8 Months/40 lbs/3 Contests

I started training with Pankow Performance on August 1st, 2015. When I started, I was at 257 lbs and about 29% body fat. For my last contest, I weighed in at 220.4 lbs, and my last caliper measurements put me at just over 20% body fat. More important than the weight or fat loss was the increase in confidence and self-esteem, while also being shown I am not the strongest person in the room…by a long shot.

During these months and contests, I have had to push myself to or beyond what I thought my body could handle. Sometimes, I have been successful, like with the 275 lbs/hand farmer’s carry at Motor City’s Strongest Man, and sometimes, I did as well/poorly as expected.

At this latest competition, I learned a few valuable lessons:

  1. Prepare for everything. I was sure that the contest weights were light enough, especially on stones, so I didn’t practice stones, instead I focused on circus dumbbell and farmer’s carry. My failure to prepare was preparing to fail, as I didn’t record a single rep. At the competition, I couldn’t launch the stone from my chest over the bar. Had I practiced, I would have likely recorded one.
  2. Be aware of surroundings. In the circus dumbbell, I stood on rubber mats that I thought had been placed as a staging area; however, they were intended to protect the bell and the parking lot from each other between reps. Had I been aware of their purpose and impact they had on my lift, I would have stepped off the mat and performed the event. I might have recorded one more rep.
  3. Get over annoyances quickly. I let a minor irritation in one event mess with my mind and also my performance. There was nothing I could do to fix it by thinking about it; rather, the lack of focus on the task at hand was more of a hindrance than a help.

Strongman has been a great sport, and I look forward to competing for years to come. Besides the fun, the gains in strength, and the many friendships I have developed, the requirements of meeting weight classes have given me a continuous goal for weight management or weight loss. As I transition from open divisions to masters divisions, the weight classes become a little less restrictive, but I intend to maintain weight for the 220 class, as it will serve me better in life and for the occasional contest that doesn’t offer a master’s division.

May you find a hobby or sport that brings you as much joy as strongman has done for me.

Here are few pictures from the latest contest on April 23rd:

Here are a few pictures from the 2nd contest, Motor City’s Strongest Man (March 12th) in 220 lb class:


Here are a few pictures from my first competition in September at the 242 lb weight class:

Thanks, Dave, for all of your help with diet, training, and encouragement.



Applying Ralph Waldo Emerson to Strongman Training

In our bathroom, we have a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem on a canvas for us to view as we get ready for bed at the end of the day.  The poem reads:

Finish each day and be done with it.

You have done what you could, some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in;

Forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day;

You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

While the poem is a great reminder for our daily lives, as I read it tonight, it seemed equally applicable to lifting and competitions. Finish each lift and be done with it. Yes, there is much to be learned from the lift, and you can be proud of what has been accomplished, but don’t dwell on a single lift to the point where it causes frustration or where it allows a person to become complacent.

Though I am getting better at squats and deadlifts, I still struggle and fight for every rep. Dave coaches me to take time and set-up properly and complete each rep with starting and ending in the same position. When I need to reset, Dave reminds me to step back and breathe, collect my thoughts, regroup, and regrip. While the goal is to be successful with every rep in every set, I am frequently reminded that i need to check my pride and ego in favor or proper form and completing the prescribed sets.

This is where the wisdom of Emerson comes in: At the end of the set or at the end of the session, I can learn from my successes as well as my blunders and absurdities, but to dwell or think on the failures will not benefit on my future training.

This morning, I started our 5 sets of 8 reps with too high a weight. I went with 345 lbs, which was at the top end of the percentages Dave advised use we should consider lifting.  By half-way through the second set, my form was needing to be reset after each lift, so I was told I needed to lower weight. I reduced to 315, and after that set, Dave recommended I drop to 275. When I finished the deadlift portion of the workout, I moved on. Yes, I would have preferred to end on a set of 8 for 345, but I made a blunder, I learned, and I moved on. The next exercise was squats, and each of the 3 sets of 8 were improved upon over the previous. The deadlifts had served their purpose for the day, and I was done with them, mentally and physically.

So, how does this apply in a broader picture? I still need to get over myself and my lifts from my youth. I am more than 20 years older, and I had many years of lack of physical training, so it is almost as though I am starting from scratch, so I must forget about the successes of the past, as that was a different person. Each day, I must strive to be the best I can be in that moment, and when the moment is done, be done with the moments, whether successes or failures.

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Training Advice From My Daughter

Today, my daughter put a question with which I have been struggling into very simple terms that made it easier to evaluate my options. I will have to remember her question when facing similar questions of what to choose when faced with two options, but before I reveal her advice, let me give you the backstory.

Last November, I decided to sign-up for the Rock ‘N Roll Las Vegas Half-Marathon, which is run on the Las Vegas Strip in the evening, so the participants get to enjoy the lights of the strip. It looked like a great race, and a friend in the area commented about how fun it was. I had just completed the Detroit Free Press International Half-Marathon, and my training seemed to be pointing in the direction of general fitness, so another half-marathon made sense.

2014 Detroit Half-Marathon Finish Line
2014 Detroit Half-Marathon Finish Line

In May, a friend announced that she would like to put a relay team together for the Detroit Free Press International Marathon, and since I like to help people achieve goals, and it appears I would be running no more than a 10k, I helped put a team together figuring it would be a good warm-up for the Las Vegas half.

In July, I got my first taste of strongman training, and I was hooked. On August 3rd, I started a 7 week program of strength training with Dave of Pankow-Performance, and one thing that Dave identified with my training that needed to change was I was doing too much. In addition to boot camp classes, crewing for hot air balloons, volunteering on an urban farm, and other physical activities, I was doing 4 miles per day during my lunch break. He advised me that the best gains are achieved while resting, as the body needs an opportunity to recover. It was difficult, at first, to relax and be mindful instead of always being busy, but I became accustomed to it, and I even found pleasure in relaxing lunches. Through Dave’s training and diet recommendations, I met the goal of competing at 242 lbs, and I exceeded my expectations in the competition; however, I could tell my running endurance had decreased during those weeks.

After competition, I went back to 2 days of boot camp training and 1 day of strength training (focus on squats and deadlifts), and it became more obvious that my running had taken a toll, but I also realized that my fitness goals had changed. Before strength training with Dave, my goals were to lose weight and stay active in runs. After strength training and having competed, I have more definitive goals:

  1. Learn form and technique for strongman events
  2. Become stronger throughout my entire body
  3. Lose weight to compete at the 220 lb weight class (a definitive goal with a time requirement based on an April competition)

When I learned that one of our relay team members needed to drop out of the race due to a work commitment he had just been assigned, I started to question my running plans. To make up for his absence, I would likely be running/walking 8-10 miles instead of 6-7 miles. With less than a month between the Detroit marathon and the Las Vegas half-marathon, the increased mileage and need to train additional miles for the half made me realize I would likely miss valuable training sessions with boot camp and strength training as I recovered from the runs. Though the next strongman competition is not until April, I am not sure I can afford to miss multiple sessions to focus on running (in addition to days I will need to miss for work commitments).

Concerned about what I had gotten myself into, I decided to look at alternatives, and thanks to StartingStrongman.com, I learned of a gym in Las Vegas with open strongman training on Sundays from 12-4. After contacting Justin Purcell (who runs the training), I began to weigh my options. Because I respect his opinion and training knowledge, I asked Dave what he thought, and he said that if my goal was to run the race, he understood seeing it through to the end, but if I was concerned about being prepared, then I could opt for a relaxing vacation or I could train at Purcell’s facility. I thanked him for his input as it respected my desire to retire my running shoes with a final race, but he also gave me an option I hadn’t considered: rest.

This is where the wisdom of my daughter comes:

I had just finished checking her grades and saw that she currently had an A+ in every class, so I thought I would ask her a problem solving question: Based on the fact that I have not run for distance in more than 8 weeks, should I run the half-marathon (even if I am not ready) or should I go to the open gym strongman training?  Grace’s answer was simple and would make my friends / trainers proud:

What will best serve your fitness goals?

At 11 years old and with no experience in fitness (aside from soccer and dance), my daughter summarized my internal struggle with a simple question that helped me see the answer more clearly. My fitness goal is to be competitive in a strongman competition, so if running the half-marathon jeopardizes that goal by trying to run it if I am unprepared, then I need to choose to let the race go in favor of pursuing my goal for April and, hopefully, years to come.

So, what is my decision? In 11 days, I will complete my relay leg in the Detroit marathon. At the completion of the race, I will evaluate how I feel and how long I think I will need to recover. If I struggle to complete my leg or if I feel my body will require significant recovery, I will bow out of the Las Vegas race.  If I feel spectacular at the end of my leg and I am able to return to a full workout by Tuesday or Wednesday, I will do the race. Right now, I am leaning very heavily towards not running, as my legs were toast walking 3 miles after squats, lunges, deadlifts, and Nordics this morning.

Thanks, Grace, for the clarity.

First Strongman Competition in the Books

In 7 weeks with Dave, I went from a strong but untrained person to a much leaner, stronger strength athlete in training. During that time, I lost about 10 lbs (about 6 lbs fat and 4 lbs water), and I did a water cut for weigh-in which dropped me another 5-7 lbs before competition. My body fat composition was reduced by 1.1% to 25.8%.  Most importantly, I had a great time at the Relentless Strength Weekend Strongman competition in Detroit (Livonia), and I had a personal best in each event.

While the strength gains and technique improvement were evident, they were somewhat to be expected, but the part of the preparation that in some ways shocked me was how quickly a few diet changes could impact my weight and performance. I had followed the strength training program strictly, but I had been lax in the diet/clean eating side of things. I knew that eating lots of carbohydrates and excessive calories were detrimental to my weight loss, but I didn’t know I would see substantial weight loss in a week by eating lean protein and the right vegetables while drinking around 1 gallon per day of water. It made me a believer in maintaining that lifestyle diet, as I have a 6 month goal of losing 24 lbs while continuing to add strength.

At the competition, I started nervous, which can sometimes cause my body to shut down, but after I took my position at the axle, I started feeling better. After I cleaned the axle to my shoulders, I felt in the moment, and when I pressed it over head, I felt confident. I moved to the next item in the medley, the 250 lb log. I lifted it, squatted, and cleaned it to my chest, which was a personal best for me, but I was unable to press it. After a couple attempts, I bowed out, but I had exceeded my expectations and achieved a goal.

210 lb axle press
210 lb axle press

The second event was a car deadlift with a Chrysler 200 with an additional 50 lbs added at the handles. I had been nervous not knowing what type of car it would be, and since it was larger than what we had trained with, I was nervous I wouldn’t log a rep. With each of the three successful lifts, I swelled with pride at having done more than expected. This trainer, Dave, must know what he is talking about.

Chrysler 200 + 50 lbs Car Deadlift
Chrysler 200 + 50 lbs Car Deadlift

The third event was changed from a wheelbarrow/keg carry medley to a 120′ keg carry with a 250 lb keg. In training, the carries were always one of my weakest exercises, so I was going to be happy with distance. When I completed the course in 59.999999999 seconds (60 second limit), I was elated!

The 4th event was one I feared, as the highest weight I had trained on the yoke was 550 lbs. I wasn’t very comfortable with the 550, so I wasn’t sure if I would move the 650. I made a couple errors on the event, including choosing too low of a bar height and not setting the bar properly on my shoulders. The result was I moved the yoke (personal best), but I only went 20-30 feet. When I finished, my shoulders were bloody from abrasion. Dave told me that he yelled for me to fix my positioning, but I was in the zone and didn’t hear his instruction.

650 lb yoke
650 lb yoke
Bloody shoulders after yoke
Bloody shoulders after yoke

The final event was a 308 lb Atlas Stone. I psyched myself out of this a little, but I did have a personal best of lifting the stone from the ground to my lap. Because I sat so low with the bar, I made it more difficult on myself to get out of the whole, and I didn’t have the same fire as I did on the other lifts, yet I was pleased that I had taken another step towards a successful lift on the stones.

In the end, I did not finish in last place, and I improved on each event. I met and befriended several people, and I fell even deeper in love with this sport. My training with Dave will continue as I strive to enter the 220 weight class and become far more competitive and experienced.

Mind Over Matter

My first competition is fast approaching (two weeks from today), and while I am confident in some events, there are others that I am doing my best to psych myself out of being competitive, and I need to stop it. After a week off for attending a conference, I did front squats and some ab work (dragonflies?) on Friday, and Saturday morning, we did strongman training. In both cases, I let “should” enter my mind and mess with me instead of focusing on what “is.”  Let me explain.

After missing my normal Friday morning workout since I had arrived home late Thursday night/Friday morning, Dave invited me to join him and a couple other guys to do a quick (5×5) squat session with some ab work to follow. I appreciated the opportunity to still salvage the day with a workout after being gone for a while, and it was fun to see the guys and to train, but as we were doing front squats (perhaps my best session I have done), I found myself judging and comparing myself to Dave and Ryan, both of whom have been squatting longer.  I outweigh both of them by at least 40 lbs, and my legs are not chicken legs, so to see both exceeding my weight, instead of being pleased with having accomplished 5 good sets of front squat, I was telling myself I should be doing more weight than both of Dave and Ryan. While it is a goal to work towards, letting the comparison and self-judgment diminish my workout did nothing to make me feel more competitive nor did it focus on the positive upon which I could build.  By contrast, Dave, Ryan, and Frank (who was doing back squats) recognized my improved form and performance, and they complimented me on the work. They are a great reminder of the benefit of excellent workout partners/trainers, as they find the good and offer feedback on how to improve, without diminishing what has been accomplished.

Saturday morning, we worked on event specific lifts: log press, axle press, one-armed circus dumbbell, and car deadlift.  For fun, they brought out a few other implements for a medley, including a duck walk. I am fortunate to have strong shoulders and pressing skills, but I am still working on form and coordination, especially with the log. We were not working with heavy weights on the log or axle, since there was a general agreement that reps were more important for the day.  I was able to do press the axle and the dumbbell with relative ease, but I struggled with the log, and again, people I outweighed (one by 70-80 lbs) outperformed me or kept pace with me on the log, and when we got to the car deadlift, I was blown out of the water. In my frustration caused by comparing myself to others (with more experience) and determining I should be lifting more than they were, I missed the fact that I did better on the car deadlift this week than I had when I first tried it two months ago. Again, I lost perspective on personal improvement, and I was turning a good day of personal successes into a “not good” day because I didn’t perform as well as others.

Like Friday, the guys with whom I workout on Saturday’s at Bob’s garage gave encouragement, recognized my strengths, and offered suggestions on how to improve. They focused on techniques and didn’t let negative terms like failure, weak, or can’t enter their critique. I need to begin to internalize the positive views my workout buddies have so I can see my successes and see where I need to improve while enjoying my gains. And, I need to stop comparing myself to others, especially when I am only beginning competition, as I will psych myself out of competing, if I don’t accept that I am only competing against myself and my personal bests.

Thanks to Dave, Ryan, Bob, Tom, Bryan, Shane, and all the other fine people who are helping me to learn more about this fun sport and to face my challenges and see the positives while acknowledging changes that need to be made.

Lessons in Confidence

When a person is naturally good at something, it can be difficult to differentiate between arrogance and confidence…until a person is really challenged. Challenges will quickly identify how decisions are made, and one has to hope it is confidence that is backing up the decision, as confidence is built on success and experience…arrogance is inflated based on self-perceived accomplishments.

On Saturday, I had my first of two lessons in confidence. As long as I have watched World’s Strongest Man, I have been impressed by the Atlas Stones. The thought of lifting big balls of stone seemed unfathomable, and when I first attempted a 215 pound stone a few weeks ago, I struggled to lift it. The following week, I learned what I was doing wrong with the actual lift as well as where I had positioned myself in relation to the bar I was to lift the stone over. After 2 successes, with increased ease on the 2nd day of trying the stones, I had more confidence in my knowledge and experience in how to lift the stone, so I found quick success on my attempt with the 215 stone. Since a 260 lb stone had just been acquired, I was able to approach the stone with more confidence (and Spider Tack for my grip), and I was successful on the stone.  A week before, I made a timid attempt at the lift, but I lacked the confidence and experience to be successful. Lifting the 260 lb stone made me feel outstanding and like the day’s lifting had been outstanding.

Today (Monday), I learned the other side of the coin…arrogance parading as confidence. We were back in the weight room doing deadlifts and squats, neither of which I am well-trained in yet; however, for years, my raw strength has allowed me to lift things I shouldn’t have attempted. After a great lesson in deadlifts (which I still need to practice my form even without weight), we moved on to squats. The program for the day was 5 sets of 3 reps at 90% of our maximum effort from our first week. With deadlifts, if a weight is too heavy, usually it doesn’t make it off the ground.  With squats, too heavy of a weight makes you thankful for a good spotter, especially if you are lifting with arrogance instead of confidence.

Do More Squats for Confidence

For choosing the weight with which to begin for squat, I did a rough estimate of 90% in my head and rounded up, which was a mistake of arrogance. I had figured that my max possibly would have been higher if I was more confident in my squat, so I should be fine with a slightly higher weight. I completed my first rep, but when I started to come back up on the 2nd rep, I hinged at the waist, which caused me to lose focus and form for the lift. My spotter had to help me the rest of the way up. I dropped 20 lbs from the weight for my next set, but after the 1st rep, I had no confidence in my lift, so Dave advised me that if there is a doubt of whether or not the lift is possible, don’t risk it. I racked the weight. I finished the next 3 sets at a weight that was 80 lbs lighter than what I initially tried. It was likely too light to have given me the challenge Dave was looking for us to achieve, but it was necessary to rebuild confidence in the lift. After the sets, Dave took a few moments to chat with me about strategy in the weight room, and the same lesson can be applied to life. The basic moral of the message was, “Find success first. Use the experience and knowledge from the successes to build confidence in your ability.With confidence built on successful experiences and knowledge, a person can more legitimately approach new challenges knowing what made them successful before and what caused them to fail.”

I had let arrogance get the best of me today, but it did teach me a valuable lesson. Now, I have a plan for determining weights. I will be conservative with the first set or two until I am ready to challenge myself to where I need to be. With more experience, I will eventually know my limits sooner than I currently do, but I need to remember to make confident, not arrogant, decisions.