How I Got Strong, How I Got Weak, and Where I Go from Here

TAGS: ed coan, billy mimnaugh', reverse hypers, deadlift, squat, powerlifting, bench press

When I first began powerlifting in 1993, I had about ten years of training and competing in bodybuilding under my belt. The first routine I followed when I made the switch to powerlifting was the one that Ed Coan had laid out in his training videos. At first, I made decent gains. However, when the weights got heavy and I had to drop to triples and doubles, I’d either miss the weight or get injured. My form was so bad that I couldn’t really make any significant gains. In the squat, as soon as I started out of the hole, my back would round over, and I’d just outright miss the lift. The deadlift was no different.

What was my answer to this problem? I was doing plenty of back work, but my back didn’t seem to get any stronger. Frustration was setting in. I was about to quit powerlifting and return to bodybuilding when I ordered Louie Simmons’ Westside tapes. As soon as I watched them, I knew this was my answer. While I was doing lots of back work, it wasn’t the right type of back work. I became a follower of the Westside philosophy. I knew that I either had to completely revamp my form or get so brutally strong that form wouldn’t be an issue. I chose to get brutally strong.

As far as I knew, I was the only one following Westside where I lived. I basically had to take what I could from the tapes and try to put together a routine on my own. I did the dynamic day as Louie outlined (except that I would do 15 sets), but my assistance work had far more volume. I would follow my dynamic squatting with good mornings, calf ham glutes, reverse hypers, heavy abs, side bends, zercher squats, and kneeling squats. On my max effort day, I would follow my main movement with good mornings, reverse hypers, pulls off a block or out of a rack, bent rows, dumbbell rows, calf ham glutes, pull-downs, abs, and side bends. I basically just did a lot of everything really heavy for lots of sets.

This system worked great. I no longer got stalled or stopped in the hole. My strength started to soar and soon I was winning meets and hitting big totals. At each meet I attended, I knew that I had outworked everyone there. Although there were better powerlifters, I felt in my heart that NO ONE was stronger or put more effort into their training than I did. I had such confidence in my strength that I was totally unafraid of any weight. I might get called on a technicality, but no weight could beat me. I eventually got up to a 2303 lb total in 2002 (when that was still a top ten total in the supers) and felt like a 2400 lb total was just around the corner.

Flash forward to 2007. Since that 2303 lb total in 2002, my best effort has been 2232 lbs at 308 lbs. I now go into a meet feeling weak and small. I no longer have ANY confidence. While I once did not fear any weight, I now fear squats even at the 700 lb level. What happened in those years?

Well…injuries have caught up to me. A couple of years ago I had an abscess that needed to be cut out of my glute. Unfortunately, the doctor must have cut through a significant amount of muscle as it has never been the same since. This prevents me from doing good mornings unless I’m wearing tight briefs. In my opinion, this makes the movement useless because it then becomes a total lower back movement, not a posterior chain movement. Pulling off a block is out of the question because of a ruptured patella tendon on my right knee, which has resulted in very little mobility. I can’t pull out of a rack because of the glute. Max effort squatting is out of the question because if I squat on max effort day, I can’t do my dynamic day because my knee swells up and I can’t bend it. Basically, I’m left with dynamic squatting, working up at the end of those regular deadlifts for singles, and back assistance work.

Since my blown patella, I’ve tried to come back in two full meets, but I’ve bombed out of both in the squat. It would be easy to blame the bomb outs on the knee injury but that would be a total lie. The reason I’m bombing out is because I’m scared. I’m afraid that I won’t be what I once was. I’m scared of not being the strongest. I’m scared because I know I haven’t or can’t put the necessary effort into my training, and I’m scared of not living up to what people expect of me. Physically, I’m still very strong, but what made me a good lifter was I knew in my heart that I beat everyone in training. I knew that I could do anything I asked my body to do. Now, I go into meets knowing that my training is crap compared to what it was. Mentally I’m weak because I know that I’m unable to put in the work necessary to be where I need to be. Oddly, I have very little fear of getting injured. I now fear being a failure. I’m embarrassed at what has become of my lifting career.

What is the solution? Well, I could just quit and move on. I could do so with little regret over my career. However, I’m not much of a quitter so I’ve come up with a better solution. For the next year and a half, I’m going to concentrate on bodybuilding. In that time, I’m going to do my squatting with no briefs. I’m going to go back to doing good mornings with no briefs even if it means starting with a 10 lb plate on each side. I’m going to heal my injuries, put on some size, and try to get my confidence back. I’m going to go back to the massive amounts of volume that I used to do. I need to start at the beginning and do what made me strong in the first place. Mostly, I have to get over my fear. The fear of getting hurt is one thing, but the fear of failing is something I’ve never had to deal with before. The only way to deal with the fear is by starting over. I’m going to start small and work my way back up. My confidence should be restored with each new goal that I achieve.

If I find that I just can’t get back to where I need to be, I’ll walk away from full meets. I’ll never again enter a meet hoping I can do well. I’ll only enter knowing that I will succeed. The fear of failure is a crippling thing to deal with. Getting under a barbell and having doubt is no way to lift. While I once looked forward to loading more and more plates on the bar, I now loathe and dread the look of many plates. I’m afraid of it. I need to start from scratch and work my way back up with the confidence that I can once again handle the loads that I need to lift to be strong.

So there you have it. Like the old gospel song says, “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” In my case, it’s, “I once was strong, but now I’m weak.” Hopefully, I can get my strength back and overcome my weaknesses—my weakness of will and my weakness of heart. Only time will tell.

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