Play The Hand You’re Dealt

That’s a 220 pound guy legitimately strict pressing 260 pounds overhead. For four. His knees don’t move and he’s not whipping his torso around. Impressive.

At USAPL Raw Nationals, AC had a shoulder tweak and was only able to bench 386 on his second attempt (at a 215ish body weight). In the meet write up, I said, “We’ll get the issue taken care of.”

Obviously the video above shows that we did. That and the fact that AC benched 405×2 on his final double recently. The major cue I gave him was to keep his elbows in on both movements (it maintains external rotation, distributes force across the triceps and anterior deltoid better therefore reducing stress on the A/C and glenohumeral joint, and allows for more efficient force application which makes a stronger press or bench). He’s also been using close grip bench as an assistance (I talk about the benefits and programming in The Texas Method: Advanced) as well as some direct triceps work (i.e. push-downs).

The reaction most people have to AC lifting is, “Wow! He’s a freak! I can never be like that!” There was a similar discussion a few weeks ago on /r/weightroom (here) about me. People think guys like AC, Chris, or even me are genetic freaks capable of unheard of feats. While we may lift well, it’s not because we have innate ability. It boils down to having an innate consistent and determined approach to training. All of my friends not only train with reckless intensity (with the exception of Brent who meanders to the barbell), but we aim to make our lifting, programming, and recovery better every day. I remember when AC pressed less than 185 and Chris deadlifted 440×5 — we are not genetic freaks. If anything, say that our obsession and focus is freakish.

At the same time it’s true that you may not ever get to press 260 for reps. That’s just reality. And it’s okay! If you started training in the last few years, most of us have many years on you. However, you shouldn’t gripe about it and feel like a bitch every time you go into the weight room. It’s okay that you’re squatting 230 while some fucking MASTODON is out there in the world doing his light volume work with 545 raw to full depth. We all start somewhere. Instead, decide to train your fucking dick off so that you can be the best at whatever your goal is.

There’s an amazing quote from The Lord of the Rings that had a profound effect on me when I first read the books in high school. Basically Frodo is bitching about the predicament they’re in and Gandalf lays down some Old Man Knowledge:

Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”


Being weak is definitely a disparaging situation. Are you going to let your weakness consume you, or are you gonna get up and find that fucking dogMake a decision to not give a shit what other people are doing; we all start somewhere. Decide to be the best you can god damn be with what you have. God damn it.



46 thoughts on “Play The Hand You’re Dealt

  1. Now here’s a totally unrelated story to help make our point. Brent said he was going to eat ice cream. Tom thought ice cream was delicious, and it made him think of Shawn, because he likes to think of Shawn as the American stereotype.

    I.e. 56 year old Shawn Owen is seated on a handsome chair on the back porch of his stately home in Georgia. He’s had a hard week at work, but it seems that the company of his family over a roast dinner makes it all worth while. As a special treat, while he relaxes and unwinds listening to the crickets, his children prepare him his favourite thing in the whole world, a slice of hot apple pie and two scoops of vanilla ice cream. They bring it out to him and he greets them with a warm smile and a hug and says thank you.

    Little do his children realise, Shawn would much prefer to be doing a line of coke off of a Cuban hookers sumptuous ass.

    But hey, sometimes you just gotta play the hand you’re dealt.

  2. Justin, I have a very important question. I wore short shorts to a crossfit competition this weekend that I attended as a spectator (for those who have never been/hate crossfit/whatever, go, it’s awesome) and I went to watch my friend compete but I was constantly surrounded by girls attempting to tear off my clothes. What can I possibly do to avoid this horrible side effect of manly short shorts?

    In a related note, the power of wearing short shorts allowed me to total 1680 @ a bw of 216 yesterday for an 11lb PR total.

  3. I had a hard time with this site when I first discovered it, because most of the posters are what I consider(ed) freaks and I didn’t want to post up how pathetically weak I felt/am. I have about 10 months experience under the bar, I’m 33, and I weigh just over 150, so I feel way behind everyone else here. I’ve relaxed more into not caring so much about the inevitable comparisons between the novice me and the advanced y’all. I’m not on any formal program, but my focus is just to be consistent with the main lifts and push the weight up when I can. I cannot imagine ever squatting 405, but I am confident that I’ll get there one day.

    I started posting anyway, eventually, and I’m glad I did. It’s fun for me to celebrate my little victories, and in doing so, perhaps I’ll open the door for other guys like me to start posting too.

  4. I appreciate both this post and the insightful first comment. Justin, AC, and Big Brent have taught me many things over the years, the most of important of which is laughing off constant ridicule and playing the hand you were dealt. I typically do my best to play the hand I was dealt – fortunately for me, that means coping with being a handsome, intelligent male, whose pants typically fit snug in the crotch.

  5. Excellent post. I was just thinking about this concept the other day. It’s such a cop out to think of everyone stronger than you as either freaks or drug users.

    They’re stronger than you because they’ve likely been working harder longer. Get out there and make it happen.

  6. I can’t imagine the amount of attention he must get at the gym while pressing. I have people come over and introduce themselves and asking about my pressing (just below bodyweight for 5), so I can only imagine what it’s like pressing well over that for reps. Insane

  7. Did they change that line in the LOTR movies? I thought it was Merry or Pippin that was complaining when the citadel was being stormed and Gandalf gives him the speech about sucking it up and dying not being so bad…

    • No, it’s in the first movie when they are in the mines of Moria. I think right after Gandalf figures out which way to go — “When in doubt, always follow your nose.”

      Tolkien was full of metaphors.

      • And just to go full nerd, this is the actual quote from the book:

        “‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
        ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'”
        –The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

  8. @echo – I started lifting at 33 when I weighed 130 @ 5’9″ and was finally fed up with being underweight. Gained about 25 pounds in the first year. I’m 36/160 now and headed for 185. How long will it take? Don’t know/Don’t care, but I will do it. Enjoy being “strong for a skinny guy”. Make obnoxious comments on the internet about relative strength.

    @thejage – did you just go full geek? never go full geek.

    • Ha, I used to make comments about relative strength, but no one cared. In fact, this site enlightened me to the fact that smaller guys are supposed to (in general…) have a more favorable BW ratio because of the realities of cross sectional/volume muscle mass considerations. Being “strong for a skinny guy” is a nice intermediate goal, but I’d much rather be thought of as just “strong.” And I’m with you, I’m not in a hurry, I just want to keep working my way up.

  9. I first stepped into a gym in September 2010. I was weak, fat, and sick of it. The friend who got me going, showed me how to do everything, and gave me my first program meant well, but the five day split he put me on did absolutely nothing for me. I spent a year and a half (at least six months of which were spent not actually going) floundering around in the gym from a combination of poor programming, lack of results (both in strength and aesthetic gains). In May, I decided that I was going to quit fucking around and finally got on an LP. Five months later, I’m towards the end of the program. Now, there was a month and a half of that (basically all of June/half of July) where I was on tour with my old band so I couldn’t consistently lift, but other than that I can say that I’ve put everything I’ve got into my training, which I could never say before. When I think about where I could be if I had taken my training, nutrition, and rest seriously a year and a half earlier than I did I get frustrated, but at this point there’s nothing I can do except use it as motivation. This time next year I want to be a fucking bull, and now I know that I can actually accomplish that. Thank you for the continuing motivation to become more awesome.

  10. dowplow i thought the same thing. I started getting back into it seriously August 2011 and was debbie downed cause I found this out when i was 26 and felt like it was too late (stupid i know) anyway a year and some later I’m still progressing (slower now) and realizing the road is long and tough but moving forward in a smart educated way is the key along with just nutting up and starting.

    kudos to this post. no one comes out of the womb benching 400, everyone who got there worked for it. we all need to remember that when we’re down in the dumps and wanting a pickup. Or just watching AC’s videos and get jacked up. either way.

  11. Finally created an account b/c of this post and b/c I wanted to say thanks for all of the great (free) info. I started running last year after volunteering to raise money for a charity by running a 25k. At the time I was 90 pounds overweight and couldn’t run 200m. After cleaning up my diet, couch 2 5k, etc I’d progressed to the point where I thought I’d give Crossfit a shot. Fast forward a year and I’m down around 60 pounds (though I have put on a lot of muscle, as my wife likes to point out), successfully completed my race (no more running, running sucks!), and go to Crossfit 4x per week. I’ve recently become a tad disillusioned with Crossfit, in particular after we stopped our Wendler cycles. I realized the lifting is what I’ve enjoyed the most so I went out and bought myself the bare necessities (holy shit cheap bars suck. Shins look like they went three rounds with a belt sander) and have started lifting on my own before work. It’s depressing /inspiring to see what you guys can do and I have to constantly remind myself that I’m a beginner and that the things you guys can do should be my long term goals. When I first started lifting in January my squat was something ridiculous like 140. Today it’s 215 and getting better every week. To make a long post even longer, thanks again for the great collection of knowledge. I can’t quite pull off the short shorts yet, but next summer they will be worn with pride!

  12. It’s nice to constantly be reminded of this. I struggle daily to get past the idea that results will be both immediate and awesome. I started out super thin (6’2″ at 145 pounds) and hella weak. Im still hella weak. Squatting 225 for reps last week was a big deal for me. Thats a warm up for most of you guys. It can be somewhat disconcerting.

    But then I read posts like this and look back on a time when just holding 225 on my shoulders was impossible and Im reminded that its a slow process and one that will eventually pay off. Im way behind. Ill catch up though.

    • Keep at it. In the year and a half that I’ve been training heavy I’ve had a lot of inconsistent, dead time. But, the accumulation of the training that I did have means that, even though I haven’t set any squat PR’s since January, weight’s that were hard when I first hit them a year ago are easy now, at 15 lbs less body weight.

  13. Another legit post/thread.
    I have a good friend I train BJJ and lift with who’s extremely talented, but gets paralyzed with putting our peers on pedestals, and is always down on himself when comparing himsel to them. Usually I just shrug it off, next time I’m gonna get all Gandalf on his ass.

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    • This. My wife has been injured several times in roller derby (including ACL reconstruction) and has had a lot of setbacks, but she always gets back out there to find that fucking dog. She didn’t have much in the way of a physical activity background before she started, but she never stops trying to be the best she can be, while other girls may join the league who are faster or more in shape but coast their way through derby, and in the long run they fall behind and she gets better.

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  16. My press has been coming up lately while on Texas Method. I vowed to one day press 135 and now that is my press volume. One day I will press my body weight.

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  19. It’s amazing what people will convince themselves they can’t do. Two-ish years ago I was at a party one fine Saturday evening when this runty freshman came up to me and said he saw me lifting 315 during one of my warmup sets for deads earlier that day and that it was badass and he could never lift that much weight. I told him that there was only one way to find out and convinced him to be my lifting partner for the rest of the year. His first max attempt on deads was a whopping 115 lbs and he wanted to give up the next day but to his credit he stuck it out with me and kept busting his ass.

    He finally pulled 315 last Tuesday and I got all choked up right there in the gym. Slightly embarrassing, but one of the proudest moments of my life.

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