Learning Things the Hard Way

TAGS: Sin Leung, 5thSet, swede burns, comeback, powerlifting meet, coach, powerlifting

My dear friend Sin Leung is a woman of few words.

When she does have something to say, however, it's usually caustic and memorable.

In the beginning of July, I traveled to New York to coach Sin at what would be her "comeback" meet. For about six months, she'd been running 5thSet like it was her job, training all hours of the night and doing whatever she needed to accommodate her hectic work schedule. She was ready.

Everything went according to plan, like it does when you plan correctly, and she walked out of there 19 spots higher on the "best of the best" Powerlifting Watch rankings, taking #7 on that list with plenty left in the tank. You'll notice that a little bit "left on the platform" is a running theme among my lifters. It's not that we aim for that, but rather that as a coach, I go into a meet with a plan. When things are going my way, I don't take that as a sign I should deviate from the plan. The result is that we almost always achieve the goals I lay out.

People had a lot to say about that.

We left so much on the platform when I only called a 452-pound deadlift for Tarra Oravec's third attempt at RUM last year, because it looked so effortless. Well, she won for her weight class, and for champion of champions, and had a monster PR total. I'd say, all in all, it was a win and a pretty good call on my part. It's worth mentioning that people had less to say when she pulled 485 pounds just as effortlessly at the women's pro/am a few months later. I'm expecting uniform silence after she pulls 500 and totals over 1200 raw in August at 181, probably leaving some on the platform there, too.

You only need to attend any powerlifting meet to see what happens when a lifter has absolutely no realistic plan or strategy for calling their attempts: utter fucking foolishness.

This brings me to one of the hilarious gems that came out of Sin's mouth during her meet in NY. It was during third attempts on bench press. A lifter took the bar out of the rack and, based on the eccentric portion of the movement, I'd say he had decided to take a weight about 30 pounds above his actual max for his third attempt. There was, of course, no concentric.

She shook her head and said, "it's not that difficult. People just need to get someone to tell them to do 'not-stupid' things."


I started cracking up for a minute or two over the way she put it, but it really stuck with me. She didn't say people needed someone to make the absolute best decision possible for them, which as a coach I pride myself in doing; she just said we all need someone to tell us to do something that's not fucking stupid. Do "not-stupid" things. That's it. We all need that! So much truth in that shit right there.

What should you take for your third? Something not fucking stupid. In other words, something you might actually get without the assistance of heroic angels reaching down from the heavens, pulling that bar off your chest for you. Yes, not-stupid things! Yes.

Sin knows, but like a lot of us, she learned the hard way. She was about ready to give up on powerlifting when we met. I introduced her to 5thSet, and with it a whole world of not-stupid things. She learned to integrate them in a way that would not interfere with her insane work schedule, would still allow her to make progress in powerlifting as well as compete at the top level of the sport she once loved. Sin is one of 5thSet's biggest advocates and the person who pushed me the most to finish the book so that others could benefit the way she did.

Everyone can benefit from advice from someone more experienced than they are. Experience has a value beyond measure and it is without equal in every respect. This brings me to another important point.

I'm seeing a "holy shit" amount of advice being doled out on social media and in the powerlifting community from people who really have a very limited amount of time "in the trenches," as my man Fred Hatfield would say.

RECENT Taking the Rind, Leaving the Juice

If you want to succeed in life, lifting or anything else, you have to be smart. I mean you need to be a discerner.

Now, I want every single one of you to buy my book. There are a whole bunch of really useful guidelines and some invaluable information in there, not to mention what I believe is the best program available; but smart doesn't come from a book.

Smart is knowing how to make the right decision, quickly. In powerlifting, that is probably going to equate to knowing how to make the right decisions regarding training or the right decisions, on the fly, at a meet. The only way you get that kind of smart is through years of experience and competing or coaching in more meets than you can count. That's it. There is no suitable replacement for experience.

It takes many years of running into anything and everything that can go wrong, or right, in order to really know what's what.


That's not to say anyone you find who has been around a long time knows everything; they could still not know very much at all. But if they haven't been around long, it's a safe bet they don't know that much.

Also, keep in mind that no amount of schooling can make up for a lack of experience. I have respect for anyone who can complete a degree and even more for those who finish a graduate program of some kind. Got a PhD? Good for you. It says a lot about your ability to finish what you start. But if you want to learn how to be a kick-boxer, would you hire a podiatrist to teach you?

I mean, he's an expert on feet, right? And doctors are smart. Probably knows a thing or two about how to put those feet to work.

Wait. That's sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it? Yeah. It makes about as much sense as hiring a kick-boxer to perform bunion surgery on your feet. I've seen quite a few sail down the river on that logic, though.

(To be fair, being one thing does not exclude you from the other any more than it makes you the other.)

The bottom line is: if you haven't been at this for a long time, first, shut up; then find someone who has, and consider what they have to say.

As I mentioned in a previous article, it's a good idea to check out the person you are taking advice or direction from. In that regard, my suggestion is to worry less about degrees or certifications and more about results. Consider the results they have had and the result others they work with have had. How many lifters have they coached? How many meets? Three? 30? When the rubber met the road, what happened?

You have to earn your stripes in this game through your own experience. I say that all the time, but you don't want a bunch of experience beating your head against the wall. So, be open to learning from someone who has done what you are trying to do. To get back to where we started, I'm telling you to hire a fucking coach, preferably a seasoned vet. Find someone to tell you to do not-stupid things. Trust me on this.

Humbling yourself can knock years off of what you are trying to accomplish. If you're newer to something than you are experienced at it, try to keep your eyes and ears open more and your mouth open less.


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