I just had an amazing day of competition yesterday. Several weeks ago, I saw the Illinois’ Strongest Man contest hosted by Dave Daly included a Viking Press, which was something I had always wanted to try, so I signed up for the competition. I wasn’t sure how the competition would go for me, but as always, I knew I would have a great time. I didn’t expect to win the Master’s Division. Though there were 2 competitors, I thought my chances were less than 50/50.
To help prepare for the contest, Dave Pankow of Pankow-Performance helped create a make-shift Viking Press to give me a feel for the event. Since each apparatus is different, it is impossible to perfectly replicate the event, but it was good enough to give me confidence. We also continued to work on deadlifts, and my boot camp training with Fitness Revolution of Wixom helped me with my speed, which is what helped me win the final 2 events and the overall division.
My competitor, Dennis, was outstanding. He beat me by 1 rep on the Viking Press and by 17 feet on the Conan’s Wheel. On the Viking Deadlift, he pulled the 12th rep just after time expired, or he would have tied me on the deadlift. Fortunately for me, he was credited with 11, but I knew it wasn’t by much.
The final two events, Farmer’s Carry and the Yoke/Keg medley, were what provided the win for me. The weight on the farmer’s was light enough to just grab and go, which helped on the turn, but I only won by 0.3 seconds. Dennis had been very fast. On the Yoke/Keg medley, I believe the time difference was less than a second, and the difference was likely a slight bobble Dennis had with the yoke half-way down the run.
Here is a compilation video of the events:
The event was fun, all the competitors were friendly, helpful, and encouraging, and to walk away with my first time winning my division felt wonderful, though after the car ride home, I couldn’t wait to hop into my Finnleo infrared sauna and my Amerec steam shower to help me recover.
Now, I need to prepare for Nationals in Las Vegas on September 16th & 17th. I will see Dennis there again, and I know I have a ton of training to do to stay competitive with him.
For a few weeks after my April competition, I was in a lull. I enjoyed a week of post competition indulgent eating. Then, I celebrated a week of my 40th birthday with more eating and treats, which spilled over into a 3rd week. While my workouts hadn’t changed, and my weight only increased a few pounds, my body felt like it had aged more than my birthday would indicate. On the morning starting the 4th week post training, Dave said, “How is your weight and what is your diet like?” He knew when it came to the workouts, I would ‘Just Do It’ with all I had, but I was lacking focus on my diet and had lost track of what goals I had for myself and was not approaching training with intention.
For training to be effective, both the training and the specific exercise must have an intended goal. Approaching each training session with intention is an area I need to be reminded of frequently. I enjoy the social side of group exercise, and I can get carried away with the competitive nature of being pushed to perform better by my training partners. Dave reminds me that performing an exercise quickly and with sloppy form in order to complete more rounds of a circuit defeats the purpose of the exercise, as proper form is required to maximize the benefit as well as to prevent injury. The following video is an example where my competitive side overshadowed approaching the Farmer’s Carry with the intention of doing it safely and for maximum benefit. Fortunately, nothing bad happened; however, as I finished the 30 yard run, the about 210 lbs came off the handles. The reason? I grabbed the handle in an unbalanced position, so the weights were angled backward for the run, and with each step, the weights jiggled until the clips let go. Had I approached the handles with a proper set-up & grip, I would have completed the course without incident.
For my diet and overall feeling of discomfort, Dave’s gentle reminder that I needed to focus on a healthy diet again came at a perfect time. My body was aching and my joints felt inflamed, though the workouts were no more intense than before, and while my age had entered into a new decade (40), I was only a few weeks older than when I felt like I was ready to show well at a competition. The only substantial difference was diet, but I was not wanting to acknowledge how much my overindulgence was hurting my body and impacting how I felt physically, mentally, and even emotionally. I shouldn’t need somebody to tell me to eat less sugar and to eat my meat and vegetables while drinking plenty of water, but it is what it took to get myself back on track. In one week of cutting out junk, I went from storing water weight at 230 to feeling fit and healthy at 222.5
After Dave had me refocused on eating a more consistent, balanced, healthy diet, we discussed what my goals should be. I commented that I could try to cut weight to be in the 198 division, but now that I qualify for Master’s, there is seldom a break between 198 and 220, so I would be voluntarily giving more than 22 lbs of weight for no benefit. Instead, we agreed my goal should be to work on changing body composition without necessarily losing weight. By staying at the top of the 220 division in weight, I would allow myself to carry more muscle by continuing to build lean body mass while cutting fat, which would hopefully translate to making me more competitive. The short term goal is to get below 20% body fat by August and to work my way down to the mid-teens in the fall with a more definitive date set after my first goal is achieved.
Beyond to diet and body weight oriented goals, I have the following goals to achieve before the end of 2016 or sooner:
500 lb deadlift – currently around the 455-465 mark.
375 lbs bench press – currently around 355 but I have not worked it consistently until recently
375 lbs squat with confidence – I might be able to get it right now, but I am still nervous with the squat
240 lbs log press – current best is 220 lbs, but it is not consistent
I am fortunate that so many friends and family members support and encourage me to continue to pursue better health and to achieve my goals. I am especially thankful that through both Pankow-Performance and Fitness Revolution of Wixom I have been able to find trainers who know me well enough to know when I need to be challenged on something I should be doing but am neglecting. I look forward to achieving my goals and setting new ones (hopefully ahead of schedule).
If you are looking for a trainer in the Detroit area, contact Dave at email@example.com.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” Luke 16:13. I am not one to quote scripture, and I realize this wasn’t referring to running vs strongman, but it is applicable to so many conflicts in life.
New Year’s Eve heading into 2003, a friend of mine said he wanted to run a marathon before his 30th birthday. He was turning 29 in April, which meant that in Michigan, he had one marathon season to complete his goal. Determined to help my friend succeed, I told him I would train with him and run the Detroit Marathon with him. That summer, we spent most Saturdays or Sundays running 2 laps around a park with an 8-1/2 mile trail. Those were good miles and happy memories, though I ended up injuring myself in September, so I could not participate in the October marathon; however, Don achieved his goal.
In April 2004, my wife and I welcomed our daughter, so much of the time I had spent running the previous year was now focused on being a good husband and father. I think the jury is still out on how well I succeeded in that first year of fatherhood, but I did my best; however, my marathon training was less than impressive. When Don asked if I wanted to run the marathon that October, I agreed, as I figured I could whip myself into marathon shape in a couple months. Avoiding injury, I completed my first marathon in October 2004.
I took the next year off of running, as I had decided to try a career change which didn’t pan out, but for my 30th birthday, I completed the Flying Pigs Marathon in Cincinnati, OH. It was a fun race and one I intended to do again, but laziness and depression took over, so I took comfort in food rather than the miles that gave me release and a great time to work through the problems of the world. I didn’t complete any substantial distance for another 8 years when I completed the Detroit Half-Marathon after losing 50 lbs while working out with Fitness Revolution of Wixom. Completing that race was a gift to myself saying I had taken control of my health, wellness, and fitness.
I was so excited with my return to running long distances that I signed up for the Las Vegas Half-Marathon for November 15, 2015. It was to be my great traveling half-marathon, and I had intentions of shaving 15-20 minutes off of my time from the Detroit Half-Marathon. I logged miles every day during my lunch hour. I booked travel in April when I saw great deals. In May, I was pleased to learn I could help another friend achieve a goal by creating a relay team for the Detroit Marathon, which would serve as a nice warm-up for the Las Vegas Half. Las Vegas was going to be MY race, and then in July it happened…I met my new love and master of my exercise time and goals: Strongman.
One of the first observations made about my training prior to strongman was I was doing too much, and it was hurting my goals, as I wasn’t giving my body enough time to rest. While it was difficult at first to not run during lunch, I soon found that I enjoyed a relaxing lunch, and I often made healthier choices for lunch as I made time to prepare a salad and grilled meats. The downside was I could feel my cardiovascular endurance starting to reduce after a few weeks, but I could also feel great gains in strength, and my body was becoming more muscular and responding better to the workouts and increased rest.
After the strongman competition at the end of September, I had about 3 weeks to get ready for the Detroit Marathon relay, but my desire to run was no longer there. I was participating in more bootcamp classes again, which helped my cardio, but I was not in a runner’s shape any longer, and it made me start to second guess whether the Las Vegas half would happen or not. In fact, I was concerned whether I would do well on the shorter distance of the relay. Fortunately, Frank, a friend and trainer, suggested switching legs with me on the relay, so I could run just 2.9 miles. In conversations with Frank and Dave in the weeks leading up to the relay, it became clearer that I needed to opt out of the Las Vegas Half-Marathon and pursue my other opportunity to train at a strongman gym while out there.
Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 3:30 AM, I awoke to get ready for my last run with the word “marathon” associated with it. I met Frank at 4:30, and we started our drive to Detroit to arrive before the roads closed. We relaxed and talked for a while before heading to the starting line to meet our teammates, Suzy and Sara, and then we all went to where we needed to be. Suzy took the starting position. Frank went to the start of the 3rd leg at mile 12.8. I rode a bus to the start of the 4th leg around the 19 mile mark. Sara rode the bus to her position as the anchor for the relay on the 5th leg with the final 4 miles.
For the next 3 hours as Suzy and Frank made their way through the course, I thought about running, took a nap, thought more about running, and talked with a few people on the bus. I could feel that I wasn’t as excited about this race as I had been for other races, including some 5k distances, which was about what my leg was to be. I knew this race was going to be my retirement party for my running master.
As Frank approached the exchange chute for me to start my leg, I took his picture to remember the moment. I jogged most of my distance, but I felt the need to walk a few times to relieve pressure I felt in my chest. I stopped to take a picture of the Belle Isle Aquarium, and then I finished my leg of the race and sent Sara on her way to the finish. I was done, and I had finished trying to serve two masters.
When the bus returned me to the relay meet-up, Suzy, Sara, and Frank were waiting. We collected our finisher medals then posed for a picture in front of an oversized course map from the race. Suzy’s goal had been met. Frank helped us achieve our goals, and for me, I definitively knew my long distance running days were over. I felt peace and closure.
“Make the weight float” is a phrase I commonly hear, whether we are doing kettlebell swings, push jerks, clean & jerks, or similar powerful movements. The thought of making heavy weights float seems odd, but I am finally grasping the concept and making it happen, though not consistently. To illustrate what is meant, I am sharing a few of Dave’s videos where he makes the weight float:
This has been difficult for me as I want to crush the handle and actively swing the weight, but only recently have I understood where the power is to come from in this exercise, and it is the part that eludes me in many of my other lifts: the hip pop. As the arms swing forward with the weight, the snap of the hips should propel the weight forward and the arms should simply be holding onto the end of the pendulum. Just as a grandfather clock does not press the pendulum to the end of the stroke, I should not be muscling the weight through the complete motion. Realizing this and finally feeling it this past week will help me to focus on developing the hip drive I desperately need.
With overhead presses, I struggle with the coordination, but I am starting to get it, but Dave gives an excellent presentation in the above video. In the first press, the axle, the weight moves quickly and fluidly overhead as he drives with the legs, presses with his arms, and dips underneath, making the axle almost weightless for a second, making it easier to extend the weight overhead. He accomplishes the same with the log and for most reps on the one-armed circus dumbbell. The great thing about the repetitions on the circus dumbbell is that you can more easily see when the leg drive, press, and dip result in the weightless moment on most reps, but on a few, he has to muscle them out. So far in my development, I muscle out most of the circus dumbbell presses I have attempted. But, I am starting to see and to feel how this is accomplished.
It feels good to be getting to the point where I can feel when I am getting something right and when I have reverted back to improper technique. Last Saturday, I was thrilled when I was able to get 215 lbs for 2 reps on clean and jerks. My previous best was 210 for 1 rep, and I felt like I could have pressed more because I was starting to get the float. This week while using the kettlebells, I felt a few reps start to float, and it was a revelation in what I have been doing wrong.
Small steps will eventually get me to my goal. When enough small steps line up for me, they will result in a sudden jump, then it will be back to small steps for a while, but as long as I am moving forward, I will choose to focus on the positive.
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.
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:
Learn form and technique for strongman events
Become stronger throughout my entire body
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.
It has been 4 weeks since I started training with Dave, and I have gained much more than muscle. Each workout, I learn more about myself physically and psychologically. Both of these will help me become a better person and strongman competitor.
1st Lesson: Rest,Relax, & Recover.
Before I started, Dave told me that I needed to stop doing my 4 mile walks/runs every day at lunch time, as I wasn’t allowing my body to recover. At first, it was difficult for me to accept that I was harming myself by doing more exercise, but after a week of resting when not in the gym, I found my workouts were more consistent and stronger in the gym. Because my workouts were stronger and more consistent, my body has been responding with gained strength and definition. Also, I am more confident in my ability to produce because I have respected my body’s needs. Last Sunday, I tested my limits by doing a gym workout Friday, Strongman workout Saturday, and an obstacle/mud run with a 25 lb backpack of bricks on Sunday. My performance on my Monday morning workout was week, and my body was sore and poorly recovered all week,
In work and other parts of life, it will serve me well to remember that working many hours and submitting the same quality and quantity of work as I would if I take time to rest does not benefit anybody. I may think I am perceived as a hard worker for putting in extra hours, but time without productivity (or worse hindering productivity) is not admirable.
2nd Lesson: Slow down, Focus on Form, & Listen to My Body
Coming into training, I knew my form would be one of the areas with which I would need assistance, as I had seldom practiced lifts like the deadlift or squat. I figured I would be fine with the bench press, but I learned there is much more than picking things up and putting them down.
Given that I am naturally strong, most of my life I have been able to lift things, though the form would not be approved by most. Letting my ego and natural strength drive me, I have a difficult time really evaluating what work capacity is appropriate for me. While I can physically lift most of the weights I put on the bar, I am learning to back away from the weight and the ego to find a challenging weight that is light enough for me to focus on proper form with each repetition. This Saturday, I finally backed off on pressing events to allow myself some successful lifts, and on the car deadlift, I asked to take off 50 lbs so I could end the day with a good lift. I must continue to practice this as it will allow me to enjoy the sport much longer than if I push myself and injure myself.
In life, I must know when to say when. Whether for work or personal relationships, it is okay to say “no” or “I am at my limit.” It will allow me to be a better employee and friend if I know my limitations and clearly express them to others. I will be better at the things I agree to do, and others will h
ave better understanding of when I might need help.
3rd Lesson: Set a Goal and Don’t Do Things Detrimental to the Goal
My goal for the competition is simple: complete 1 successful lift on each event. If I perform better, great, but goals of placing higher will be for future competitions.
While I have been observing the rest, relax, and recover instructions, I learned that completing the obstacle/mud run was counterproductive to my goal because it prevented me from training as hard and as well as I could have on Monday. I ran the event since I had paid for it months before, but now I know that for the next 4 weeks, my extra activities need to either be neutral or beneficial to my goal. I cannot afford to be working against myself.
In life, when I have a deadline or goal to achieve, I need to stop taking on extra work until my goals are met, unless it can be done in a way that doesn’t interfere with my work. Working with others on projects that achieve mutual goals is great, but offering to help do work to be a nice guy doesn’t meet my obligations.
While there are many more lessons that have been learned, these three have sounded the loudest over the weeks, and I am sure they will repeat for the rest of my life.
For over a year, I worked out 1-2 times per day and tried to push myself hard on each workout. I saw results from my efforts, but I was likely over-training. In the last 3 weeks, I have followed Dave’s instruction of resting when not in the gym, as “gains are achieved outside of the gym.” During these last weeks, I have felt more rested, and I have had more time to pursue other things. Tonight, I needed to do a supplemental “workout,” as my wife had noticed my body was a little stiffer than usual, so she suggested we go to Yin Yoga at Luminous Life Yoga in Wixom.
In years past, we did yoga together with some frequency, and Laurie eventually became a certified yoga instructor, but I did not share the same passion. While I supported her pursuit of happiness in taking and in instructing yoga, I preferred workouts I considered to be more challenging to strength or endurance. I wanted my workouts to have results that could be seen by others as well as myself. Yoga is the opposite of that, as many instructors will remind a class to not look at what another person is doing for comparison, and “be sure to not should all of yourself.” For my wife, yoga provides a great physical, emotional, and mental release. For me, I often have a hard time letting go and being with myself in the moment and the pose.
Tonight, Yin Yoga hit the spot. My shoulders, back, and legs have been very tight lately, and while I am warming up more than I ever have before a workout, I can still feel tension build in the muscles. When Laurie described Yin as an hour long stretching and relaxing class, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the slow progression of the class, but I knew I needed the release of tension in my muscles.
During class, Ray, the owner and instructor of the studio, instructed us to let go of what we had been carrying around with us all day physically and emotionally. Allow ourselves to be in the moment and to enjoy the class. Breathe into the poses and stay focused on our breaths. If we were forced into shallow breaths, back off because we are working too hard. If we felt like we could do more, take the pose to the edge of comfort, but don’t feel like we have to do more than what we feel good about. Essentially, take time to care for an to love ourselves, even if it was only for an hour.
At the end of class, my shoulders, quadriceps, and back were all much looser than when I started, and I had set aside some of the stress of the day. I was better prepared to prioritize my evening to meet my needs and to be prepared for tomorrow. When I awake and go to do some fun lifting in the morning, I will be doing so with a body that is better prepared for the taxing workouts I have ahead of me tomorrow and all weekend.
Remember: take time to love and to take care of yourself and breathe.
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.
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.
We have all been told at some point to “give 110%!” While in some situations, it is necessary to dig deep and perform beyond our normal capacity, it is not a sustainable goal for effort, and if one is not careful, it can lead to detrimental actions.
For me, I still struggle with the concept that I am not trying to make the starting team, so I have approached my workouts with the same desire to perform to impress that I did in my youth; however, many things have changed since then. I still love to leave a workout dripping in sweat, but my body is less forgiving than it was 25 years ago, and cheating reps can have more serious consequences.
This week at Pankow-Performance, we moved from our establishing our maximum lifts on bench, squat, and deadlift to working on a 12 week strength training program based on percentages of those weights. Monday, we worked on pressing, starting with 5 sets of 8 reps with a weight that was 60% of our max bench, so I started with 205 for the first 3 sets, and since I felt good, I moved to 215 for the final 2 sets. Next, we moved to 5 sets of overhead press followed by banded pull-ups or lat pull-downs. After 2-1/2 sets of 10 pull-ups, I moved to pull-downs. Like bench, this overhead press was at 55-60%, so I started at 115 for 3 sets and move to 125 for 2 sets. Our final set of lifts for the day were dumbbell presses. We were to do 12 reps, then 10 reps, and finally 8 reps. If we felt like we could add weight safely, we were encouraged to do so. I started with 70s for 12, 80s for 10, but when I got to the last set for 8, I tried 90, and I only got 5, and my final reps were not with strict form, so a spotter couldn’t assist me with the weight to get the final reps. I had tried giving 110%, and I ended up at only 75-80%. Dave reminded me to be more aware of how my body really feels, not just what my competitive mind is telling me to do in a non-competitive situation.
Wednesday, we were introduced to “speed-work” for squats and deadlifts, which consisted of 8 sets of 3 reps with 50-55% of our max lift. This meant that for the squat we were to aggressively lower into the full squat, then we were to explode up with control and maximum speed. I started with and stayed at 205 lbs for squat as I am still getting comfortable with it. Because I am still a little apprehensive about the squat movement, I probably didn’t challenge myself as much as I physically could have, but I was satisfied with how the reps felt, and I had good form on almost all reps. On deadlift,I did all of my sets with 245, and Dave pointed out a few simple corrections in my form, including to not bull my neck when lifting, as it adds unnecessary pressure and stress on the neck and shoulders. His other advice was to be my shoulders and back in alignment before trying to lift. My tendency is to lift the weight then shrug at the top, but Dave said that it weakens the delivery of power, so I needed to work on that. My following sets improved in form, and I felt good.
The lift that got me thinking about the dangers of 110% in everyday effort was the trap bar deadlift. Because the trap bar makes the deadlift easier, we did 3 sets of 5 with our last set being for as many reps as we could get. The weight was to be approximately 80-85% of our max deadlift, so I was working with 385. The first two sets went pretty well, with mostly proper form, but on the 3rd set, I wanted to get into double digits. While I lifted the bar 11 times, my partner for the lift said he would have credited me with 8 due to form and for pausing too long between my final 3 reps. His honesty made me realize that after the 8th rep (when a reminder was given to me about form), I should have stopped, but I was so intent on reaching a goal, that I missed the real objective: good, healthy lifts that make perfect form the priority so it becomes 2nd nature.
As I move through this program, I must remember quality beats quantity, especially if sub-par quality prevents any further quantity due to injury. It is good to be reminded to slow-down and to not feel like I am in competition every day; rather, I am in training. Perhaps this can apply to other parts of life as well.
This weekend, I learned a lesson in how valuable the Girl Scouts can be in achieving my fitness goals. No, this has nothing to do with Thin Mints; rather, their song, Make New Friends, applied to my Sunday fun and helped me grow in my training.
For those unfamiliar with the song, it goes:
Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, and the other’s gold…
I have known and respected Dave Pankow for over a year, and he is my mentor and trainer through these weeks ahead of me before my first strongman competition. In the Girl Scout song, he would be the “keep the old” and has proven himself to be worth the weight he can press in gold (he presses far more than he weighs). In my short time of training with him, I have already started to learn more about my strengths, where I need improvement, and some first steps I need to take to get there.
Over the weekend, I got to enjoy the other part of the song, “Make new friends.” I had met some of the guys and gals on previous weekends, either at workouts or volunteering at an event, but this was the first time I was going to be in a foreign area with people I barely new and challenging myself physically and mentally as I tried to grasp how to successfully complete lifts with odd implements. With accomplished athletes all of whom packed on the muscle, I arrived intimidated and concerned about my place…that changed quickly.
From the first lift to the last and from the newest lifter to the most seasoned veteran, each person sought to help the other. Adjusting weights, spotting, advising on form or safety, and preparing equipment for the next event, people worked together in a friendly environment. At the end of September, each may be a competitor, but until then, the goal was to help each person be the most successful version of his or her self. While that should be the goal of all friendships, I found it unique and very impressive that while confidence and competitiveness abounded, there was no room for arrogance or belittling those who had much to learn.
What did I learn from my new and old friends this weekend? I learned how to clean and to press a log with better form with greater conservation of energy. I was actually able to get the 210 log up (30 lb increase over previous attempt. I also learned what the frame carry and the yoke felt like, as well as the fact that if equipment can be adjusted and you need it to be to be safe: ask. My short legs had difficulty getting the 560 lb yoke off the ground when it was set for the taller guys, but when it was lowered, I was able to do it better. I learned not to fear but to respect intimidating equipment as we wheeled a 900 lb wheelbarrow. Finally, I learned to listen to people when they offer advice and instruction. When I had last tried a 210 lb Atlas Stone, I struggled immensely. On Sunday with the 215 lb stone, I struggled on my first attempt as I focused too much on what I was doing that I missed instruction. My 2nd attempt, I listened, and when I did as instructed, the stone was easier to lift over the bar. Now, I only need to add another 100 lbs to the stone in 6 weeks.
If you get the opportunity to challenge yourself, do so, especially if you have great friends to guide you through your journey. If strongman interests you, find a great trainer/mentor, like Dave, to help learn the lifts and to help guide you through the muscular development needed to safely lift strange items. I am thankful to have made news friends and to have kept the old. I look forward to the day they all are gold.