When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.
He said, “Son when you grow up,
would you be the savior of the broken,
the beaten and the damned?”
He said, “Will you defeat them,
your demons, and all the non-believers,
the plans that they have made?”
Because one day I’ll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join the Black Parade.

— My Chemical Romance, “Welcome to the Black Parade”

Will you defeat them, your demons…?

I’m restless in bed. My shoulders are throbbing from a serious training session involving heavy military pressing (throbbing in a good way...well, mostly good). I can’t fall asleep, so I prop up some pillows, flip on my side, and turn to YouTube. I like to watch the "YouTubes," as Mark Bell would say. Just a couple of quick vids and then I'll be able to fall asleep.

That’s when I accidentally fell in love.


I watch a fair amount of powerlifting videos (probably too many). I live a very exciting life; I have lots of important things to do. Watching videos is always an easy alternative to more challenging tasks (like training). The videos are both teaching tools and liberal grease for those nefarious wheels of procrastination.

Most of the videos I watch are of superior lifters performing lifts both in training and in competition. Getting it done on the platform, as they say in the biz. Some I can match. Some I can’t. I watch technique repeatedly for hints, for ways to improve, for clues that suggest I'm doing something incorrectly, scratching and clawing to get better.

My nine-year-old daughter frequently peers over my shoulder.

“Can you lift more than that?” she asks.


“A lot more than that?”


She smiles, grabs her American Girl doll, and trots off to the balance beam. It's sometimes OK to fib to a precious and precocious young person in your life.

That night—the restless throbbing shoulder night—I stumbled upon a video I can’t stop thinking about. Jenny Petrosino had given it a “thumbs up” on YouTube and Petrosino’s endorsement caused it to appear in my subscription queue just beneath a fantastic Henry Rollins video. (I recommend that you listen to Henry speak if you can squirrel away a few minutes. He’s an intriguing individual.)

Something about the girl’s face in the video thumbnail drew me in. I have no other explanation. She didn’t wear any make-up and appeared distraught. Not snuff film distraught—I’m no machine (at least not that you’re aware)—but distraught nonetheless.

And then I fell in love. Not the leave my wife and kids kind of love. Not even the week long romantic trip to Maui kind of love. Yes, Janis’ boyfriend can rest easy. He need not worry about me (although I am quite dashing). Then again, perhaps I’m using the word love for shock value. Perhaps it’s my hook to pull you into this piece. I know I’ve got Pulcenilla’s heart all aflutter. Perhaps what I really felt (and feel) is an empathetic understanding of another human being’s trials and demons—in this instance, the trials and challenges of a fellow powerlifter.


While blogging, she’s referred to herself as the female “Situation.” Her biceps may be bigger than her boobs and she has T-Rex triceps. She’s Janis “Babyeater” Finkelman and she is on a quest to push and pull heavy stuff. She’s the bitch face deadlifter with a flair for self-deprecation and many of her comments in the blog resonated with me. I’ve watched the video at least a dozen times. It’s become my personal English bulldog (i.e. it seems to set me in a better mood).

Shitty days—emotional or physical challenges (infrequently discussed on the internet)

“You’re the best I’ve seen at making light weights look heavy.” This was actually once said to me during my deadlift warm ups. Can you believe that shit?

“Yeah and that wasn’t even one of my work sets,” I respond. “It’s going to be one of those nights.” I slam my belt to the floor like a spoiled child and walk through the garage door and into the dark parking lot to try to reestablish my game face. Why do I do this to myself? Please remind me.

I’ve had a lot of shitty training days over the last several years (particularly over the last year). Some have had their roots in aging and, more specifically, coming to grips with understanding that I’m no longer able to handle either the volume or frequency of training I was able to handle only a few years ago. Some shitty days have had their roots in a life where too many priorities are frantically juggled like a clown spinning plates in a circus.

It’s funny. When I first saw Janis’ video, the part where she mentions that most lifters don’t talk about their shitty days, I thought, “She hasn’t read most of my stuff.” At least I feel as though I’ve addressed my own shitty training days several times (perhaps too frequently).

In Beast Reality Volume 1, Issue 2: APA 2010 New England Winter Iron Bash and Other Brilliant Warehouse Gym Tales, I spoke candidly about my sucky trials with the deadlift:

“…My training was a mess, and my technique was a mess. I felt like Chris Farley’s impression of Matt Foley, the motivational speaker—fat, off balance, and always inches away from falling through a coffee table. I had been experimenting with sumo style pulling but could never get the technique down to where it felt really good, although I definitely liked the idea of a shorter pull. I switched back to conventional style, but there was a myriad of other problems, the first of which was that I was incredibly weak.

… I was alone in the Beast. It was about 9:30 p.m. Again, White Zombie was blaring from the speakers. I looked up at the grainy black and white poster of Mohammad Ali and sat down on a bench completely dejected. Two weeks out from the meet and I was literally missing 505 pulls at a body weight of 275.

I half walked, half crawled to the office. I wasn’t sure if I was going to cry or put my head through the wall. Fortunately, I didn’t do either of those things. I felt utterly defeated, so I picked up the phone and did what any old married powerlifter would do. I called my wife.”

The bottom line is we all have less than optimal training days. Mostly, we keep them to ourselves, choosing to edit away the missed pulls, the off-kilter bench press attempts, and the squats during which the poundage staples us to the floor. Hell, I think I’ve been less than honest in my own training log and I’m referencing a log that is for my eyes only. I’m hiding the crap from myself. If that isn’t some pathological false hubris, I don’t know what is.

When trolling the net, it’s important to remember that most folks are probably only showing their best cards. Don’t forget we all have stuff that’s been left on the cutting room floor. Candidly, sometimes the scenes left out are, at least in part, building blocks for future successes. We all experience shitty days. We simply have to learn ways to cope and move on.

Training through shit

It’s not all pretty. It’s not all rah-rah, I’m a strong girl. I’m going to smash those weights and I’m so awesome and look how hot I am in my ‘lift like a girl’ tank top. I rule the world. Look at my quads!” — Janis Finkelman, Babyeaterlifts Blog

The Babyeater pulls 300 for a triple in training

While understanding that not all training sessions will be optimal, it's necessary to be able to train through shit in order to become a good powerlifter. It’s equally true with other facets of life as well—work, family, and relationships. You aren't always going to have your "A game," but it’s still possible to progress. You can continue to take steps forward. In powerlifting, it’s important to understand that some of our uglier, more grinding sessions have made and will continue to foster serious differences in our development as lifters.

I’ve been frantically chasing the 500-pound raw bench press in competition for the past three years. There have been a lot of shitty training days along the way—getting stapled to the bench, warming up with an empty bar that feels fully loaded, and having soreness levels akin to shards of broken glass filling elbows and shoulder capsules.

“Maybe it just isn't going to happen for you,” my training partner Chris said.


“Maybe you aren't going to get it. You’ve been after it for a while.”

“Fuck that,” I said. “I’m definitely going to get it.”

I’m going to hit 500 and then some.

Working toward the 500-pound raw bench

I couldn’t believe he said that shit to me. I still tease him about it. For the record, I'm going to get it. Of that, there isn't any doubt. There isn't any hint of doubt. In retrospect, I’m glad he said it because those words, that doubt, his doubt, has served as an additional source of motivation when I'm having a shitty day.

As an example, here's the shitty training session.

The stated goal:

  1. Floor press, 8 X 3 reps with 80% of perceived max and additional focus on compensatory acceleration
  2. Incline press, 3 X 15 reps
  3. Banded press downs, alternate arms for 100 total reps in 4 sets
  4. Standing military barbell press, 4 X 6 reps
  5. Band fly, 3 X 15 with light bands
  6. Abs, couple sets of crunches (nothing spectacular)

I successfully completed the eight sets of floor presses despite my elbows feeling slightly more tender than usual. I was reasonably happy with my performance. I was videotaping and visually monitoring the bar speed between each and every set. The incline presses and banded press downs went reasonably well, too, but I was completely out of gas when I hit the standing military presses. Completely shot.

Every fiber in my body wanted to call it a day. I could stop, have dinner, and slink off to bed (and be reasonably happy with my effort; definitely a solid “B”). I almost did, too. I almost allowed myself to quit. Then I remembered my training partners’ words—“Maybe you aren't going to get it.”

Maybe you aren't going to get it.

I completed the stated goal for that training session. I was able to dig deeper and find the illusive reserve that I’ve always had. I ultimately had to adjust the weights for the standing military press (I was a bit too optimistic when I designed the program), but I was able to persevere. I can’t help but wonder if those little things (e.g. pushing just that little bit more and getting those extra sets in when you want to quit the most) are the factors that ultimately propel us to achievement. Find your own motivation wherever it lies and push through. Train through your shit.

Bowing down to the demons (without the self-criticism)

It’s one of the most challenging decisions for the competitive powerlifter—deciding when it’s time to back off from training for a day, a week, or longer if necessary. It’s hard to admit to ourselves that we may need to bow down to the demons to allow ourselves the time to recharge, that, at times, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to allow time for refocusing.

We’re all dedicated to the pursuit of strength and/or the physical betterment of ourselves. We want to SFW all the time, but it's possible to take steps forward by taking a step back now and again. Our lives are multidimensional (at least for most of us). We juggle certain amounts of stress, anxiety, and physical pain. However, it's possible to subtly back off when dealing with either injury or an emotional toll that would otherwise distract from the training session and still live life like a savage.

In the powerlifting community, there can be a tremendous disconnect between training like a badass and acknowledging the reality that being conservative with one’s programming is sometimes the best course of action. I’ve heard Vincent Dizenzo discuss this in his recent training blogs. Vincent mentions being simply too “beat up” from benching heavy in the shirt to conduct a second weekly benching session. I've also wrestled with this issue when deciding to leave a rep in the tank on sets that I’ve mentally labeled "as many reps as possible."

I discussed this with Janis, and we theorize that it’s largely a matter of maturity. Mature lifters—not in age but in terms of awareness of the process—seem better able to apply conservatism to their lifting when it’s appropriate and conversely balls-out insanity when required. Because the end goal in the sport of powerlifting is often a balls-out insanity, especially when considering third attempts, we feel uncomfortable when, in training, that particular training style is less than optimal. Because it isn't as sexy to simply survive, many lifters feel compelled to be a beast all the time.

In retrospect, I think it's Janis’ candor that I appreciate the most, her willingness to share her vulnerabilities—the vulnerabilities that we, as competitive lifters/athletes, must battle at times. It was a large part of my attraction to her as an athlete and a person.

Special thanks to Janis Finkelman for her contributions to this article.