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.

PR Friday – 13 SEP


Getting stronger is a process that demands that you get smarter by learning from mistakes. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You just go to the gym, have a “workout”, get strong, occasionally mess up, but fix it and keep “working out”…right?

No, sir. The process of training is grueling. It can be fun when training with friends, pumping loud music, having a grand ol’ time. But for most of us, we don’t get that luxury. We’re in a gym, a garage, or a “fitness adventure”…alone with our thoughts. There isn’t anyone there to encourage crushing the first set of squats or to hit a sixth snatch in a row. Each set, each rep requires that you make a decision: “Do I give it my all here?” Doing it on every rep isn’t easy.

It would be pretty easy to not try. It would be easy to slack on some reps, to not bounce the hell out of a squat or not finish the pull on your cleans. Sure, it’d be easy. It’d be so easy to quit. It’s much easier to quit than do something hard, so why bother?

Fuck. That. Never avoid doing something that’s hard. Avoiding “hard” makes you a coward, and you can never experience or learn anything by being a coward. By convincing yourself to do something that’s hard when you don’t want to, you won’t just grow physically. You display a quality of strength that correlates and resonates far beyond the barbell. By overcoming the difficult, that process sets you up for success. Your thoughts formulate your feelings, your feelings compose your emotions, your emotions are exhibited through your actions, and your actions define who you are. By structuring your thoughts to tackle difficult challenges, to strive towards success regardless of the obstacle, you formulate into a better person. You manifest into 70’s Big.

Happy PR Friday (post PR’s to comments)

PR Friday – 6 SEP


Chalk floats softly through the air. The thumping of your heart is all you hear, all you feel. You step to the bar and place your hands on it, feeling the cold knurling on callused hands. The whirling hurricane of emotion settles into the eye of the storm, the peaceful moment when you have to make a decision to begin.

If you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of an ass kicking by gravity, I can feel your disappointment, irritation, and likely rage. Missing reps is common among lifting, yet dealing with them is not. Powerlifters can go months without missing a single rep to experience the ultimate let down on a third attempt. Weightlifters who push themselves will miss in each workout, but it doesn’t make it any easier. After the initial moments of rage subside, remember that each missed rep is a learning opportunity.

The process of getting stronger is dependent on how you react to failure, and failure will be prevalent. In order to get stronger, you have to get smarter, and you get smarter by analyzing what went wrong, how to fix it, and doing it better next time. This may require a hard look at recovery methods (food, sleep, etc.), the program (levels of volume or intensity throughout the week and over time), and technique (inefficiencies in movement and bar path). The possibility may exist that you didn’t have any business attempting that weight, but you won’t know until you try. There’s always a reason for failure, but it’s up to you (and the coach) to figure out why. Otherwise you won’t get smarter about getting stronger.

Happy PR Friday (post PR’s to comments)

PR Friday – 30 AUG


Training consistently is a learning process, an active process of introspection. Getting stronger isn’t easy. It requires a laboring, painful work that will only be expressed in the next bout of laboring, painful work. Yet with strength training, that process is just as important as the end. Choosing to do something hard — of your own volition — puts the mind in a vulnerable state. It forces you to decide whether or not you think you’re capable. Want to complete a set, but don’t think you can? You won’t. Staring down the bar, daring it to beat you and knowing that you will crush it; that is something entirely different, my friends.

It isn’t about merely attempting something that is Very. Fucking. Hard. But shifting the mindset into not just the possibility of completion, but the explosive dominance and subsequent victory you’ll have over that barrier. The mindset itself is the victory. The destruction of the set is the victory lap. The weening moments after when your heart is still racing and short of breath — that’s standing on the podium. Learning how to give everything you have mentally and physically to achieve your goals is what getting stronger is all about.

Happy PR Friday.

Strong Ain’t Wrong

Sy Perlis benching a world record 187.2 lbs

Sy Perlis benching a world record 187.2 lbs


Sy Perlis is 91 years old, has a beard, and is setting lifting records.

That, my friends, is what dudes do.



Sy Perlis is a World War II veteran who trains five days a week and has a pretty good lookin’ wife for being almost a century old (see it in video below). In the WABDL National Push-Pull Bench Press and Deadlift Championships on June 8, 2013, Perlis benched a world record 187.2 lbs on his fifth attempt (really old guys get more attempts). He was aided by what looks like a single ply bench shirt and a strangely perfect set of teeth (Excuse me sir, where did you purchase that exquisite set of chompers?).

One article also says he didn’t start strength training until he was 60 years old; it’s never too late to start. The man is in good health and is still kickin’ at 91 years old. There must be something to this strength training stuff; strong ain’t wrong.