I have been asked about this a lot lately. I didn’t think I had too much of a different outlook compared to other competitive athletes but it looks like I have ventured pretty far off the reservation when it comes to my mental approach to training and life in general. I knew I had to write this post when I was in the middle of talking to some collegiate track and field throwers a couple weeks ago. The speech was originally supposed to be geared towards transfer of weightroom training to sport but it quickly derailed into something that I am sure caused some nightmares that evening following the talk.
First of all, I made it very clear that everything they do in the weightroom is GPP for their events. No weightroom activity has been shown to have any more than a loose connection to improving any sporting skill. Any good coach can confirm this as well. What the training does is it teaches good athletes how to be strong in mechanically disadvantaged positions, reduce the risk of injury while doing sport specific practice, and it teaches routine. I told those throwers that the routine was what was going to benefit them the most. Practicing a standardized warm-up and following a process in the weightroom will help them when it comes time to hurl heavy objects through the air. I know this seems like a perfectly reasonable, even keeled talk but it derailed quickly.
The insanity started when I compared what they do, individual throwing events, to what I do, individual barbell strength sport. I said how I was lucky because my training is my GPP and my SPP all wrapped up in one. Then I got this question:
“What do you think about before and during your lifts?”
My explanation was a combination of the first three episodes of DOOM, a plot summary of every romantic comedy made in the last 20 years, and the recipe to make the perfect Manhattan. This is my exact mental approach to training and competing.
For those of you that don’t know, DOOM was the original first person shooter computer game. I remember loading the game off a floppy disk and then inputting the “run” command in MS DOS in order to get it to play. This was back when computers ran off of a hand crank and random dinosaur attacks were a constant concern.
Anyway, in DOOM, you play as dishonorably discharged marine, Flynn Taggard. Flynn has been stationed on one of the moons of mars to help run security for an archeological dig. Issues arise when one of the artifacts uncovered turns out to be a gateway to Hell and everyone except for Flynn is either killed or turned into a shotgun wielding zombie. In DOOM, you never have enough ammo, are completely and absolutely alone, and every single level is borderline impossible. Borderline. Also, when you beat the first episode (entitled “Knee Deep in The Dead”), if you can somehow manage to overcome the insurmountable odds that await you, you find salvation in a teleporter… that takes you to a dark room where faceless demons tear you to pieces and there is nothing you can do about it. Congrats! You survived just long enough to die in the most horrifying way imaginable. At least the game greets you with these comforting words every time it violently removes Flynn from existence:
The only way out is through… that sounds familiar.
So, what the hell does any of this have to do with the mental aspects of training? Training is exactly this scenario. Trudging through hell in the most frustrated and emotionally crippling way possible. Trial and error are the only coaches that matter and they are intrinsically bashing their faces against the steel grate of your progress. Some times athletes luck out and get to experience the teachings of a great coach. Unfortunately, great coaches in barbell strength sports are few and far between. There are plenty of self proclaimed great coaches in the commercial gyms and online but very few of them have accomplished anything themselves let alone helped anyone else accomplish anything in the way of bettering themselves physically. If you are one of the few of us that have had consistent access to great coaching since the beginning of your training lifeline, good for you. The other 99% of us had to figure all this shit out on our own. I think this is great. The hunger to learn and be better physically is what creates extended training and competition ages. In august, I will be celebrating my 15 year training for something anniversary. I attribute a major reason for why I am still around and getting more competitive in strength sports to basically getting my ass kicked for the first 10 years. Adapt or die and I am getting better.
What about training partners? Again, if you have had great consistent training partners, good for you. Most will not. Jobs, kids, life, school, injury, boredom, quitting, etc. will all get in the way. This will become more frequent the longer you stay in the game. People will go. Let them go and find better people to be around. Honestly, I think training alone is the best way to go about it. I have been pretty lucky to be able to train on and off with some great, smart people. If I can train with them more than 5% of my sessions in one year, it is a damn miracle. Lately, I have had a pretty solid group of guys that don’t seem to be going anywhere and that has helped tremendously. But, in the early years, slugging away at my training all alone was awesome. No egos, no one else to hold you accountable, just you and your bar and your head. That will show you what you are really made of. You won’t be in there to win training. You will be training to win.
I don’t want to “win” training anymore. I don’t want to train with anyone that wants to either. I guess to wrap up this whole thing into what I am getting at:
Training needs to be a grueling, lonely, and discouraging total wide eyed night terror of an experience. Put yourself through that and nothing can touch you except for the things that actually matter. Eventually, those things will only be real winning and real losing.
These always end up with everyone happy and where they should be and getting everything they want. I’d love to see movies that take place 5 years later after the main character supposedly doesn’t need to work for anything anymore. Like “How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days 2: The Heroin Years.”
This is a really stupid analogy that I am describing, but reading between the lines of some of the determination displayed in some of these characters in these movies and it is hard to tell whether they want to get the girl because they love her or if they are trying to make a leisure suit out of her skin. That is the same determination training needs.
People looking in from the outside should be saying things like “you are crazy,” and ask things like, “why are you doing all this?” My favorite question is, “What are you going to do when you are in wheelchair from all this heavy lifting?” My response is, “Probably the same thing you are going to do when you are in yours from your shitty way of living. I will just be dragging a little Red Ryder wagon full of trophies behind mine.”
What can be broken must be and will be broken. If whatever you are training for breaks your heart before it breaks your back, then you didn’t want it bad enough anyway.
The Perfect Manhattan:
I joke with people all the time that my one god given athletic attribute is my ability to totally dissociate from a given activity. If you find me at a competition, I am not one of those d-bags stomping around, grunting, and blasting lousy alternative metal music in the warm-up room. I will be sitting there joking around and probably eating a cheeseburger. I will have the same disposition as if I were walking down the shoreline of a beach on a warm summer day. I try to talk to everyone I can, see what training methods people are using, and am just generally chilling out.
When it comes time to actually get my hands on the bar and move some weight, the scene that plays out in my head usually consists of the room being burst into flames, me choking and being smothered by fire and smoke, and my only escape is to pull or push my way out. I am not going to lie, my heart rate jumped while I was just typing that. You have to be this screwed up to make any significant progress.
My point here is that I believe the universe has a finite amount of energy and matter in it. People only have a certain amount of energy they can put into things before they burn out. Being able to focus that energy when it really matters makes a huge difference when it comes time to move inhuman amounts of weight/more weight than you have tried previously.
You can only be as excited as you can be relaxed. A muscle can only produce as much tension as it can slack. Being able to flip the switch between that walk on the beach mode to that engulfed in conflagration mode with a hair trigger makes huge difference in training and on competition day.
One large 2×2 ice cube, 5 parts Makers Mark, one part sweet vermouth, a splash of grenadine.
Got a little long winded on here and this is not the typical thing I post about but I thought I would share what is going on in my head. It’s terrifying in there most of the time, but sometimes, I hope, some helpful information spills out.
Solum Per Exitum… seriously, where is the blue key card?