I have been around lifting and have been fascinated by strength for more of my life than not. I remember watching strongman on TV in grade school and wanting to be that big and strong. I then started lifting weights as a freshman in high school. From then on I have been lifting and have spent very little time in my life away from the weights. I still remember the first time I broke 200 pounds in the bench and squatted 315 pounds. I also remember my first 1000-pound squat and all my world records. I have taken a full journey in this sport and learned so much that it is incredible.
I am still in this sport, still train, and still learn because I love it. It is a part of me and my life. It has given me so much and taught me so much. Still, I have to admit I get seriously frustrated at times being around strength sports and lifting. It is hard to watch lifters and athletes who never get it, to watch the same mistakes over and over and over, to know the secrets of strength that no one will listen to. It can seriously frustrate the hell out of me.
So here I am trying to spread the true secret to strength. Are you ready to hear it? Do you think you can handle it? It is pretty intense. Here it is: the true secret to strength is that there is no secret! If there were a secret it would probably be that most of what you see, read, or have learned about strength is bullshit. There are too many damn people out there that think they know what they are doing, but in reality, all they are doing is selling themselves and their bullshit like a bad used car salesman. They try to come up with new gimmicks and overcomplicate things to make themselves look like they know what they are doing. Strength training is not simple but it is not complicated either. For a new lifter almost anything will work, and as you progress it will increase in complexity. Still, it is a basic foundation of principles that will always see you through. I don’t fall for the bullshit of complexity being sold when it comes to strength.
There is no one perfect program. If one program worked for everyone then there would only be one program. Why is it that most of the strongest men in the world train differently than one another? It is simply because there is no one perfect program, and each of these men found what works for them. All the strongest men in the world that I know actually educated themselves on strength training and bent or created programs to meet their individual needs. The skill to do this came from reading, attending seminars, learning from other lifters and coaches, and trial and error. They all tried many things over the years keeping track of what worked and what didn’t. They were not just flying through programs or exercises just seeing what worked or not. Instead, they were actually experimenting with these programs and exercises trying to figure out why they worked or did not work. They spent the time trying to figure out how they could change their programs to make them even more effective or to learn if they should throw them out altogether. This is a skill that takes years of experience and does not come from mindlessly beating the crap out of yourself in the gym.
Another big factor in programming is a belief in the program. This is an important thing because even the best program will not work if an athlete does not believe in it. If they do not believe then there is no way they will put everything they have into it. Instead, they will subconsciously be waiting for it to fall apart. A person won’t put everything into something they do not believe in. This goes for coaches and training partners too. These are people you have to believe in and trust, otherwise, there just isn’t any point. On the flipside, if a program, coach, or training partner sucks, all the belief in the world will probably not get you there.
Technique, Technique, Technique
Technique is the foundation of every great training program. Correct technique maximizes your body’s potential and the potential of your training. Keep in mind that I am not talking about technique some Joe Schmo that squats 225 pounds on Instagram taught you. My whole career I have listened to people tell me how great their technique is, but I easily rip it to shreds when I finally see it. There are so many misconceptions about technique that it is just crazy to me. Granted, there are some small technical differences between some of the top lifters and coaches, but on that level, they are pretty much the same. If your technique is incorrect then you’re not lifting the weight you have potential to, even with your current level of strength. Incorrect technique also puts huge roadblocks up in the way of your progress and training. This is because it limits the ability to truly understand your weaknesses and can change the muscle groups you’re actually trying to strengthen. Learning correct technique is priceless, yet if you take the time you can find highly qualified people putting on great seminars that will teach this for a reasonable cost.
Recovery is more important than lifting heavy shit! We break our body down when we lift and it makes us weaker. Have you ever been able to lift more at the end of a training session than the beginning? If you have then you should probably just stop reading right now and go sew a quilt or something. We get stronger when our bodies adapt and recover from strength training. Isn’t this the main reason for strength training? To get stronger? Our time in the gym is also minimal compared to the rest of the day, and that is the time we should be focused on our recovery. Still, it seems so many lifters spend way more time thinking about and planning their training while giving recovery almost no thought at all. Want to get stronger or be able to train harder and more often? Want to be able to train with greater intensity? Well, increase your recovery and see how big a difference it makes. Approach recovery with the same intensity and passion you approach lifting — or more.
Stop working out and start training. Working out means you’re going to the gym to work yourself out. You’re going in there to “exercise.” An athlete trains for something. They have a goal and are focused towards it. They are not just going to the gym to work out randomly, doing lifts with no plan or thought other than to exercise. They are going to the gym to train so they can achieve their goal. The lifter that trains knows there is more to reaching his or her goal than just lifting weights. Their training includes recovery, nutrition, lifting, mental health and states, stress management, life management, and every aspect of training. Jane Fonda worked out — athletes with goals train!
Lift and train with intent. Stop walking through life talking about what you want to do or achieve. Stop waiting for life to help you obtain the things you want. Focus your life towards those goals you have and live every day with intent toward achieving them. I see way too many lifters talk a big game and then simply go through the motions. When you’re in the gym you need to always be thinking of your goal and remembering the effort it is going to take to reach those goals. This means every rep and every set of every lift — not just lifting the weight without thought or control, not just struggling on the concentric phase. It means focusing on the lift — controlling the whole range of motion, focusing on the mind-body connection, using the correct muscles you’re trying to strengthen. This same intent should stick with you outside the gym and be seen in everything you do, from sleep to nutrition.
Never underestimate hard work and lifting heavy, but at the same time, the best lifters in the world are definitely not meatheads. I know for me and many other top lifters, the pounding of weights is not the hard part. In fact, it is the easy part. We love it and we thrive on it. It’s the other parts of training that are tough for us. Still, I see so many lifters that think they work hard—and sometimes even look like they work hard—but it is just not to the level it needs to be. When I work with lifters I am on them about technique, effort, speed, explosion, control, and simply lifting with intent. Many times I have worked with lifters that talk a big game about how hard they work, yet they are crushed trying to get through a training session with me in their ear getting them to really put down some effort. I think there are a lot of lifters out there that do not understand what hard work is and just how far they can or need to push themselves.
Longevity and Mentality
Strength is a sport of attrition because it takes a long time to reach our potential. You see a lot of young lifters come out of nowhere hitting big weights but rarely last. They usually end up destroying their bodies at a young age. It is very important to pay attention to keeping yourself healthy and injury free. This means paying attention to warming up, flexibility, and mobility. It means listening to your body. At the same time, you can’t reach the highest level if you fear injury. It is not a matter of if it will happen, but when and how bad it will be. The better you are about it, the better your chances are of fewer and less severe injuries.
I still think the most important and biggest part of strength training is mentality. You must believe in yourself. You must have heart and will. The strength game is so demanding on the mind and body; you must be tough both physically and mentally. The ups and downs in this sport are so extreme. You have crazy highs when everything is going great and gains come easily. Then you have extreme lows of dealing with injuries and inevitable plateaus. There are times your main lift is stagnant while you are working your ass off on a weakness. In those times you have to be patient. There are times you seem to be able to just rely on your physical side and keep working hard to make great gains. Then there are times you’re exhausting your mind trying to figure out how to make the smallest progress. As you do get stronger, you’re always breaking new ground and what got you to a certain level may not get you to the next level. It is a never-ending journey of highs and lows.
The bottom line of this article is that being serious about strength isn’t simply going to the gym and lifting some weights. Being a meathead will only get you so far, and you need to use your melon for something more than watching videos of big lifts to motivate yourself. On the flipside, don’t be one of those people that spends all their time researching and studying everything. We need a balance of research, studying, and knowledge, with some good old-fashioned ball-busting, down-and-dirty smashing of heavy-ass weights.