Times are a changin’.

Folks in times like the Great War did things because they had to. Nowadays most of us privileged, first-world folk get to do things because we want to.

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

–John Adams, letter to Abigail, 12 May 1780


Little did Mr. Adams know, people would hide themselves behind glowing screens, living vicariously through the exaggerated deeds of others. Past efforts in politics, war, and commerce provide the freedom to do…or don’t.

But that’s what sets us apart. Every time you step under a bar, you’re doing. Instead of talking or watching, you execute. Every time you look at the distance you’ll sprint or the thing you’ll lift with an honest, healthy fear, you are doing. When you look down at your hands and see grit, callus, and blood, it’s the product of work. The product of life.

You train for a purpose, do you not? Training is nearly synonymous with suffering, because true training is difficult. At times, it’s a giant pain in the ass. The moment is hard when the doubt or fear sets in. The planning is hard when you pass on adult beverages or place head to pillow one hour earlier. But there is purpose to this suffering. Not only for the end result, but the moment of clarity when you burst through the fear or adversity. It’s the small victory, the success in the moment. It’s re-racking or lowering a weight with quivering muscles, the electricity flowing through your body. At the success in the moment. There is purpose to this suffering.

And that’s why we do it.



Update: Today is PR Friday, which is a forum to allow you to share your triumphs and failures with your strength training brethren. How has your training been this week? What questions do you have for 70’s Big or your peers? Talk and mingle. Follow 70’s Big on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.






Letter of Intent

Letter of Intent – 2015

Follow this post up with “The Next Step“.

In 2009 my friend Gant asked website readers to commit themselves to achieving something through competition (Letters of Intent – 2009, 2010, and 2011). This isn’t merely a list of “resolutions” or meager goals — the point is to get your ass into a real competition, especially if you’ve never competed before. There’s no better time to sign up for a powerlifting, Olympic lifting, strongman, highland games meet, Tactical Strength Challenge, the dying CrossFit Total, or other strength and power events. We would prefer that you prevent in something that would take advantage of your strength and conditioning training so that you have the direct benefit from your training. In other words, flag football is competition, but it isn’t as dependent on your training as doing a meet. Adults will probably get more out of solo sports (like martial arts) than team sports since we don’t have the time to commit to proper team practice.

As Gant said in the original post:

I don’t want to hear any crap about how you can’t win. Competition isn’t all about winning at the amateur level as much as it is learning about yourself. Hell, I don’t win most of the stuff I compete it (in fighting, you have the added benefit of possibly breaking something or being choked unconscious), but I keep going back, and I get better every time.

Competition is helpful for more than just the introspective learning. Again, from Gant:

Competition puts your training into focus. A date on the calendar forces you to taper your program (hell, HAVE a program), tweak your nutrition (especially if you’re in a weight class), and arrange your schedule (sleep comes to mind).

You also get instant feedback on your training program. You will quickly find out if you did too much or too little conditioning, spent too much benching and not enough squatting, or didn’t work your technique enough.

You also learn game day management. I’m talking about how to pick lifts, when to warm up, what and how much to drink before your event, and the myriad other things that don’t come up during training. This can ONLY be learned by competing. Most of it is learned by watching and asking other competitors, many of whom will become your friends.

Gant has a focus these days on performing and teaching Judo, but he will always use proper strength training with high intensity conditioning to prepare for the sport. It’s easy for all of you to jump into a powerlifting meet since you’re already performing the lifts (squat, bench, and deadlift), but if you’re jaded with that sport that perhaps you should try learning something new, like Judo, and compete in a local tournament. There are Judo forums that could provide you with basic information, but find a local place and get started.

Today is about committing to a competition. Search the internet, find what is near you, and circle the date. Commit to it today. You don’t need to be a certain strength or skill to compete, but you do need to have a pair of balls (or ovaries) to actually commit to it, and that is much more meaningful. Committing to competition will immediately make each training session meaningful.

What is your intent?

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who strives…who spends himself…and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

–Teddy Roosevelt

Chalk Talk #3 – A Word On Preparation

Some people want to be bigger. Some want less body fat. Everyone wants to be stronger. There’s a recurring theme with all of these goals: they can’t be accomplished by merely going to the gym. Performance, aesthetics, fitness, or health are all optimized by doing more than just a training session.

Today’s Chalk Talk briefly touches on the importance of preparation. How can you better prepare your nutrition? Training sessions? Mobility? Sleep? Relaxation? Post your answers to comments along with what you’ll do to improve.

PR Friday – 23 May 2014

Post your training updates and personal records (PR’s) to the comments. 

In Norse mythology warriors are selected by Valkyrie to heroically die in battle only to resurrect as warrior spirits, enter the halls of Valhalla, and join Odin’s army. This was the noblest end to a warrior’s life: to transcend the Land of the Dead and cross the rainbow bridge to Valhalla. It is the greatest honor, the greatest payment for a valiant life and ferociousness in battle.

Imagine growing up with a sword in hand hoping that one day, too, you could have enough fierceness to die in battle, to earn a spot in the halls of Odin. It would be the greatest fate you could ever hope for.


You spend your life with the clang of steel and iron, the blood and sweat. On the eve of battle you pray for the Valkyrie to take you. Yet when you stagger away victorious, you bow your head to the thunder and say, “Death must wait another day.”

Yet each battle must have this same intensity for Odin and the Valkyrie could be watching, waiting to see if you are noble, bloodthirsty, and strong enough to be regaled in the halls of heroes. Each clang of steel could be your last, and if your strength isn’t true, you will be another corpse on a blood-stained field, a faceless warrior.

Not so with us, my friends. We will hold ourselves with higher esteem to crave the fight and revel in its toil. Go forth and please Father Odin with your grit, your courage, and your savageness. Bend iron with your will, cleave your enemy in two. You’ll never know when it’s your day to fall, but if it is…give them the fury of hell.

Introduce Fear; Introduce Failure

Chinese weightlifter Wu Jingbiao burst into tears after failing to win gold in the men's 56kg weightlifting event on July 30, 2012.

Chinese weightlifter Wu Jingbiao burst into tears after failing to win gold in the men’s 56kg weightlifting event on July 30, 2012.

Recently I failed something important and it pissed me off. It made me feel stupid and embarrassed, but it spurned me to work to avoid future failure. What do you do when everything seems lost? Knowing how to work through failure is the difference between being a cry-baby-piece-of-shit and a grizzled warrior who learns from every scar he’s earned.

I’ve written about failure for years (“Learn From Your Mistakes“, “Getting Girls to Train – 5“, and most of the stuff currently tagged in the “mindset” category). I always come back to the same sequence:

1. Failure occurs.
2. Calm the emotional response, especially in a time-dependent situation (i.e. in the middle of a competition).
3. Objectively figure out what variables contributed to the failure.
4. Begin corrective action to improve those variables.

Instead of focusing on the injustice, anger, or sadness in failing, find out what went wrong and start doing something to fix it.

In the realm of athletic performance, the problematic variable can be a variety of things like faulty mechanics, programming, nutrition, sleep, mobility, mindset, or procedure. Most of these can be accounted for with a quality coach as they will free the athlete to focus on execution. For example, I’ve saved many young powerlifters and weightlifters from getting a lift red-lighted simply by cuing them to wait for a command. And I also believe my books (like “The Texas Method: Part 1” or “FIT“) or articles on this site have helped people prepare their programming for successful competition.

A coach, consultant, or knowledgeable training friend can be an objective set of eyes that can ask the right questions like, “Why are you squatting 5×5 so much?” or “Why did you deadlift heavy one week out from your meet?”

Comprehensively look at your training in a brain storm session and determine if the problem is acute or chronic. Once you identify the problem, create a plan on how to improve it. If your squats were red lighted due to depth, then chronically address squat depth in training. If you randomly shifted forward onto your toes at the bottom of your squat, then you need a cue to induce proper mechanics.

If your fault is procedural, like not waiting for a command, then you’ll have to work on that specific piece of the procedure by itself, then throw it back into the entire sequence. For example, if you successfully waited for the “down” command on the squat or bench press, but you did not wait for the “press” command on bench or the “rack” command on squat or bench, then use the commands on every set in training. Once you have accumulated correct reps with the command, throw it back in the entire competition sequence in the weeks leading up to your meet. Do this with and without amping your adrenaline up; on meet day you’ll have a lot of it, and you’ll still need to focus on your sequence and cues despite surges in adrenaline.

Utility in Failure

There are two kinds of people: 1) The person who is either naturally gifted or extremely hard working who rarely fails and 2) the person who is either lazy or doesn’t challenge themselves. Most people fall into the latter category, possibly including you, Mr. or Ms. Reader. I’m not saying you’re entirely lazy — most people who like to train are not — but most people who like to train shy away from new challenges like competition.

I’ve spent years urging people to enter into strength competitions to turn their lifting hobby into a competitive endeavor (“Letter of Intent Day” posts as well as “Your First Lifting Meet” or “Lady’s First Meet“). Signing up for a meet suddenly makes training meaningful. Every rep is a preparation instead of a check mark. Quality rest becomes a priority instead of a byproduct. All of these changes stem from the fear of failure, which is ultimately why competition is avoided.

Everyone thinks they aren’t “strong enough” to enter a lifting meet. News Flash: Anyone can lift in a meet. I’ve coached and lifted at meets where the ages range from 14 to 65 with some men opening with other guy’s second warm-up set. Nobody cares if you’re weak, and if anything showing the courage to show up will get you infinitely more respect than sitting at home and saying, “I’ll wait until next year.” Not to mention you can glean useful information from veterans, whether they are your opponent or your side judge.

It always pays to be a winner, but the “losers”, or everyone but the winner, will especially learn from the experience. At the very least signing up for a meet gives you a different appreciation for quality training. Do all of the little things right, and you can have a very fun, successful day at the meet. But if you fail, especially when you fail miserably, it gives you a unique opportunity to display courage and maturity.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

Great men in history would say that failure is the time in which your dignity is defined. Gather as much as you can from the experience. Understand the emotion. Determine the problem. Work to eradicate the error. Use that emotion as a reminder of why the preparation is important.

The Bar Teaches

The lessons we learn in the battle against gravity are valuable and will permeate into life. This is exactly why we train. Sure, we want to be strong and jacked. It’s not easy getting there, but we do it anyway. We learn from the process, and now we know we can also learn from the failures.

I urge you to seek out these competitive opportunities to put yourself in a unique chance for success or failure. If you have a highly competitive job, then I can understand avoiding a lifting meet. For example, a lawyer has a high stress job that can have victories, failures, or tied settlements in a single afternoon. A firefighter risks his life by stepping into a burning building and then may or may not stabilize a victim before paramedics arrive. These types of occupations inherently include constant competition.

“Better to do it than to live with the fear of it.”
–Logen Ninefingers
From The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie

However, if you have a comfortable job where your livelihood, your balls, are not on the line, then you need the inherent risk in competition. The potential of losing something, even if it’s just public pride or getting out of your comfort zone, will significantly alter the experience. Too many people in our society choose to stay comfortable, but I urge you to seek competition, to seek the unknown. Introduce fear; introduce failure.

It is only until we bleed that we remember we are truly alive.