Going To Master’s Nationals In Las Vegas

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.

Did Nike Get It Wrong? When ‘Just Do It’ Doesn’t Get It Done.

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.

Farmer's Carry Grip Too Far Forward
Gripped Right Handle Too Far Forward and Whole Set-up Was Wrong

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 pankowperformance@gmail.com.


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.



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.

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.

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.