I have always been a pretty intense individual and consider myself a very hard worker. Growing up in a Midwest blue-collar family meant hard work was just a way of life. This is something I have always taken great pride in and have seen as one of my greatest assets. In my life, it seems there have always been tons of people with much better genetics than I have, but I learned there were few that would be willing to work as hard as I would. Even fewer would be willing to give what I was willing to give to succeed. I love the ideals of hard work, being hardcore, and oozing intensity, but over the years I have learned there are many ways to perceive these things.

Through many years of competing in different sports, I have many times used thoughts of how hard my competition is working as motivation to get in some seriously intense hardcore training. I realized, though, that there are two major flaws with this type of thinking. Luckily, I had learned this by the time I started powerlifting. The first flaw I talked about in my last article, which is that motivation is fleeting. It is just a feeling and is okay to use from time to time, but nothing to rely on. The second is that it is unimportant and irrelevant how hard your competition is working or training. You are not them and they are not you. Training is an individual thing, as individual as each person in the world and as individual as all of our lives. The greatest athletes in the world lead; they do not follow.

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Almost nothing good can come from focusing too much on your competition and what they are doing in their training. Let's take powerlifting, for example, and say your main competition is training his or her ass off in the gym today. Let's say last night you had a terrible night of sleep. Let's say you were not able to get enough calories in today. Let's say over the last couple weeks you have been gradually showing more and more signs of over-training. Well, the best thing you could do is probably back off and do a recovery session or possibly even a deload week. Maybe your competition is killing it in the gym today because he or she did get lots of sleep and tons of calories. Maybe he or she has been spot on with training and has been feeling amazing. It would make total sense for them to be training their ass off on this day, but if you try to train your ass off you may just beat yourself up even more, which will do your strength levels no good.

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Let's say you're a lifter that doesn’t have the greatest recovery and your competition is one of those genetic freaks that has insane recovery. Trying to keep up with this individual is only going to have a negative effect on your training. This can be flip-flopped, too. Say you have that ability to train with great intensity and often, but your competition is someone like myself that does not have this gift. If you try to train like me you will be under-training and not make the progress you could be making. What if your competition is focusing on a lot of low back work because he knows this is his weak point but it is not your weak area? You may work your low back and get it stronger, but your main lifts will not increase much because your weak point is your hip flexors, which did not get much stronger because you followed your competition. What your competition is doing is probably (or hopefully) what is the best for them, but it is not necessarily what you need in order to be the best you can be.

To make it to the highest levels in whatever you do, you must focus on yourself. Serious strength training—or actually any serious training—is complex. It takes a ton of energy, time, and focus, so there is little time to waste worrying about what your competition is doing. I am not saying you can’t learn from them or even get a little motivation when you're a bit down, but don’t fall into that trap of thinking you need to keep up with them or do what they are doing. When I started powerlifting I knew I wanted to be good and I knew I could reach the highest levels, but I also knew in order to do that I had to focus on myself. I had to figure out what training I needed to do and what worked for me. In order to learn and gain knowledge, I did look at a bunch of lifters and their training. Of course, I tended to look more at lifters I respected, but even then I tried to see the whole picture. Just because I liked or respected them did not mean what they did would work for me.

I asked myself questions and tried to analyze everything. Did I have similar genetics to these athletes? Did we have similar lives? Did we have similar mentalities? These things wouldn't totally mean their training would work for me, but it gave me a better idea if it might. Even if the answers to these questions were different, I still looked for knowledge I could take away from them to help me. When I was researching programs, I always leaned towards programs that were set up to be modified or tried to figure out how I could be able to modify them to again fit my own needs. I was always focused on what would work for me and help me get the most out of my body. We must find our own way to reach our potential in life. In my experience, the common paths usually lead to mundane places.

This focus on myself in training also stretched out to competition. Sure, I always wanted to win every meet, but I knew that if I continued to focus on myself the big wins would come. In my first meets, the only competition I worried about was myself. My main focus was to beat my best and to continue doing that. I did not care what the other people in my weight class were doing or even so much how I finished. It was about winning the war, and that usually includes losing a few battles. As I kept progressing, I gradually began to pay more attention to where I finished in competition. I would modify weights to win, but still, my main competition was myself. I never forgot the level I wanted to reach or that in order to get there I had to stay focused on myself.


As I improved, there were plenty of competitions in which I could have set up numbers to win easily, but instead, I challenged myself to do the best I could. Winning a local or state meet was not important to me unless it was a qualifier for a bigger meet. I never wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to be a great white roaming the whole ocean! When I was setting goals or looking at my own potential, it was never based on other lifters. Maybe you could say wanting to break a world record was based on another lifter, but for me, it wasn’t. I rarely ever gave it any thought that no one in history had ever opened with numbers as high as I did, took jumps like I did, or lifted at that weight. Even after I had broken world records, I immediately focused on the next goal and did not care that no else had ever done that. It was irrelevant to me what anyone else had or had not done. All that mattered is what I thought I could do and what I thought my potential was. I truly believe this is the mindset of the greatest in any endeavor.

I know the Rocky movies are just movies, but I think they did a great job of representing this point. When Rocky fought Apollo Creed, he followed what he needed to do (at least in the end). He knew or learned he did not need all that flash or public training. He needed old school training and an old-school coach — that is just who he was. When he went up against the Russian badass science project Ivan Drago, he saw what modern scientific training looked like. But again, he knew that was not his style. Sure, maybe there was a shit ton of science behind their training, and maybe he was a genetic freak that fit that training perfectly. But Rocky knew his biggest strength was heart and a really hard head. He knew that scientific shit wasn’t going to work for him. He needed to take himself to a place that cut everything down to the simplest equations of life and training. He went back to the simple old school just-work-your-ass-off training. Now, I know it is pretty damn funny I just compared a serious topic to a movie series, but I think it makes a good point. Throughout history there have been countless cases of very, very similar situations in all kinds of sports. The greatest athletes find what they need as individuals, or at the very least they always understand they need to bend the rules to fit themselves.

RANT: Stick with the Program

There is no doubt that this is a great time for strength training. Knowledge, ideas, and motivation are at everyone's fingertips more than they have ever been, and this is a good thing. But we have to look at it from a correct perspective. We must remember we are all individuals and have individual lives. We can all find some program that works, but the best and smartest thing we could do is focus on what will work the best for us.

I have this theory that lifters look at programs thinking that the more complex and complicated they are, the better they are. If they have shit tons of percentages, rep-and-set schemes, complex changes every few weeks, and so on, people seem to love them. If a program seems simple, people tend to steer away from it. I tend to see the simple ones and think, “Nice, a person could modify that program to fit themselves pretty easily.” This is not to say complex is bad, because that may be the best way for some people. I am saying it is easier to start learning what works for you in a simpler fashion. The more complex it is, the harder it is to modify for the individual, generally speaking.

I think lifters need to stop focusing so much on other lifters. Stop focusing on what the competition is doing, how they are training, or how intense they are. Stop being so lazy about your programming by just trying to find something someone else wrote. Get off your ass and learn about strength training. Start learning what you need. Grab your balls and have some faith in yourself. I love coaching and helping people, but in the long run, the best coach you can ever have is yourself. No one has better potential to know your body than you. Focus on yourself and what you need, and trust yourself to see just how far you can take your training and strength.