Tag Archives: weightlifting

Seeking the Coaching Sweet Spot

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There’s a funny aspect of coaching where you need to strike a balance between your involvement and your objectivity.  I think the best coaches are driven by a passion to make those they have the privilege of working with better, but they then need to take the proper steps back not to let their own desires become the focus.  That’s a little bit of the secret sauce of it all, really.  You are trusted with being the steward of your trainee’s talent and desires.  To use a legal concept (because why the hell not), you are like the executor and manager of a trust – you have a good faith obligation to what has been entrusted to you.

And trust is such a perfect word and concept because it hits the dual-meaning of duty and also that you are entrusted with the faith your trainee placed in you.

This takes on a new level if the trainee/athlete/student is personally very close to you. The thing that drives you as a coach adds in a new, very strong variable of that relationship… which can be good and bad.  Good in that you are even more committed than usual to a great end result, but bad if… again… the objectivity is lost or the desired end state of your trainee gets steamrolled.

I just started working with my oldest nephew just over 2 weeks ago to really get him weight training for the first time.  He did a little bit in fits and starts with the high school baseball team this past year, but this is his first foray into a structured and very consistent program.  I had my own coach work this up for him as I guide him through it.

Each session we’ve had is a learning experience for both of us.  For him, he is seeing what a well-thought out program of strength, power, mobility, movement prep and conditioning looks like.  For me, I’m seeing what it means to consistently coach someone else on all aspects of strength & conditioning and figuring out how to do this for what he wants… not what Uncle Kevin wants.

It’s essentially a twist on the baseball coaching I’ve done with my 2 oldest nephews for the last 8 or 9 years.  The difference here is in baseball, it’s balanced by the need to focus on all the players.  In this case?  It’s one-on-one.  It would be easy to get all out of sorts and take every bit of how each session goes overly personally.

So what to do?  How to find the magic point in all of this between passion and objectivity?  I think for the near future (and maybe longer), it’s going to be fairly simple: focus on getting my nephew to enjoy the whole process.  That’s honestly it – if I make that my success criteria, the rest of the details will take care of themselves.  Progress will be made and progress, my friends, is the great hook of hooks.

Sometimes your best course of action as a coach is to get out of your own way, stop spending so much time overthinking every nuance with your trainee and just let their enjoyment be the guide.  And maybe you’ll have a little fun more coaching fun in the process too.

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!

The Power of Fun and The Joy of Beginning Anew

Hope you enjoy the video – trying to mix up the content here at ol’ Fierce and Mighty.  I do a lot of public speaking for work and, honestly, I enjoy doing it.  If y’all like it, I will do some more.

And if you are interested in nominating me for the Hartford Courant’s Webster awards for best blogs in Connecticut, please do click here.  You don’t need to be from Connecticut to nominate, but you do to win.

For a quick overview of the training talked about in the video above, it may look a lil’ bit like this:

Sunday: OFF

Monday: Lifting

Tuesday: Conditioning

Wednesday: Lifting

Thursday:Conditioning

Friday:Conditioning

Saturday: Lifting

The lifting will obviously be 3 times per week, but the overall split is 4 days (hence I will not have Mondays set as “Bench Press” or the like).  The split will be using the 5/3/1 template and will look like this:

Day 1: Deadlifts

Day 2: Overhead Press

Day 3: Cleans and Squats

Day 4: Bench Press

come-at-me-broThe conditioning could be any of the following: Prowler, car push/pulls, hill sprints, sprints, biking, playing hoops, playing soccer, etc. – essentially, whatever I feel like.  This is getting back to the fun of it all – I mean, God forbid I enjoy this stuff.

Where I plan on changing things around the most will be what I do after the big lifts.  I’ve realized that I like my training best when it works towards me being quicker, more mobile and more athletic.  Hence, there will be some typical core lifts, but also more kettlebell work, turkish get-ups, tire flips and so on.  And clearly, A LOT more stretching and mobility work.

Bottom line: It’s time to get back to doing this to enjoy it again… enjoy the process, enjoy the work, enjoy the craft of lifting.  It’s been my rock and it’s been good to me – time to get back to that place again.

And in the words of the most confident anteater of all timer… COME AT ME BRO! (Seriously… that never gets old for me).

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

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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.

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.

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.

Embrace the Team

Throughout my life, I’ve been on a wide variety of teams.  As a kid, they pretty much involved sports of one kind or another, from a formal Little League team to whatever teams we would cobble together to play pick-up football, baseball, Wiffleball, street hockey, basketball or the always classic “war” (which involves 10 year old boys running around with pretend guns blasting the bejeezus outta each other).

I’ve always loved the team environment, which is a bit interesting because I am an introvert at heart.  Some people recharge their batteries hanging out with big groups of people whereas I need some quiet time by myself to decompress properly.

But still, the dynamics of the team (especially one that works well together) has always resonated with me in a deeply satisfying way.  These days I end up on teams in the workplace to a degree, but I maintain most of my outlet for teaming in a competitive sports venue with soccer.  I play on two teams, one of which as just a player and the other as the captain (see our handsomeness from a few season ago here):

Best looking team around

Admittedly being the captain is sometimes akin to being a glorified secretary and babysitter (yeah… that’s right… babysitter… stuns me to think the extent to which I have to shoo along people in their late 20’s and up to get them to the damn games), but I do love it.

So why all this team talk?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to opening up my home gym to anyone else who wants to come and train.  It’s been a bit of an interest process of contemplation for a lot of reasons.

  1. Who would I open it up to?  Friends?  Complete strangers, but people who are as committed to training as I am?
  2. How would it work?  This is at my house, so what if I was unable to train one day.  What would the other people end up doing if they came to rely on my gym as their sole training spot?
  3. What happens if it’s not a good fit and I get people who are not nearly as focused as I am or are just complete douchebags?
Legendary bodybuilding training partners, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu

In the end, I can’t help but think what I am missing out on by training solo.  Don’t get me wrong – I have seen a helluvalot more benefits to training at home versus a commercial gym.  I can do any lift I want, play any music I want, be as loud as I want and do so without any… umm… “distractions” (that would be the fairer sex whom I love to pieces, but can completely throw any rational guy out of his rhythm in the gym… that’s just science.  But I would definitely have women as training partners – no doubt).

And getting beyond just thinking about the team as a means to measurable results, I think there is just a ton to be said for the relationships forged as part of a group striving for a common (or at least very similar) goal and being there to push your teammates along the way.  I miss that camaraderie to a big extent, so I might be looking for a few good men and women to join in the quest to do a little better, be a little stronger, push a little harder and go a little farther than any of us thought possible.  Isn’t that one of the great joys in life anyway

So who’s with me?