Under The Bar: Boston Seminar Recap

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I was asked the night before the seminar, “Do you miss it? Do you miss powerlifting?” My answer was a very fast, YES.
This is what I said, but I questioned my answer quite a bit. I said what I felt would be the hardcore thing to say. Yet inside, I wasn’t really sure if I missed it or not.

I gave everything I had to add five more pounds to each lift. From age 13, it was really all I lived for, and I made sacrifices that few can understand. My career, friends, and everyone in my life have been part of this pursuit. If they weren’t then they were forgotten and never made part of my life. My education was all a huge smoke screen designed with the sole purpose to learn how to make myself stronger.

My major was exercise science, but I never intended to use any of this information for anyone other than me. Just about all of the reading I’ve ever done in my life has been books, journals, and magazines dealing with training. I devoured this stuff to see if I could find anything that would make me stronger.

My intention with every person I tried to build a relationship with was to make me stronger. For most of my life, I was an extremely selfish person who only cared about how I was going to add the next five pounds. Well, some would say this was selfish, but I say it was “passion.” Regardless, this was how I lived my life for close to 25 years. I did everything I knew and was told to get stronger.

I put off having a family, getting “real” jobs, and building friendships because all of this would just get in the way of what I really wanted. All of these “other” things were just that—other. Anything that wasn’t related to training was just part of the “other,” and I wanted nothing to do with it.

My focus was always 100 percent on getting stronger. This was never for any other reason than self-gratification. I never cared about titles or money. All I cared about was PRs, and I was willing to do ANYTHING for them.

I sacrificed my body to the point of tearing myself up and coming back several times. I have scars and disabilities that remind me every day of the choices I’ve made. I look in the mirror every day and see pecs that have been blown apart, calves that are disfigured, and a shoulder with only a 30 percent range of motion. As I stand there, I see all of the things I gave up and all of the things that have been taken from me. I ask, was it worth it? Do I miss it? Would I do it over? This is how I started the weekend of the Boston seminar.

I’ve been asked why I pulled Jim, Matt, and Marc into this seminar when originally I was slated to be the only speaker. I can give you the standard answer of how I wanted to see how this would work from a business standpoint and how I’m always looking for ways to put cash into our sponsors pockets. Or I could give you the real answer.

The truth is I don’t feel I have the right to speak on strength if I’m not under the bar killing myself for it day in and day out. There are far too many who already do this, and I refuse to be part of this bullshit.

If strength and powerlifting are the topics, then I want to hear from those who are in the trenches day in and day out. I don’t care who you are if you’re not living it day to day. You have NO IDEA what it’s all about. You might think you do or like to live in the past, but you still have no idea.

As a lifter, I can’t count the numbers of times I’ve listened to people lecture about strength who really had no idea because they’ve never had it in the first place. I’ve also noticed how people’s attitudes, believes, priorities, and principles change after they get away from the strength game. Screw that!

These are the same types of people who used to always PISS me off as a lifter. They would always talk about the good ole days and how they did this and did that. Well, that was THEN and this is NOW.

Simply put, I can’t be part of that, and I won’t let myself become what I hated. Yes, I can speak on sets, reps, technique, and other training parameters, but I won’t put myself out there without having lifters who are in the game standing next to me ready to call bullshit if I get off par. This is what credibility is all about. I’ve been about that since day one, and I’m not about to sell that out for anyone or for any amount of money.

With this said, I did have one agenda for the weekend. For years, I’ve been trying to figure out what causes the turning point for lifters and those who aspire to get bigger and stronger. There is something that causes people to “get it” and then the gains just start rolling in. This is when they stop looking for programs, solutions, and answers and seek ideas on how they can get better instead.

I’ve also been intrigued with the conversations that people have. If you listen to an advanced group of lifters, Strongmen, or bodybuilders, you’ll notice that only about 5–10 percent of the conversation deals with training. The rest of the time is spent bullshitting, telling jokes, ripping on each other, and telling stories. If you listen to any other group of lifters, 90 percent of the conversation is training based. This is the type of stuff I notice. I’ve seen it everywhere I go. This intrigues me, and I wonder why. I think I figured some of this out the weekend of the seminar. It seems that what most people consider important “stuff” may not be that important after all.

The night before the seminar, I asked Jim, Matt, and Marc how long they’ve been seriously training. The first thing I noticed is that none of us has ever trained in a way that wasn’t serious. When we tabulated the years, we had close to 100 years between us of hardcore training for strength.

There’s a reason why I wrote the introduction. You see, I’m not the only one who has “passion” for strength. There are many out there. If you’re reading this, you may be one of them (and I have a huge amount of respect for you for it). However, I knew before I pulled these guys that they shared the same desire. You would be SHOCKED if you knew what has been sacrificed and given up between us all just to add a few more pounds to each lift. Trust me on this one. I know these guys very well, and you wouldn’t believe some of the stories.

The point is this. If you’re willing to give anything and do anything to get stronger, you pick up a few things along the way. With 100 years between us, I would assume that we would have picked up more than a few things. These are the things I was looking for throughout the entire weekend, not just in the seminar but in every minute with these guys. I wanted to know what the similarities were.

After three days and much thought, I came up with a list of eleven things that are the most important to your success in the weight room. I will keep these concise because they’re all very simple. As is life, the simple things are the ones that are always overlooked.

Most don’t like to present the simple stuff in this industry because you can’t profit from it. Plus, I’m not sure they even “get it.” This industry has always been about taking the simple and making it complicated. That is unless you’re “Under a Bar.”

Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean. Remember, this is from one hundred years of very serious training experience.

Bust your ass in the gym: If you’re going to do it then don't screw around. Hard work is still a quality of building strength.

Believe in what you’re doing or don’t do it: This is a HUGE one. If you’re going to do something then believe it will work for you or don’t do it. You can’t think, “let’s see what happens.” You have to know it’s going to work. Never assume it won’t because if you do, then it’s pretty certain it won’t. Did you ever notice how the best programs are always the ones that are “sold” the best? This is because they convince you it will work before you do it. Why not just assume everything will work. We all did (the presenters).

Consistency for duration: You have to be consistent. We’ve heard that hundreds of times and “get it.” But do you really? As a beginner, do you realize that most of the lifters, Strongmen, and bodybuilders you look up to have been doing so for over ten years? How many do we all know who gave up after a year or two when they realized supplements, drugs, and gear were still not enough to get to the top? For most (except a very select few), it takes a long time to get there. Understand you don’t have months of training ahead of you but years. This is hard for the upcoming generation. They aren’t afraid to work hard, but they want the results NOW. Well, good luck! For the rest of you, know that the road ahead is a long one.

Attitude: No excuses. Attitude is everything, but it’s also very specific to each individual. What may be hardcore to one person is stupid to another. What one person needs to build confidence and metal strength is not the same as another. We’re all individual in this regard and need to find what works best for us. There was, however, one underlying factor and that is to not make excuses. This was stressed many times during the seminar. I actually heard Matt say it five times in three minutes, yet 70 percent of those in attendance had excuses for multiple things. Interesting?

Change only what is needed: This is one mistake I see all the time with lifters, trainers, and coaches. They jump from one program to another if one thing isn’t working right. Let’s assume that you’re trying to build the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Your training for the squat and deadlift is going great, but your bench is falling behind. What I tend to see is a total program change when all that was needed was to get the bench back on par. The key is to keep what is working and change what isn’t. This is also why you see so many modified programs at the higher levels. Have you ever noticed the number of top lifters who say they “train Westside” but then you look at what they do and are totally lost? That’s because of the reasons described above. They have modified it to fit their needs.

Technique: This is by and large the BIGGEST factor. Mark Bartley and I discussed this the night before the seminar. I asked why he felt anyone could walk into a powerlifting gym and add 200–300 pounds to their total in the first year when they had been going nowhere for many years prior. I know this to be true because I’ve seen it happen in EVERY powerlifting gym I know. While atmosphere is a big factor, it isn’t as big as technique.

Watch novice lifters train, and you’ll see what I mean. You hear zero verbal cues but just a bunch of shouts of encouragement. This is great but won’t help you get any stronger. If you watch advanced guys train, all you hear is technical verbal cues. You hear it in training, in the warm-up room, and on the platform. They understand that the slight break in technique can cause a missed lift regardless of how strong you are. I can’t overstate this one. I’ll also say that if you’re looking for a better squat, bench, or deadlift, go find a group of powerlifters. The form that I’ve seen in books and articles is down right horrible.

Sacrifice: As stated many times, this isn’t easy. It takes time, effort, and sacrifice. This is true in anything that you do. If you think it will come without a price then you have a lot to learn. I could list things that would shock you that I know lifters have sacrificed to be stronger. I will leave this one short because it is often VERY misunderstood. Sacrifice does not mean treating people like shit and being a selfish prick.

Learn in the gym: You can read all you want, but the only way to really learn is by yourself under the bar. This was stated more than ten times at the seminar. I can honestly say more than 90 percent of what I know about training was learned in the gym or in the warm-up room. This is not to say that I haven’t read about training. I’ll bet I have read more training material than 90 percent of those reading this. Reading supported what I knew from training in the gym. I picked up many ideas from my studies and still do today. The best use of reading is to gather ideas that you might be able to implement into your programs.

Train with those who are better than you: We all know this is true, yet most never do this. I’ve heard more excuses about this one than any other training variable. Here’s a short list...

1. I can’t train with those guys because they don’t know me.
2. I can’t drive that far to train.
3. They don’t train in my gym.
4. I have to get stronger first.

The list goes on and on. Bottom line—if you want to get better, surround yourself with those who are better than you.

Squat, bench, and deadlift: This was one of the only true training variables. We all squatted, benched, and deadlifted. Simple I know, but I was looking for all common factors and this was one.

Don't miss weights: Someone asked about max effort work and missing weights. We all agreed that you don’t want to miss weights in training. This isn’t to say it doesn’t happen. You just need to know when it’s enough.

One other interesting point was that percents, sets, reps, special movements, and training cycles NEVER once came up. NOT ONE TIME. Yet, this is where everyone likes to spend all of their time. Everyone feels that the magic is here. This is all that you see written about, but it NEVER came up as being an important variable to four guys with over 100 years of serious training experience. I want you to sit there and think about this for a minute. Seriously...

If it never came up, what does that tell you?

At the end of the weekend, I quit thinking about all that I’ve given up and everything that has been taken away from me. I began to see everything that I’ve gained from the sport. I was never that good at anything else, and I’m not sure I would have learned these things any other way. The same topics listed above are the same ones that I learned “Under the Bar” and in the gym. These principles are essential, and I’m sure—no, positive—that I wouldn’t have learned them any other way. You see, the barbell could teach me all of those things that my parents and teachers couldn’t get through my thick skull.

Do I miss it? No, I took it with me...
You can leave the sport, but it will never leave you.

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