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.

Retired One of My Two Masters

“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.

Grace fell asleep on my chest while carb loading the night before my first marathon in 2004. We dined at Pegasus in Greektown.
About mile 8-9 of the Detroit Marathon. This was just after the tunnel from Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

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.

My return to health and wellness with Detroit Half-Marathon in 2014.

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.

Frank, Me, Suzy, and Sara at the end of the race.

Float Like a Butterfly

“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:

The Kettlebell

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.

Overhead Presses

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.

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.

4 Weeks of Growth: Lessons Learned So Far

Pankow-Performance Arm Pull
Some Friday Training at Pankow-Performance

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.

Take Time To Breathe

Yin Yoga - Luminous Life Yoga
Yin Yoga: Relaxing Time of Reflection and Stretching

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.

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.

When Giving 110% Sets You Back

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.

What I learned from my daughter’s Girl Scouts

P80 Lifting Day 8-9-15
P80 Lifting Day with my new group of friends.

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.

Learning the 900 lb wheelbarrow