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 Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
I was in the bathroom of the football field house as a freshman in college. The offensive coordinator, a 6’5 290+ former offensive lineman, occupied one of the toilets in the cramped bathroom. The man lived on cheap coffee and cigarettes. And greasy food. And ash trays, garbage, and misery. I knew he lived on these things because I could distinguish all of them in the pungent, putrid odor from the horrible deuce he was dropping when I walked in to take a piss. I barely escaped without vomiting, much less my life.
Now that I think about that day ten years ago, I realize how horribly unhealthy that coach was. It makes me think about people who poison their bodies in the hopes of comforting themselves, feeling better, or even performing better. Let’s get a handle on what we’re doing to our bodies before we turn into a biohazard spill in a public bathroom.
Let’s break a healthy life down into practical components. There’s physical health, or the physiologic function of the body. There’s mental health, which more so concerns things like self-esteem, productivity, and education. Lastly, there’s emotional health which can encompass social health, spiritual stuff, and stress. I’m generalizing, but these are basic aspects of health. This website usually tries to maximize these areas in order to increase performance. For example, managing life stress effects sleep quality which plays a major role in training recovery. Time management will determine how much time we get to spend training in a week. These various aspects of health not only constantly interact with one another, but they are affected by things we consume.
I really like how The Zone Diet’s Barry Sears put an emphasis on saying, “Food is a drug,” in his original book. He was explaining the hormonal response of food choices and its effect on health. But we need to remember that everything else you consume is a drug too, and drugs have intended results as well as secondary unintended results called side effects. Learning what substances do to our body is important for health. let’s look at what other substances we consume.
Other than food, there are: Supplements – Things we consume in order to augment health or performance Performance enhancement drugs – Things that have a more overt role in increasing performance and are usually illegal in the U.S. Illegal Drugs – Things like marijuana or hard drugs that have a desired effect (and are usually illegal). Vice Drugs – Legal things like caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, dipping tobacco that we indulge in for their effect. Some are worse than others. Prescription Drugs – Things that are prescribed by a doctor to improve physical, mental, or emotional health, but always have undesirable side effects.
I don’t intend to insult your intelligence by naming these things, but it’s a growing list of things we put in our bodies that are going to dictate an aspect of health. For example, some of the above items are abused and have a significant negative impact on people’s lives, ranging from simple behavioral issues to suicide.
I’m not trying to jump into “worst case scenario scare tactics” to convince you to be healthy, but there’s a broad range of responses from drugs. There are different ways to improve physical, mental, and emotional health, but misusing or abusing any of the above substances will likely have a negative effect.
Let’s bring the Serious Factor down a little bit with a real world example. The Law Dragon was drinking lots of coffee and progressed up to 8 to 10 cups of cheap coffee a day. His energy level would fluctuate so he’d drink more coffee or give into sugar cravings. He would only sleep 4-6 hours a night and feel groggy upon waking. He’d start shutting down around 3pm, and when he left work at 6 to 8pm, he’d feel and look terrible; dark circles under the eyes, dehydrated despite drinking water, and his skin was pale and literally painful. His bowel movements were loose. Not to mention an overall trouble concentrating that led to more coffee…
A few weeks ago he decided to do the “grassfed butter in a higher quality coffee” once a day. The results were drastic. Energy levels stay up, no sweet cravings, getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep, refreshed in the morning, not shutting down, and skin and complexion have significantly improved. Bowels are normal, but overall there’s heightened concentration and temperament throughout the day.
Some of his results are directly from reducing the bad caffeine while others are probably results of results, but the fact is he got sucked into a common downward spiral with a beverage most of us drink every day.
And this brings me to my philosophy on drugs of all kind: start with none. Allow me to elaborate.
How many of you played sports? What did you always do in the first 15 minutes of each practice? Without fail, you probably worked on a fundamental aspect of your sport. It’s because you can never work on the fundamentals too much; they are the foundation upon which everything is built. Forgetting the fundamentals often leads to break down and defeat.
Focusing on the fundamentals leads to total health.
Physical health is predicated on the fundamentals: good food quality, hydration, and sleep. Until these basic health skills are covered, it isn’t even worth looking at adding anything else. That goes for building a supplement stack or just energy boosters like coffee.
Things like good communication, positive thinking, and a high self esteem may be fundamentals for mental and emotional health, but some times we consume food or drugs to make us feel a certain way. Substances and drugs should never be consumed to change our mood or behavior; they should only be consumed to augment them. In other words, you shouldn’t smoke weed to relax, drink alcohol to feel better, or take a prescription amphetamine to focus. If you indulge in these substances — and I don’t really care if you do — it should be for an effect on your already positive health while still being aware of the side effects. Responsible, healthy adults are capable of indulging in things like marijuana or alcohol without a negative impact, but I’m suggesting they should only indulge when their physical, mental, and emotional health is sound.
Personally I’ve never used any substances other than caffeine and alcohol — no illegal or performance enhancement drugs — but I’ve seen the negative consequences of all of the drugs I listed above. By ensuring your health fundamentals are sound, you can avoid all of the worst case scenarios as well as the side effects that otherwise negate physical, mental, or emotional health. If you can smoke weed without being a lazy piece of shit, or do steroids without throwing off your hormone profile, then that’s your prerogative. But if your health fundamentals are sound, you won’t really need those things.
Partake in the various drugs because you want to augment how you feel or function, not because you need to. You don’t need to supplement testosterone to build muscle or lose body fat. You don’t need amphetamines to study for your exam. What you need is to focus on the fundamentals. I’m not asking you to do a silly douche juice cleanse, but stop and look at what you’re putting into your body every day. Moderate that shit, eat more protein, clean your carbs up, drink more water, go to bed earlier, and do a relaxation drill five minutes each day. That’s all the cleansing you’ll need because the fundamentals trump drugs every time.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.