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When I started writing part one of this article (Spending 2016 In The Basement), I never thought it would end up being a 10,000-word article. I guess when it comes to doing stupid shit I've become good at trying to justify my decisions.
That's fine to do as long as we learn from those questionable decisions. Part 1 walked you through a year of my training for one big objective. I shared the struggles, successes, and more importantly, the mistakes.
Now I'm going to share the conclusion to the story as well as the 8 biggest training takeaways from 2016.
Live, Learn, Pass on
In The Office With The Realist
My looming doctor's appointment on Monday came faster than I could ever imagine. I not only got the realist talk but agreed to sign an agreement saying I would never do anything like this again. This is why you don't tell the "realists" what you are doing until it's almost done. They won't try to talk you out of it but will tell you not to do it again.
Just by writing this, I am enabling stupid behavior. So I want to stop and stress that this was fucking stupid, I don't advise it, and more than likely I will never do it again. Even 8 months after the lifts I am still paying the price. I am at a place where I do not know if it was worth it BUT I will not decide that until later down the road.
I signed an agreement saying I would never do this again but even at the high body weight, my health indicators were not that bad. My blood pressure was good, my heart rate good, and blood work was ok. However, I couldn't do much except lift. Walking across the parking lot was not fun and stairs sucked. I kinda remembered this feeling from over a decade ago but didn't remember how bad it was. Other than that, training was on point since it was now the top priority in my life. Now that my plan was in full swing and I was nearing my goal, it was time to let the other "realists" in my life know what I was doing. Let's just say if they were NOT surprised, it was because they already figured it out.
The "Realist" Agreement
As far as the contract I signed, I will abide by it for several reasons. The time I needed to devote to this endeavor was more than I wanted to give. Twenty years ago I didn't have the responsibilities I do now. The physical drain was hard to keep up with. While I did figure out how to recover and how to be ready for each session, this was a never ending process that wouldn't be as draining if the end goal wasn't so big. Even with this, my body was feeling the toll. It is one thing to recover but wear and tear is still wear and tear. And it was catching up quick. I knew my hip would get replaced but my shoulder, knees, and neck were problematic and I didn't have the time at this point to back off and let them heal the way they should.
Side Note To Coaches
I won't say any of this is a bad thing. It's a real thing. If you're working with athletes, you need to understand that if they flip the switch and their sport or training becomes their number one priority, they're NOT looking for reasons why they can't do something. They're going to tune all of that out. The only thing they're going hear are things that validate why what they're doing is right. They WILL NOT see that it's damaging to personal, business, family, and all other relationships. Their focus is too strong to pay attention to the noise. This is GOOD and BAD. As coaches, you have to help them navigate this so their life isn't a mess when they come out on the other side. As athletes, this is what the "realists" are for. Fuck the critics but keep an ear open to the realists. I've been there in the past, was there during this phase, and I didn't want to go there again. Not everyone will be the same. Some have no issues with calls for balance, others will be dicks. I fall more on the dick head side when I get "locked into" something.
I did what I wanted to do and hit the numbers I wanted to hit. It didn't come without a price because my hip was now a disaster. I was not able to sleep, I needed a cane to walk, and the pain never went away. My shoulder was also killing me and I wasn't able to type with my arm on my desk. I had to use my laptop on my lap. Getting up and down stairs was tricky to do and always came with pain and shortness of breath. Even with all this, I was still able to put things together in the gym. Duct tape was my biggest training aid. I am 100% serious about this. Some people need knee sleeves, elbow sleeves, and compression shorts. I needed duct tape around my groin, quad, and forearms.
Was It Worth It?
Was it worth all of this to hit a couple real PR's?
At the time I broke the PR, I would say FUCK yes. Looking back, I would say no comment. While you are still paying down the debt, it's hard to say whether the price was worth the reward.
If this was only about the bench, I would say no since I only like benching. I love to squat so I will base my answer around that. Was it worth it? An all time PR. Something I WILL remember the rest of my life. Something that took close to a year to accomplish, that I didn't I would be able to do at first. At the time I broke the PR I would say yes, FUCK yes. Without a doubt. I had something to prove to myself and did. I take more personal pride in this PR that anything else I have ever done in training. This is without question.
Looking back close to a year later, I will just answer it with no comment. I knew there would be a price to pay (another hip replacement) but I didn't expect or foresee exactly what the total price would end up being. For now, I am not going to answer that. While you are still paying down the debt, it's hard to say whether the price was worth the reward.
Will this end up being a reward or regret?
Time will tell, either way...
Regardless, I earned it.
Biggest Training Take Aways From 2016
Training Progress Should Be Expected, NOT Celebrated
The way I have always approached my training is that progress should be expected. If the program is designed properly, you should be moving forward in some way every week. Your max effort work should go up. The weight and number of repetitions you can get on supplemental and accessory work should improve. If it doesn't, then its time to change the movements or the way it's programmed. I would call this normalcy. While the pace may be slow, improvements should be made and expected. I have never celebrated these improvements because it's part of the process.
At the same time, I never get upset when things stall out or halt altogether, These allow us to learn, evolve and become better. Stagnation and failing are what allow some to learn and move forward while permitting others to give up and find something else to do. I do understand why many feel the need to celebrate every tiny success in training. I just don't do it myself and will not praise others who do. I feel there becomes a point where they become taken for granted and are not worth striving for. I have always kept my celebrations for bigger achievements I had to work hard to get and not things that just fall in my lap.
All PRs Are Not The Same
There is a difference between something you have to work a lifetime for, something you train a year for, something you train months for, and the normal progress made with consistency. Everyone must know the difference and understand that some will take years to achieve and will not come without a real struggle. Shit will always stand in the way; this is what makes the big accomplishments feel so good to achieve. I have said to many people "Sometimes the hardest lifts to make are 135, 135, and 135". Meaning a 135 pound squat, bench press and deadlift. Those who have been badly injured and very sick know exactly what I mean. These "light" weights for most can (and WILL) be very humbling many times throughout a lifting career. We quickly realize how much strength we take for granted when it's all taken away. For some it may take weeks, months, and even years to get back to 135, but when you do.... the next chapter begins, and you are on your way. For those in this position, never lose hope with 135. It will be back as long as you stay the path.
Go All In
Clint Darden gave a presentation at one of the elitefts events. The focus of his talk was going all in. I am not sure most people know what this means since they have never had to do this in their life. Many people have never had to get "psyched up" for anything in their life. They simply never had the need to and never learned how. They mistake motivation for determination when, in reality, those two are very different. Motivation is what you need to get you off your ass when you know you should get off your ass. Even in that case motivation isn't necessary. You can still do the work even though you don't want to. If you know you need to do it, you will.
Going all in is knowing you will do what you to need to do no matter the circumstance. Just because something becomes your number one priority, it doesn't mean you can't still get other shit done. Not doing so is simply a lame ass excuse for being lazy. You can put your all into training for a sport and still work on your job or education. For most of my life, training was my first priority but I was still able to work, get an education, and build a future. I will admit the pace of these were slow but they were being done. I hear lifters tell me all the time they do have time to do anything but train. This is fucking lazy and short-sighted. They do have the time, they just chose to spend it doing other things. It's that simple. Without writing in circles, I want to come back to being all in. If you really want to be great at something, do not assume it will happen with half assed effort, work, and determination.
Don't Limit Your Success Due To Short-sighted Goals
Have you ever really thought about goals? For many years now I've had a problem using that word. I feel it's short-sighted. What if you set a goal and it ends up not being a reach? What if your best bench press is 300 and you set you next meet goal at 315. Now, let's say your training cycle goes awesome, you make a few technical changes and end up hitting 300 for five reps. If you were to adjust the program at this point, you might be able to peak the cycle with a 330 bench, but if you "stick to the plan" you will hit an easy 315 and leave weight on the platform. This is what I mean by short-sighted goals.
I went into the training cycle wanting to hit a 700 pound squat and after I figured out how to take the shaking away, I hit that number easy. Rather than call it done, I changed my expectation to something I felt was a reach. Based on how I felt, where I was in the training cycle, and my other lifts, I felt another 100 pounds was within reason. I may have had 30-50 more when I did the 700, so I had to find a way to add the last 50. When I talk to lifters today, many of them have a good handle on when to "back down" when things are getting rough. There are others who have done this a long time and know when they are too far ahead of schedule and will purposely pull back on the training a bit so they don't peak too soon. Both of these are GREAT to know and are learned with experience "under the bar." This can't be taught and no research paper will tell you when to do either of these.
The ability to make the necessary changes based on how things feel is what I would describe as the "art" of training and very good self-awareness. There is another part of this that I see abused with beginners, not used well with intermediates, and fear gets in the way with the advanced lifters. This is when things are going VERY good, not ahead of schedule good, but "over the top" good. Some strength gains are linear to a degree, especially with beginners. But, I would argue most are not. Most are a result of technical changes, mental changes, and just hitting the right cycle at the right place at the right time.
A few examples
Your squat is going right on schedule, and you hook up with a training group of more advanced lifters, and they pick out a couple of technical items you have been doing wrong. You adjust these and notice a profound difference and over the next couple sessions- weight that used to feel hard now feels like a joke. Just as you would back down your training if things were shit. jack the shit up now because you just hit another level. Don't be scared of being strong. While this sounds like an odd statement, it's very true, and I do not know of one WR holder that didn't have a time in their training where things were going "scary strong" for them. The difference between them and the rest of the pack is they embrace this fear.
There's one more takeaway associated with this, and I am not exactly sure how I feel about it so I am writing it as an observation since I would never tell anyone else to do this. After I reached the objectives I set, I should have backed off and stopped. This is where my enablers and realists were on the same page. I remember letting a couple of weeks go by, and my surgery was still 3 or 4 weeks out. It felt SO awesome to hit those PR's and have heavy weight on my back. It's was addicting, and I wanted more of it, so I justified it by working up to 600 pounds and then 400 pounds of chain. When I got to this set, I did a triple instead of one. I couldn't believe I did that.
I went into seeing JL a few days later, and after a few minutes of working on me, he said...
"Dude, what did you do?"
"You're fucked up!"
He had me back to a seven after I did the goal weight and now I was at a 2. Based on how I felt, I knew it was bad. I wasn't even able to lift my leg for him to do the testing. I told him I went up and did a heavy triple. This is when one of my enablers turned on me and made it clear what I was doing was fucking stupid and served zero purpose. I agreed but it was 600 pounds with 400 pound of chain making me really think how much I left on the table when I hit the 800. You see the pattern here? I am not sure if it is good or bad but I did back down again and went back to rehab-type training that would allow me to recover better from surgery. That lasted about two weeks.
I had to know and was now less than two weeks from surgery so I figured the worst case scenario would be that I break the hip and would have to have the surgery sooner than later. Based on the pain I was in, this was actually a better option to me than waiting two more weeks.
I hit the gym for one more shot and after 1000 warm up sets, I started to work up with a deep pit in my stomach. I really thought this was not going to end well. I have always said that when you go into deep PR space, one of three things can happen . And two are bad:
1. you make the weight
2. you miss the weight
3. you get hurt
In most cases, I focus 100% on the first option but on this day, I felt the third would be the best case because it would send me to the hospital and the daily pain would be gone. Can you see now why I would never advise this for anyone? The alternatives, missing or making the weight, would still end with me in pain. I ended up hitting 855 for a single. Yes, it hurt like hell but wasn't exactly satisfactory because I felt like my main objective of 800 was short-sighted. I had spent a large part of my training phase focusing on that when I had more in me and I was to scared to think bigger. After ruminating on this more, I concluded that 800 was the right call and the 855 was due to having zero fear at all. I don't care who you are, with max weight there is always a degree of fear, even if it is small. If not, there would never be a need to get into a "different state" to lift the weights. I found myself in a position where I wanted my leg to break, pop out, or anything that would send me to the hospital, so all inhibition was removed. This is never a good idea even in competition. Because of this, I do not count it as my PR.
Did I pay for this?
Oh, fuck yeah. I didn't think the pain could get worse. I was WRONG because the next ten days before surgery were extremely bad and no amount of pain pills was making a difference.
In strength, there is a ceiling called "absolute strength". Then there is the strength you can display. There is always a strength deficit between these two. As you advance as a strength athlete, it is important to use your training to close this gap but don't forget your mind is also responsible for closing part of the gap your training can't. This is why your CM (competitive max) should always be larger than your TM (training max). If it is not between 5 and 15%, then you have a weak mind. Your training and mental game should always be addressed realizing you will never hit your absolute strength but you can get closer than you already are.
This is also why you should NEVER think you can't get any stronger.
You always can!
Know Why You Are Doing What You're Doing
I am so tired of reading "know your why"! A best selling book hits the market, and everyone jumps on the band wagon. I am dreading writing this because of it being so fucking cliche. If you are training for a meet you know why you are doing it but none of us ever will know the underlying reason why we do what we do. I once wrote we do what we do because that's what we do. The reason I do it will be different than yours. Does it really matter if I know your reason or you know mine? One thing I know for a fact is my reason for doing what I do has changed over time but I am still, to a degree, that high school kid sketching totals and squat dudes in my notebook. Nobody has ever had to force me to train, and I don't suppose they ever will.
What does matter is why are you doing the phase of training you are doing RIGHT NOW!
Is it for GPP, rehab, strength, peak, strength endurance, strength speed, speed strength? You MUST know this in order to do what you are supposed to do and not get ahead of yourself or break phase because something else is more fun to do. Getting in shape to start training for a meet sucks. GPP sucks. Bringing up weak points suck. Do all the things you suck at. These HAVE to be done if you want to get better and get to the next phase.
I have been hurt, in rehab, had medical issues, and other factors in my life than have all left me in places where I am not sure if I could squat, bench, or pull 135. It sucks more than you know and only those who have been there can relate. You must be realistic about this and know exactly why you doing what you are doing to get better. This is also true when you are 4 weeks out from a meet. At four weeks out you can't afford to make stupid decisions.
Find The Right People To Be Around At The Right Time
I wrote about how I have enablers and realists. This applies to every area of my life. Many people only have enablers and end up in very bad places. Others only have realists and never end up doing shit because life is about risks. I feel you need both but I will keep this training related. If you are a crazy fuck, find other crazy fucks to be around. Trust me, they will understand you. Especially if they have been, or are, where you are. Good chance they are even more fucked up then you are so they can take you places you never thought you would be able to get.
BUT, don't forget they are as "fucked up" as you are.
They server a purpose but you also need some type of balance so when you do fall off the edge (and you will), you will have people to help pick you up. I will tell you right now; the best enablers will not be there to pick you up. They may go down with you, but they are not the ones to get you back up. It's not because they don't care. They do, in their own way, as you do on your own. They don't want to be at the crash because it reminds them that they also may crash. They will be there once you get up and will be the ones who will answer the question of "how long will this one take to come back from."
The people you need to keep this all in check are the realists. These are the people that know you are fucked up, have come to terms with it, but are also waiting for you to "grow out of it" or for you to "get it out of your system". They do not see you or judge you based on your accomplishments but on who you are - as you do the same with them. They see the big picture and do have your best interests in mind. They will also be the ones who will be there when everyone else leaves. If you are in this game long enough, you will tear through enablers while the realists are always there and should never be taken for granted.
Learn From Other People's Mistakes
I think it's taken me four decades to really learn this one and I still have a long way to go. Several months ago I was having a text conversation (is that a thing?) with my doctor and at one point he wrote: "You are finally learning from the mistakes of others." I never really thought about this but he was correct.
I always try to "pass on" so others can learn from the mistakes I've made. If something new came around, I was first in line. When Louie needed someone to test chains, I was one of the first. Bands- I was there when he first bought them and was under the bar the first session. This is how I've been my entire life...
"Fuck it, I'll do it"
"Oh, shit, that didn't work and was fucking stupid."
Throughout my entire lifting career, I can only think if one injury that was a true accident.
The rest were decisions I knew were high risk and had consequences. Now I am dealing with wear and tear of 3 decades of pounding. I won't say any of that was stupid since 37 years of this shit adds up no matter who you are. As Louie used to say... "speak all you want about be injury fee and how great you feel. Let's hear what you say after doing it for 35 years". This was another thing I thought he was full of shit about but today I know for a fact how right he was. I should have listened to him more.
This is what happens when you do not learn from the mistakes of others.
This is also much easier said than done.
I think once you can do this, and know when to listen and when not to, is when you can be allowed to be called an expert. With wisdom come expertise.
I am not there yet but am closer than I was last year. I thought I was learning from the mistakes of others but the older I get, the more I see I have not.
Don't Worry So Much About The Price
Today, it is the "in" thing to talk about the price you need to pay, the dues you have to pay, and the sacrifices you need to make. Here is a tip about this.
Shut the fuck up!
If you have paid the price for something and had the accolades to show for it, you already know that you have no idea of what the price was until AFTER you did it.
People today are so fucking caught up in how much they bust their ass, how hard they work, and this and that. This is all bullshit perception bias. How can you be paying the price if all you do is talk about paying the price? And, what price is it you are paying? Time? Effort? Come on. Everyone puts in time and effort, some a fuck ton more than others. The ones who have paid the price are the same ones who will not sit back and tell you about it once they reach their objective. You know why? Because they either regret it or are on to the next thing. Not to mention no two stories are the same. What may come easily to some may be hard to others. What does this mean to you? Not a thing. It's how it comes to you that matters and that's it. You will never know this if you are too caught up in trying to figure out the price you will need to pay and it sure as shit will not come to those who spend every day talking about how hard they work.
Now, destroy the rest of 2017!