Written by Brandon Lilly
1. Realize that no matter how much you know, you never know it all.
As you progress, you find things that work and you find things that don’t. Soon you start professing that the things that work for you are “right,” and the things that don’t are “wrong.” We all do this, and not just with lifting, but in many areas of life. I would say I became pretty proficient at the Westside Method, at least as far as understanding it and being able to teach others about it. I had read The Westside Barbell Book of Methods twice and it made sense, but then I stopped looking for more information. I cut myself off from coaches like Sheiko, Zatsiorsky, Smolov, Pendlay (A weightlifting coach? Yes, he has amazing ideas for all lifters), and others. I started believing that what I was currently doing was better than understanding other methods, comparing them, and forming my own beliefs. I let others tell me what to believe and what to do. This is where the confusion began. Even though I could recite all the correct percentages and band/chain ratios, I had no understanding of what I actually needed. Only when I stopped being dogmatic and started looking at other ideas -both for an against what I felt worked- did I find myself as a lifter. There has never been a better time to be a lifter because there is so much information at your fingertips just waiting to be accessed if you are willing to look. What other sport or profession offers you the same access to the people at the upper levels? Hell, you can share a platform with the pros at most meets! Use that as a way to grow and start forming your own ideas. Try my Cube Method. If you don’t like my layout, then modify it. You don’t need my permission; I won’t make fun of you or threaten you. It’s your body and your lifting career. Pursue excellence and never stop looking for ways to improve.
2. Understand that the best drug isn’t even a drug.
I get sick and tired of looking at the comments on message boards and YouTube videos. I see statements like, “All drugs,” or “If I took what he’d did, then I could lift that.” Well here is a dose of truth: If that were the case then why don’t you save up a little bit of money and become a champion? Huh? Crickets. When I had the privilege of meeting Boris Sheiko, we talked for a long time and I was very straight in my questioning. Of course, supplementation and drugs came to the discussion. He looked at me and said, “People always insist I have secret drug or know some combination for lifter. I am no doctor. I know weights. What I do know is while we have been talking about this, Kirill (Sarychev) has been eating potatoes.” His point wasn’t that supplements or drugs aren’t sometimes a part of powerlifting, his point was that food is the best supplement available. Without enough calories, the body will not be able to perform at a maximum level. So look at the big picture and ask yourself if you are eating enough.
I was guilty of the “big at all costs” mentality. That is just lazy. Gaining lean mass takes more time than adding fat, so what do guys do? They hit McDonald’s and Domino’s day-in and day-out. Obviously, we aren’t trying to be bodybuilders, so we can enjoy ourselves from time to time. But think about your body as an engine: to work as efficiently as possible, you need to use the highest grade fuel. Sure, you can live on sub-par foods, but what we put into our body impacts everything. Without question, a better-functioning body will process your food and supplements supplements better, it will allow you to sleep better, and you’ll recover faster. It’s not just about appearance. Good food makes good lifters.
I hired a nutritionist, not because I don’t have an understanding of diet, but because I know that if I will do poorly in any area, it is in the kitchen. So I hired someone to be accountable to, plus I paid for these services, so if I fail I have no one to blame but myself. Which brings me to my next point:
3. Accept responsibility.
No matter what the results are, you need to understand that you control the outcome. I remember several bad training cycles when I was competing in multi-ply, and I can remember saying, “This gear is awful, this cycle is stupid.” I was blaming everything else besides myself. When the results didn’t come easily, I started feeling sorry for myself. If you want to be a great lifter you need to act like a great lifter. I look up to lots of guys, but one standout is Dan Green. I spent some time with him in California and got to see firsthand that there are no short cuts. Most of you reading this have seen his videos and know that he is an animal in the gym, but I got to see him eat and we talked about his planning and more. He is 100% dedicated. If Dan Green, arguably one of the best lifters alive today, spends so much time making sure each day is a successful step forward, what makes you think you can get better with 50% of that effort?
4. Surround yourself with positive results.
This sounds like a no-brainer right? I have written before about the American psyche in strength sports and the pursuit of new maximum PRs. We have been told that you can hit max PRs every week. Think about that for one second. That may be possible for new lifters, as their body is adapting to the newly-introduced stress of weight training, but what about the intermediate lifter or the advanced? I talked to a guy who told me that he trained a year and half to put one pound on his deadlift. He was already a world record holder, so each pound was crucial. Was he a bad lifter because he couldn’t hit weekly maximum PRs? Of course not. We need to recondition ourselves and realize that there are so many kinds of PRs. In training, I make everything that I can into a PR in order to build supreme confidence and avoid burnout. Trust me, I chased weekly PRs for a long time, and it becomes grueling and self-defeating when you fail. And since you will fail over and over again, how can that possibly be good? Don’t create a pattern of failure in your training!
I make the following PR’s matter…
-Weight moved for time: If I can do 3 reps in 3 seconds, doing it in 2.9 is a PR, or if I can move a weight for one minute, moving it for 1:01 is a PR.
-Pause PRs: If I pause a squat for 3 seconds, next time I try for 4 seconds.
-Set PRs: Doug Young was famous for this. For example, he’d lift a weight for 3 reps and do sets of 3 until he could no longer complete 3 full reps.
Those are just five examples that I myself use to create a positive training environment. Look at these methods of training: the Cube, 5/3/1, Bulgarian method, Sheiko… they all emphasize repetitions to build accommodation to heavier loads. Rep work is hard and it can be painful, but it will make you better.
The second part of a positive training environment is the people you train with. I could go on and on about this but I’m going to make it simple. No one is getting rich off this sport. Most of us got into this for fun, and because we want to be better. Why subject yourself to a training environment surrounded by drama and negativity? I’ve been through it, and it takes a toll. Nothing good can come from that kind of environment. Now, I have surrounded myself with an extremely positive group of people and the results are amazing for all of us. There is still competition between us, but we use it to encourage. I hate seeing experienced lifters act like they are too good to help new lifters. Remember, we all start somewhere. I believe that as you gain knowledge, it is your responsibility to pay it forward.
5. Carry yourself like a professional.
I understand that in powerlifting the word “professional” carries very little meaning. There are no superstar contracts, just a couple pro-only events. Even so, I try to embody professionalism. I try to be a person who people want to be like. Not from the standpoint of being recognized as Brandon Lilly, but being recognized as a guy who comes to a meet well-prepared and is helpful, approachable, and able to perform my duties as a lifter.
As a professional athlete in any other sport, the rules get tougher as you move up. In baseball, the fields get bigger and you eventually trade in your aluminum bat for that beautiful White Ash Louisville Slugger. In football, the speed of the game almost doubles from high school to college and then increases again by another 50% from college to the NFL. Powerlifting should be no different. Shouldn’t a pro lifter be required to squat to -or beyond- parallel and have the wherewithal to know what that means according to the rulebook? Shouldn’t a professional be required to lock out and hold all benches and deadlifts? Why should the expectations and standards become more lax at the professional level? These are the rules I follow. I feel they represent a professional powerlifter:
-Realize that you have reached a level of success that others strive for. Never allow overlook an opportunity to help a younger lifter or a peer. We all improve together.
-Once your meet preparation begins, follow it as if it were your job. If you want to be the best, you do what it takes. You don’t cut sets early or leave the gym early; you do what you set out to do.
-In the squat, I will break parallel. This does not mean I will touch the floor with my glutes, but I will break the line of parallel in training and in meets.
-I will lock out -and hold- all benches and deadlifts in both training and meets.
-I will help the meet promoter in any way possible, whether that be setup, tear-down, judging, working the scoring table, etc. They try to improve our sport, so I should help them.
Those are my rules. I’m not saying they should be a universal standard, but if we hope to create an awareness of what being a professional means in our sport, it starts with each pro lifter.
Those five guidelines helped shape me into the lifter you see today. I’m not saying they are perfect or scientifically sound or that they’re going to save powerlifting, but they helped me realize that what I believed wasn’t necessarily the best way. I had to find my own way and I have laid that out for you. Now it’s your turn.
Brandon Lilly is very well traveled, Elite powerlifter. He has trained at Guerrilla Squad Barbell, Westside Barbell, Lexen Xtreme, and is now home at Berea Barbell. In his strength journey he has competed in bodybuilding, strongman, and powerlifting. Brandon is one of only 19 men to ever total over 2200 raw, having 2204 which ties him for 16th all time (826.5 squat, 573 bench, 804.5 Deadlift). Brandon amassed a 2612 total in Multi-Ply, and has best lifts of 1008 squat, 832 bench press, and 777 Deadlift. Brandon is the author of The Cube Method and 365STRONG and is aiming to create a paradigm shift in the Powerlifting world.