Where do I even begin? First of all, holy shit does time fly. When I saw that it was one year ago today that I officially became an elitefts athlete, I couldn't believe it. Really? That was already 365 days ago? Fuck. I wanted to write this because of the tremendous amount of personal growth I've gone through since being on the team, and how training has helped me through certain endeavors.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, so it may just seem like utter word vomit. I just want to share a few of the more memorable lessons I have learned since joining the team.

I finally fixed my deadlift.

If I had a dollar for every video I saw of powerlifters staring at their fucking feet while deadlifting—and wearing their bacon/donut socks—I'd have so much money that Pablo Escobar's head would spin. Minus the bacon socks, I was inadvertently putting my head in the wrong position of my deadlift. I wasn't staring at my junk like half of these clowns are now, but I was staring at the floor and didn't even realize it. I had a million people tell me "head up" while pulling, but it never really stuck until I started working with Matt Smith. Matt worked with me for about six months and my deadlift saw a ton of progress. After sending him my first video he called me and said, "Your deadlift is ugly as fuck. It's so bad. I know exactly how to fix it." My problem was that my eyes were looking down, which would set me up for failure at my lockout. I can't tell you how many times I failed a deadlift a sack hair away from completion. When I started to "look the judge in the eyes" before I pulled the bar, my weight would be on my heels and the tension in my posterior chain. Moral of the story: keep your damn eyes up.

Be an animal and do what you're told.

These are words that Dave yelled in my ear during my first go-round with circa max squatting. I thought I trained with an intense attitude, but this brought me to a whole other level. I was doing doubles with 365 pounds of bar weight with about 400 pounds of band tension while wearing my suit bottoms (those numbers might not be exact, but it was heavier than fuck...which is heavy). I've never failed so many squats in a row. I was overthinking, the bands were throwing me around, and my legs were completely numb. I never failed squats. I took pride in hitting whatever was put on my back.

Any ego I did have was completely shattered on this day. Dave saw me struggling like a fawn that was shot with a 12 gauge. He pulled me aside and looked me square in the eyes. He said with fire in his tone, "Be an animal and do what you're told! Stop fucking around under the bar and just fucking do it." I can't say that's word-for-word, because at that point I barely knew my own name. But I remember it finally got through my thick skull. Stop thinking and just do. I apply those words to every training day, especially the rough ones.

Pick smart attempts for competitions.

During my first few years of powerlifting, every meet seemed somewhat like an experiment with attempts. I'd say I had some great guidance along the way, but the principles I'll continue to use came from working with Todd Brock, who got me to my first over 2000-pound (2040-pound) multi-ply total at 220. Todd taught me much more than just this lesson, but this is something I ALWAYS try to pass on to others when they ask me for meet advice. He taught me to always, always, always open light. In my opinion, meets are 70% mental and 30% physical. If you fuck yourself mentally early on, say goodbye to all that hard work you put into that meet prep.

Open whatever "light" means for you and gain momentum for the rest of your attempts. Your opener should almost fly off your back. This will set you up mentally for the rest of the competition. I can't tell you how many times I see guys who open with a PR or just under a PR; it's slower than dog shit and next thing you know their entire meet is in the shitter.

Do things that put you outside of your comfort zone.

I started training in multi-ply around December of 2013. My first piece of gear was a pair of Frantz briefs that have probably been around the block more times than Angelina Jolie in her younger years. Still, it was something to start me off with. At the time, I trained with a crew down at Duke’s Iron Zoo, which was a gear whore’s haven. Every guy down there would let you try their old briefs, suits, or whatever it may be to try to bring you to the dark side. I was lucky to be surrounded with such a great group of guys, and this made training equipped more fitting for me.

Flash forward three and a half years and you have a lifter who hasn’t put more than 315 pounds on his back without a piece of equipment since. I didn’t like the feeling of how awfully slow the squats felt without my briefs or how “unprotected” I felt. On the other hand, I hated the fact that I had not a clue what my raw numbers were. After my best multi-ply performance in August of 2016, I had the itch to test myself in another area that was now considered foreign to me. At this point, my last raw meet was in November of 2013, which was also the last time I squatted heavy raw. There was a meet in December 2016 in Cleveland and I toyed with the idea of just saying, “Fuck it, let’s just do it and see what happens."

WATCH: Mario D'Amico — A Return to Raw

If I had a dollar for every time I was squatting raw this last fall and said, “Dude, that weight moved slower than a one-legged dog on tranquilizers,” I’d have a ton of dollars. I ended up deciding to do the meet about eight weeks out. I did my own peaking cycle leading into it, went 9/9 and put on exactly 301 pounds from my last raw meet. My point is, there may be certain things in training that aren’t normal to you or that make you feel uneasy. Whatever it may be, just do it. Pull the trigger and see what happens. Stepping outside your comfort zone will not only put you a cut above the mundane, but also put you out there to share your experience with others.

It's not about YOU.

Powerlifting, down to its core, is a selfish sport. To be the best, you have to be selfish. You may have to train for four hours at a time, four days a week to get in the needed time under the bar. You may have to travel thirty minutes, an hour, or even three hours to your gym just for a single training session. I began to fall into that lifestyle, where personal relationships came second and training came first. When I cared more about how I was going to be training than I cared about talking to my girlfriend (of four years) for a week, problems started manifesting. The thing was, her support was the reason I was finding success in the sport — and I needed that. I went through a stage of depression that training couldn't even fix. I knew that's when I needed to change. I needed to find a balance where I could make both work.

This was no easy task at first. I was able to eventually reframe the situation to continue to move forward in my relationship as well as powerlifting. Call me a pussy or tell me I don't have what it takes, but at the end of the day, nobody gives a shit about how much you squat. I'd rather have someone to come home to that I can tell about the PR I hit during training than to lay in bed not feeling the warmth of a relationship that I once had. In the wise words of Duke from Duke's Iron Zoo, "Powerlifting is not worth a relationship, brother. Learn from my mistakes. Don't throw something that important away for a bigger total."

Without getting into too much detail, we both learned that love is a choice. Don't get caught up in the fairy tale bullshit. Relationships are hard and it requires a lot of work from both sides. It takes compromises with lots and lots of communication. One thing I learned was that if I felt a certain way, I needed to say it. Not tomorrow, not next week, right then and there. Say it, talk about it, and fix it. I understand that sometimes, things just simply don't work. Just don't give up without a fight.

Ask any married couple if marriage is easy and I guarantee they'll tell you, "Fuck no!" (Maybe without the "fuck.") One thing that we now do to always try to improve is challenge each other in our relationship. If we feel like one of us is becoming complacent, we call each other out on it. We're not assholes about it, we are just straightforward with each other. It may sound stupid, but the book "The 5 Love Languages" has a ton of good ideas to help better your relationship. Even if you think you're in the perfect relationship, read it. I guarantee you will not regret it.

How These Lessons Made Me Strong(er)

There were only five lessons listed above, but I can assure you, they were just the tip of the iceberg. Now, before I say the whole, “You can apply the lessons you learn in the gym to life”, understand that going through these stages of learning wasn’t just directly applicable to life; they changed my thought processes on how to deal with the curveballs the universe inevitably throws at you. It wasn’t as simple as saying, “When you miss a squat, you try harder and come back to get it. Now go apply that mentality to your last job interview.” Some of these situations forced me to reach out to more knowledgeable resources where I ended up learning much more than I originally intended. Some of the situations forced me to reframe my thinking when the gold dust was ready to slip through my fingers. They reminded me that when a goal may seem intangible, the only way you can actually find out is by DOING it. It helped ingrain the habit of not letting the fear of failure stop me from doing things that I think seem foolish or impractical. Understand the lessons you learn and how you learned them. They will undoubtedly prepare you for the extra shit that may be coming your way in this thing we call life.