not easy… not at all.  Personal pride is a very powerful force, but I think it’s going to be right for me in the end.

As an added bonus, you get to see me act like an utter lunatic for a few seconds. Sunday fun for the whole family!

How I Do That Voodoo I Do So Well (Or At Least Decently)

2011-12-19 13.35.47

I’ve just hit a point where it occurs to me that I’ve never really gone into much detail as to what exactly I do when it comes to lifting, conditioning and all of that happy nonsense that keeps me fit and sane… or at least as sane as I’m ever going to get. I do touch on bits and pieces of it all, but I’ve never really laid the whole thing out before in this blog. Time to correct that today. Maybe you will find use in it or at least a moment to peer into what makes me tick.

Now, like my friend pictured above, I do enjoy hoisting some heavy objects around and I have yet to find something that gives me the same kind of satisfaction. There’s something purely primal in weightlifting and its ability to help you reshape your body that is utterly and hopelessly addicting.  And therein lies the cornerstone for my own physical training philosophy. Strength first and then figure out where everything else falls into place. Here’s what it all looks like:

Strength Training

Always best to start with my favorite piece. First and foremost, the goal of my training is to keep getting stronger over time. I’m sure there may come a day where that will be more about maintaining that strength as opposed to building upon it, but that day isn’t today and it sure ain’t going to be tomorrow either.

The template I use is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, which you can find right here if you are interested in it. The beauty of the program is really three things: simplicity, effectiveness and the notion of improving over years, as opposed to “Get hawt abz in 30 days!!!” Also, it’s a template that can be used by anyone. Truly. From rank beginner to very experience trainer. From someone looking to play high level football to a soccer mom looking to get in better shape. It’s a flexible thing of beauty.

I am not going to go into endless detail about how it works, but basically you use four major lifts as your foundation: squats, bench press, deadlifts and overhead/military presses. Each lifting day focus on a big lift first and then you need to decide how to fill in the rest depending on your goals. Fear not – guidance is provided in the book on this sort of thing.

The 5/3/1 comes from the fact that in the first round through of those lifts, you do sets of 5; on the second round through, sets of 3; and on the final wave, you do a set of 5, a set of 3 and a set of 1. The twist is that on the final set in any week, you are really shooting for more than the 5, 3 or 1 that is set up for that week.

Anyhoo, my focus is to use this template to lift with three times per week.  This basically means that I don’t get to all of the major lifts in a single 7 day period, but it rolls more into a 9 or 10 day period. I find I recover better this way and I feel a lot fresher when I do get to my lifting.

So, this is the big base after which everything else follows. I think it’s important in any training plan to prioritize things accordingly or else you will end up with a big soupy mess of awfulness. Seriously. That’s science.

Mobility/Flexibility Training

Ahh, mobility and flexibility. My oft-ignored friends that have reared up to bite my behind with a fierce (and mighty?) vengeance. This has taken on a whole new life for me because I really gave it short shrift for far too long.

Let me make this as simple as possible: If you are an office working desk jockey, you need to be doing A LOT more of this. Period. There is just something wholly unnatural about sitting in a chair at a desk for hours on end every day. I didn’t need to see any of the recent reports on how sitting too much is bad for you to know that. I have long contended that for a lot of people, it’s not the aging process that really does in their bodies as much as it is the sedentary lifestyles that often accompany being a working, responsible adult. I am utterly convinced that even with all the lifting I do, it’s really the sitting most of the day that has done a world of hurt to my lower back.

So I am trying like heck to be better about this. Before every time I lift (and most times before I do a conditioning session), I go through a pretty darn thorough mobility circuit that I had custom-built for me by Eric Cressey at Cressey Performance outside of Boston. If it’s good enough for a bunch of professional athletes, then it’s darn sure good enough for me. I spent a few hours with Eric several weeks back to get myself all sorted out and for a custom plan to use going forward. Since then, I have truly begun to feel a heck of a lot better and move better as well. I’m not all the way where I would like to be, but it’s getting better. With hips tighter than a snare drum (see the sitting most of the day reference above), it’s not going to happen overnight.

In other words… don’t be that guy or gal who thinks this is just a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.

Conditioning

I keep my conditioning pretty simplistic. It involves one of 3 things: playing a sport (soccer or basketball), pushing my Prowler or doing hill sprints. That’s pretty much it. What’s great about all of these activities is that I don’t need to carefully craft some kind of program for them – I just do them 3 or 4 times per week and try not to kill myself in the process. When I first got my Prowler, I quickly realized what I had read before was true – just go out, push it and you will just know when you are done. Sure enough, it’s 100% true. If you put a lot of weight on it or use very short rest periods, you will be done sooner.

And since this video still makes me chuckle, I present my pain for your enjoyment:

Ahh… the good ol’ days when I was still new to the pain and agony of the Prowler. Now it’s just a welcome friend… well, if you have friends who consistently make you drop to your knees, stare at the sky and wonder what would possess you to willingly go through something so awful. But maybe I just have odd friends.

The Goal

So what exactly am I training for? Fair question, no doubt. It seems to be morphing over time. In short, I want to be able to get out, play sports, be athletic and be strong on any given day. That’s the more general, over-arching goal. There are other goals too: squat 550 lbs (I hit 500 lbs a few months ago), deadlift 500 lbs and bench press 315 lbs. Those are the more clear-cut tangible ones I am aiming for.

Anyway, I hope this post was at least semi-interesting to some of my readers out there. I thought about including a bit on diet, but this already feels like it is running long.

This is a huge part of what makes me who I am. The good. The bad. The completely ludicrous. I am proud of it all.

Antonio Banderas – World’s Greatest Strength Coach

imgantonio banderas4

Antonio Banderas. Acclaimed actor. Handsome fella. Totally sweet name that is ridiculously fun to say. Great accent. World’s greatest strength coach.

Wait… what?

Oh you read that right. World’s greatest strength coach.  Oh you want me to actually explain that to you?  Really?  Man, we are getting soft as a society when I have to spoon-feed y’all the obvious… but I will indulge your need to be coddle just this one time.

A few years back I was watching one of the various news magazine programs like 60 Minutes or Dateline: NBC and Mr. Banderas was on being interviewed.  He’s actually a pretty interesting, thoughtful guy, but it was one thing he said that really caught me and stuck with me until today.  I cannot find the exact quote, but to paraphrase he said (and please imagine it in his kick-ass Spanish accent), “People today seem to live their lives where they expect to have this kind of orgasmic joy in every single moment.  That if they are not happy every single moment, something is wrong.  I want to actually have moments of up’s and also the downs and the sadness.  That’s part of life and I think not having those sad moments makes you worse off as a human being.”

And yes, he really did use the word “orgasmic” when describing the kind of joy some people feel they should have every day in every moment they experience.

Every person who engages in strength training I think can actually benefit from the point he is making.  Lifting in the gym is never going to be that kind of “orgasmic” experience where every single repetition feels like you could hold the world like Atlas.  You won’t set PRs every single session and sometimes, you will actually do worse than you did before.  Sometimes you will be flat or tired or unfocused.  It simply is going to happen.  If you somehow expect this to be otherwise, then you are in for an utterly frustrating training career and please accept my sympathies now… except if you truly felt this way, I’m really not going to be sympathetic to your plight.

There is actually true value to those low moments where you push through and find out about yourself.  OK, so you didn’t crush out a 10 lb. personal record.  Did you still push yourself as best you could despite feel off or like crap?  How will you plan going forward?  Will you be thoughtful about why things went poorly and try to address those things you have some control over?  Or will you curl up in the fetal position so you can rock back and forth while muttering, “Can’t be happening… can’t be happening… find my happy place… happy place…”?

Nobody wants the moments of coming up short, but since you are going to have them anyway, it’s best to get at least something positive out of them.

That’s what Antonio Banderas would do… he’s the world’s greatest strength coach.

What I Learned at My Obstacular Trail Race

I’m someone who likes finding some new challenges for myself every now and again.  I like new stimuli since I can otherwise stagnate, so when my friend, Jason, let me know he was putting together an obstacle trail race to benefit The Wounded Warrior Project, I was 100% game on.  OK, maybe more like 99% game on.  I was there in attitude for sure… but I suppose actually doing a whole bunch of running BEFORE the race probably would have been a good idea and a finer example of 100% game on.

But I was able to recruit my brother (the gentleman with his eyes closed below) and our friend Tom (who ran a half marathon the day before this) to venture forth for 5 miles and 15 obstacles worth of mayhem-filled fun a few weeks ago.

The Spigot Warriors... a team to be reckoned with. Now if my brother can just keep his eyes open.

And I even learned a few things along the way.  What, pray tell?  So glad you (and by you, I mean me) asked!

1) Keep your head down.

I’m not great at endurance style exercise.  This is a combination of not really training that way and not being terribly well-built for it.  Both of these things can be overcome (the first by different training and the second through not letting this become an excuse).  So when I was in the midst of this race, there were a lot of moments that were difficult for me.  If there was one pretty useful trick I used to keep myself moving, it was to keep my head down.  This is actually a big part of why I wore my baseball hat and pulled that sucker nice and low.

If my head was down, I was only focusing on what I could control at that very moment: my next few steps.  Looking ahead to see how much was left to run did me absolutely no good.  Heck, it would have probably discouraged me if I thought about it all that long.  But those next few steps?  I could do those and I could do those every single time until I was done with the 5 miles.

This happens in life all the time.  If you have a daunting task in front of you… especially one that could take quite some time to address… it will never help you to look too far ahead because the only thing you have some semblance of control over is the here and now.  So crush the here and now and move onto the next step.  Keep… your head… DOWN.

2) Stronger teammates = stronger you.

Unless you are some kind of Shaolin monk with keenly-honed powers of self-mastery, the environment around us has a big a effect, both for good and ill.  If you work in an office full of people who are horribly negative and whose chief hobby is complaining about anything and everything… I have a hard time believing you will be all that productive (at least not without listening to your iPod all day long to drown them out).  If you lifts weights consistently with people a lot stronger than you are… lo and behold, you will get a lot stronger too.  I would contend you will also get a lot stronger than you ever would have on your own.

On our team of 3, Tom was the strongest on the endurance front BY FAR.  It wasn’t even close.  He could have left my brother and I in the dust multiple times, except many obstacles required a team effort to complete.  That being said, Tom was still at the lead of our little pack at all times… and he ran a freaking half-marathon the day before.  I kid you not.

The big positive is that Tom always being there pushed me and Chris to keep running just a little bit more and pressing just a little bit harder.  If Tom could keep running, so could we, damn it.  And ran we did… for 5 miles and for a total of 1 hour, 11 minutes.  I have never run that far or long in my life and if Tom wasn’t there, I cannot really say I would have done all of that.

3) It takes all kinds.

Dress the part. Or at least dress part of yourself.

I cannot imagine why anyone would have run this in purple short-shorts… shirtless… and with double pierced nipples.  I kept imagining the potential to be hurling yourself through an obstacle in the woods and there being that one branch sticking out  juuuuust the right way.  *shudder*  But hey, he was probably through that course in half the time I was, so who am I to judge?

4) I want more.

It’s sometimes the things you least expect that can interest you the most.  I finished this race, felt like my legs had been beaten severely by a gang of Muay Thai fighters… and yet I wanted to do another one.  As I noted above, I am in no way well-suited (at least not currently) for this kind of activity… but if there is one thing I know about myself, it’s that I need challenges to bring out my best.  This was something new… something hard… yet something ultimately fun that I can do with a team (and I like team stuff quite a bit).  I am already looking up 2012 events for things like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash and so on.  I know I will need to rearrange how I train, but I enjoy the chance to do so.  Sometimes a little forced evolution is good for the soul anyway.

In the end, the entire event reproved something I’ve long known to be true: competitive sporting events are never just a moment of physical activity, but are often very pure opportunities for learning a lot more about yourself.  I would definitely encourage you to give it a try.  You don’t need to be a hyper-competitive monster to enjoy these kinds of things, but until you’ve pushed yourself past a moment after moment where you wanted so badly to quit, I don’t think you will truly know yourself.

Keep your head down.

The Fine Line Between Possibility and Stupidity

People who lift weights… I mean really lift weights… tend to get viewed through a certain lens by a large bulk of society. Muscle = moron in a lot of contexts. You need look no further than your average Planet Fitness commercial. It’s as if there is an inversely proportionate relationship between size and smarts. It’s fairly ridiculous, but since it tends to make for an easier way to categorize or pigeonhole people, then hey… why the heck not? There are certainly people I’ve met who reinforce the view that weight trainers are not even as bright as the iron they throw around, however, there is also an inherent sense of wisdom in those who take their lifting seriously that I don’t think anyone outside of the lifting community ever really understand.

Let me see if I can illustrate a bit.

I stroll into my basement gym on the day I will be doing deadlifts. Now, the deadlift is a fairly straightforward exercise: the bar is on the ground and your job is to pick it up off the floor to a standing position. There is more technique to it than just that, but at the end of the day, that’s about it. Bar on floor. Bar being held in standing position. Ta da!

Bar waiting for a deadlift

But the deadlift, like many big lifts in weight training, is also a greater truth serum that sodium pentothal. Either you can pick up the weight or you can’t. There is no debating with it. There’s no reasoning with it. And the beauty… perhaps the misery… of the deadlift is that when the weight is too much for you, it stays completely stuck to the floor. On a lot of other lifts, there can be a modicum of movement before you bomb out and sometimes you can pull the bar a few inches up in a deadlift before all hell breaks loose… but much of the time, there is absolutely nothing.

That’s humbling. It never feels good. You know what else it is? An incredible learning experience in the shape of steel and iron.

When you get pretty serious about weight training (as I believe I generally am), there is a pursuit of pushing yourself a little further all the time and over a period of time. You are continuously pushing the outer edge of what you believe to be possible for yourself. I could deadlift 405 lbs. before and suddenly… huh… I can lift 425 lbs… and now I can do 445 lbs… and I never thought I would get there. Then one day… BOOM! I’m stuck. I can’t get any more than 445 lbs. I know exactly where I stand at that moment – again, the weight simply does not lie.

But what I am trying to do is move past that limit and see what else I can accomplish. At it’s most basic level, when I go down into my gym and lift weights, I am constantly looking to see what my limits are and how I can exceed them. It’s as if the entire activity has nothing to do with getting bigger or getting more muscle or any of that and everything to do with learning more about who I am, how I handle adversity and whether I can pick myself up when I get knocked down. It’s a constant learning and testing experience when done properly. In some ways, those who take this activity so seriously have a finer understanding of who they are than 99.9% of the people on the planet.

It’s certainly not just weightlifters either. Endurance athletes looking to run farther and faster or the Crossfit devotee who is looking to finish their WOD with more weight in less time fit the bill as well.

Everyone in this community who takes training (not just working out or going for a light jog or looking to “tone” up for Summer) seriously is always walking the fine line between find out what is possible and pushing themselves too hard to potentially get hurt, burned out or maybe just get funny looks from family and friends. To many, all of it looks more like stupidity than possibility. But sometimes you need to risk a bit in the search for greater self-knowledge. And trust me… I don’t want to get hurt (been there a bunch of times) or burn out (I am there right now because my ego outstripped my recovery ability)… but I must confess I do enjoy the funny looks from time to time. 🙂

So before you see someone who takes their weight training incredibly seriously as basically a semi-evolved primate… stop and ask yourself… when was the last time you put yourself in a situation where you were forced to figure out what was truly possible? And then think about what it would be like to do that 3… 4… 5… maybe even 6 times per week.

If you realize it’s been a while, then I would prescribe a little bit of iron therapy. You would be amazed at what you will discover about what is possible within you.

From Whence Shall Come Hope?

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Alexander Pope from An Essay on Man

Hope. It’s what keeps us going through the roughest of times and allows us to find a little something extra to pull out when we feel we are closing to giving in. In fact, I would argue that without hope, little progress would have ever occurred in human history. Why toil and struggle in some seemingly noble effort if there was not even the slightest shred of hope?

Sure, there are stories of heroic last stands in the face of insurmountable odds (The Spartans against the Persian Empire or the Alamo), but by and large, we don’t tend to want to put our hearts and souls into anything that feels pointless or predetermined.

Hope has been on my mind on a lot of late, truth be told. I tend to be an optimistic and hopeful person, but the last few weeks have been a struggle for me. If there is one thing that challenges my belief in the general goodness of life, it’s good or innocent people suffering.  I can’t help but think long and hard about the people of Japan, Haiti, Yemen, Libya and Egypt (and I know I likely missed at least one country that has been in the news of late).  But on a much more personal level, the events of a few people very close to me have also weighed heavily on my mind.  The woman that’s meant more to me than words can capture who is still fighting to recover from the after-effects of leukemia treatments and who, while just seeking a few moments of peace within which to recover, finds out the beloved dog who was there for every step of the fight of her illness has bone cancer.  Or one of my absolute best friends relapsing again with leukemia and contracting a bad (and incredibly scary) case of viral pneumonia to the point where he needed to be intubated to breathe.

It could be incredibly easy to lapse into a very gray funk… because, truth be told, hope seems to be missing temporarily or perhaps hiding in some dark corner where it’s waiting to reemerge.  Those two people so close to me… how would I tell them that “This too shall pass” or to keep believing when it seems like every step forward is soon followed by a rude shove forcing them to relent their hard-fought gains?  How do you stem the tears of someone who is trying to find a little solid footing, but now is heartbroken over the very likely need to say goodbye all-too-soon to the furry friend who was an absolute angel the last 8 years?  Anything said can easily come across hollow and insincere to even the most forgiving of viewpoints.

As I’ve often said in this blog, I don’t pretend to have all the answers and write more to share my own experiences as honestly as I can.  I do this in the hope that maybe just one other person will find a bit of insight or an ounce of comfort in what I have to say – that would be a tremendous win in my mind and heart.

So what to do?  Well, for me, the hope can often come from the very fight itself.  The situations that have been on my mind can all reach happy (or at least happier endings) and, hence, are worth fighting for.  My role becomes the shoulder to cry on and the friend to lean on.  Hmm… not sure if “role” even captures it properly.  Duty – I think that’s how I feel about it.  I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate that I do not have these horrible things happening to me and so I take it upon myself as my personal duty to bear as much as I can for those I care about.  If their hope wavers, mine will not and maybe… just maybe… they will fight a little harder or believe a little more because of that.

Life has so much out of our control.  That’s been the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last 10 to 15 years.  My reaction to that is to gut it out and give my best to those precious areas I can control.  Sometimes I do it well and others times… ehh… maybe not so much, but I keep trying.  The fight itself is worth it… but more importantly… those that mean so much to me are worth even more.

Plus, life always will throw a moment like this one at you:

That's one fired up nephew
Christmas hope courtesy of my nephew

I defy anyone not to find hope in something like that.  I do every time I see it.

January 15, 2011 Training – Deadlifts

Just a little video action from yesterday.  It’s interesting because I had been playing around with what I was doing on this lift of late, from not using a belt to doing full stops between reps… and then it hit me: stop trying to be cute and just lift the freakin’ thing.  End result?  A great set that I truly enjoyed… plus I got to let out a battle cry on that last rep.  That’s just a good day any time you can do that.

Lessons Learned: My First Strongman Competition

When I first began lifting weights, probably during my freshman year of college, it was really about aesthetics.  Unless I completely miss my guess, I think I was getting out of high school at around 145 lb. or so at my robust 5 feet 7 inches of dominating height.  The rather small weight area at Fairfield U. was not glamorous, but it seemed liked it would get the job done for my purposes.  I never had a plan or a clue back then and I’m wholly surprised I never did anything to damage myself permanently.

In the ensuing years, I became a little more knowledgeable, put on a few respectable pounds (currently up over 50 lbs. from my high school weight), read up on the subject more and began to create a semblance of a philosophy when it came to my own physical strength and conditioning.  In fact, I truly believe… wait, scratch that… know that my best days are ahead of me in my lifting career.

The most interesting development of all is less about my physical state and more about my mental state for training.  I tend to think of my physical training a lot more as it relates to my mind and spirit (and vice versa) than I ever have before.  Lifting is not simply a physical act for me – it’s testing myself against my own preconceived ideas of what is possible… it’s seeing if something I once thought as out of reach (a weight, a kind of lift, a time sprinting up a hill) is really something continuously on the horizon or right at my feet, ready to be conquered.

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Don’t get me wrong – I don’t stroll down the stairs into my home gym, put on Yanni and lift as if I were some kind of mild-mannered poet.  Hardly.  The philosophy is more for the time outside of the gym and is used to then drive the motivation inside of it.  So when I walk in, I’m looking to bring intensity to each lift and attack whatever the exercise is with abandon.

Where am I going with all of this?  Well, as the title of this post suggests, I did my first strongman competition a few weeks back.  For those not familiar with strongman events, they are similar to those Met-RX World’s Strongest Man competitions you see on ESPN… except that’s the elite level of the sport with weights and events far beyond what I was experiencing December 5th up in Paxton, MA.

The event was Paxton Strongman 6 and was comprised of 5 different events:

  • log press (as many reps as possible in 1 minute)
  • tire deadlift (as many reps as possible in 1 minute)
  • front hold (holding a weight out at arm’s length for as long as possible)
  • farmer’s walks (walking 40 feet with some serious weight on long handles, turning, and walking back 40 feet)
  • barrel and sandbag medley (carrying a barrel/keg a distance, running back, carrying a sandbag the same distance, running back and carrying the final sandbag to the finish)

I compete in the lightweight novice class which was for guys who have either never done a strongman competition or have only one done maybe one before.  The funniest part is that for novices, they want to include as many people as possible so the weights used are lighter than “open” competitors and the size of the weight class is much broader… 230 lb. and under.  I have no idea where else in the world 229 lb. is lightweight, but hey, there ya have it.

I finished in 9th place out of 12 competitors, which I guess is OK for my first ever competition… but in the end?  It’s not as much about placing as what I learned from it all and how it’s generally applicable to a lot of every day situations.  So here are my lessons learned from my first strongman competition:

You will be humbled. Embrace it.

The picture above was from the first event of the day – the log press.  The weight is 170 lb. and must be cleaned up off 2 tires and then pressed overhead to a lockout position as many times as possible in 1 minute.  I got 4 or 5 and the winner got around 11.  When I was prepping for this event, I was closer to around 8 or so reps on this lift… but a funny thing happened on the way to this event for me.  I was the last possible person lifting for this event out of everyone competing.  See, they run all the weight classes side-by-side on these events so that 4 or 5 people go for the same minute within their class… but my class was last and I was the clean-up person in my class.

Technically, that’s an advantage because I know exactly how much reps I need to come in first place… but there is a wee bit of a snag for me because I had to wait longer than anyone else and I had never done this kind of thing before.  To say I got anxious would be akin to saying a marathon is a brisk little jog to shake out the morning cobwebs.  I was convinced I was going to puke when I was setting up to start this event.  That’s not going to help anyone be focused on performance.

So what happened?  I performed poorly and it made catching up later in the competition harder than it should have been.  I saw guys who I am fairly certain I am better on this lift (and others) do better than me… and kudos to them for stepping up and performing well.

All of this taught me something important: when you get your ass kicked and do so in front of a whole bunch of people, accept it.  It doesn’t make you less of a person or a failure or a loser.  Being humbled like that is part of the fire that now drives me to do even better in my training because I want to do this again and really crush it.  I’m not sure I would be pushing myself quite like this if I finished with an overall solid performance – I might have felt a little too self-satisfied.

This was not failure, my friends… this was a lesson in where true motivation is born.

Nike said it best: just do it.

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When I first contemplated doing this contest, I was in touch with Matt Mills, owner/trainer of Lightning Fitness.  I decided to sign up to train over at Matt’s place in addition to the lifting I do in my beloved home gym, Fierce and Mighty (which you have hopefully found as well on Facebook at the Fierce and Mighty page).  Matt has done a few strongman competitions, winning a few along the way as welling as setting a national record for the log press (210 lbs for 15 reps in 1 minute… that’s absolutely sick).  I hemmed and I hawed about doing a competition that was less than 2 months away and kept saying I wanted to be more prepared before I placed myself into the white-hot crucible of competition.

Matt relayed to me the same advice he had gotten before his first powerlifting competition: if you are thinking about competing, sign up and compete.  It won’t be about where you place, but about what you learn when you compete (as this entire blog post is about).

And beyond that, there are few things that will focus your attention like an impending goal with a lot of public attention.  All of my friends and family knew I was doing this and quite a few of them showed up to cheer me on.  I really didn’t want to let them down and I think that, despite my own lack of satisfaction on my overall placing, it really made me push harder.

For people not interested in carrying around 170 lb. sandbags or deadlifting 370 lb. for 1 minute straight (which I hit for 19 reps, thank you very much!), you can use this same tool as well.  Going on a diet?  Book a trip to someplace warm where you want to wear a bathing suit.  This can hone the focus of many, many people.  Even beyond that, make public whatever your goal may be so your friends and family know what it is.  That alone will make it far more challenging to give up on.

But regardless of what it is, do something to get yourself moving and started.  Rare is the time in life when inaction is better than action, so take steps… however small… and get yourself going.  Small steps make momentum and progress until you find yourself pleasantly surprised to look up and find yourself in a better place than where you began.

Press on, press on, press on…

I’m not normally one to quote the Bible, but there is always one passage that’s stuck with me (partially because one of my best friends from high school picked it as his senior quote).  It’s Ecclesiastes 9:11 and it reads, in part

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…

There were some very strong guys and gals competing that day in Paxton.  None of them were are gloriously handsome as me, but I’m used to that… happens everywhere I go.  Umm… wait, where was I?  Oh yes… the competitors.  But you know where I think a lot of people separated themselves from their competition?  By how willing they were to push themselves just a little bit harder than everyone else.

For instance… when you are doing one of these events where you need to lift something for a minute straight, you feel like death by the end.  No one walks away from that feeling fresh as a daisy – it’s hard as hell.  But in the course of that minute, your mind begins to rebel a bit and wants to tell your body “Hey!  HEY!  Meat sack!  This is your brilliant intellect up here!  What in the name of all that’s holy are your DOING?!?!?  This HURTS!  STOP!”

The people who come out on top of these events are either able to make that inner voice quieter or push past it entirely.  See, even if you keep lifting until they call time, if you give into that voice just a little, you might lose a few reps… and that might mean the difference between 1st and 8th.

You want to win?  Step up to whatever your challenge is and never, ever, EVER lose sight of what you are looking to achieve.  Keep saying it to yourself over and over.  When you practice and prepare, say it over and over.  Make it such a habit because when it’s game time and you feel nervous and everyone is watching… it will pay off.  I wish I did more of this because I know I would have placed (and I kid you not) at least 3 or 4 spots higher than I did.

The longest of any of these events was a minute.  That’s it.  One, single, solitary minute.  Your challenge may not be a minute, but for 99.99999% of the population… your challenge will NOT last forever.  Press on.

So, those are the big 3 takeaways I had from all of this: (1) Embrace being humbled; (2) Action is always better than inaction; and (3) Every hard situation you will ever face will pass.  Be courageous until it does.

And if there is a lesson #4 in all of this, it would be that blogging is good for the soul and I probably shouldn’t wait 4 months between posts.  Press on.