Written by Brandon Lilly
The article originally appeared in Volume 3 of Strong360 Monthly. If you like what you read, and you want more of this content, and to get your hands on it as soon as it’s published, click here or follow the link at the end of the article.
One of the things I know about is struggles in the gym. Many people make the mistake of looking at recent results, and they don’t recognize the 12 years that are tucked away in the memory stores of my brain when I was a “nobody”. That is the great failure of Social Media in the modern powerlifting world that we know today…
Lifters rarely post their failures, they instead post PR’s, and impressive lifts, so to everyone watching they get this impression for the “Top Guys” it’s easy, or they are lifting for PR’s everyday. That would make an awesome highlight reel but it just isn’t true. I am going to remove the veil of “greatness”, and tell you the “dirt” that I have seen as commonality amongst the great lifters I know.
1. Have a Sense of Self
That sounds so cliche, but it is true. All the top lifters that I have been around have a keen sense of every strength they possess, as well as an understanding of their weaknesses. You have to understand why you are doing things in your training, and you have to constantly be willing to adapt, and modify your training to what your specific needs are. Pro level lifters may gather ideas from other lifters, but Chad Smith would not do exactly the same routine that I would do. While he may improve some, he would ultimately be wasting his time because he would be working on my needs, not his.
I see so many young lifters trying to emulate pro-level workouts of their favorite lifter… What would be much better is trying to understand why the lifter is doing what they are doing, looking at your own body, and applying those principles to your own training. You have to own what you do to be the best.
2. Commit. Just Fucking Commit.
This is something I try to rationalize with younger lifters, and express this to them the best that I know how, but if it doesn’t click with them, and their hopes to be the best will quickly dissipate with the reality that they don’t have what it takes. I look at myself, and I look at the years it has taken me to achieve my goals. I look back on all the time spent in the gym. The hours add up to days, the days add up to months, and months add up to years…
I think about all the sacrifices I made to see my dreams come to pass. When I think about it, all I can tell you is I wish I had done more to come closer to realizing the best that I could be. I keep all this in mind when I talk to younger lifters, and I hear them say how much “they want it” then I see their habits laid out on Facebook, or Instagram and it becomes clear that they don’t want it at all. Right, wrong, or otherwise you are gonna have to make your lifting a priority. Sometimes it will be the most important thing in your life, other times there will be areas in your life that need more focus, but you can’t let your lifting slack off because every time you take a day off, there is another guy out there that is hungry, focused, and pissed off to kick your ass.
It’s not what you do when people are looking, it’s pushing the extra reps when you wanna quit so bad you can’t stand it, it’s going to bed when all you wanna do is play a video game, or talk to your girlfriend, it’s eating enough food to fuel the machine, when the last thing you want to do is eat. It is chasing perfection in all you do.
3. Learn from Other Iron Sports
You’ve heard me say “Train like a strongman, diet like bodybuilder, mobilize like a weightlifter, and think like a powerlifter.” Its completely true that powerlifters get entirely too focused on the big three lifts. The bench press, squat, and deadlift are our existence, but we are limiting ourselves.
There is so much to be learned from the other athletes, and how they become successful within their sports. We should try to mimic areas that will carryover to our sport. Strongmen are complete animals. They do reps with weights that many powerlifters proudly boast about for one lift. Bodybuilders possess amazing physiques, and have an extreme discipline to do so, and it angers me to see powerlifters wasting potential being lazy with diet, supplementation, and often times they skimp on their accessory work. Mobility is a no brainer, you need to be strong, but you also need to be able to hit depth on a squat, and lock out benchs and deadlifts. Maintaining a powerlifter mentality is crucial because it is all out: one shot to make it or not.
The balance and harmony you can create in your training by blending all of the disciplines will not only keep your workouts more fun, but it will make you a more well rounded athlete as well.
4. Realize You are An Athlete. Eat Like One
I get so disgusted by powerlifters that allow themselves to look like complete shit. I know the sport is not about performance rather than appearance, but it still hits me like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. I’m not trying to influence you in some way to think you need to look like a bodybuilder on stage, or have a perfect physique. You do need to think of yourself as an athlete, and a high performing athlete would not put inferior food into their body.
Imagine building a race car. You spend so much time building it, tuning the engine, setting the gear ratios to be perfect, fine tuning aerodynamics and then you put some 87 Grade fuel in the car… It’s gonna run like junk. But, if you opt to fuel your car with racing fuel you get all the best performance from all the specialty parts you installed.
Same for the body. You build it up in the gym, you take supplements, you dedicate your every thought to the sport, but you give your body pizza and ranch dressing and hope that will somehow make you a high powered machine. Lets be real, you can enjoy any and all foods, but you need to be smart with your nutrition, and you need to make the majority of your food choices healthy ones. Trust me, if you take this step, it’ll pay off big time.
5. Remember Why
I try to keep this one in perspective for myself, as much as I try to impress it upon other lifters. “Remember why you do what you do.”
This sport is hard, and the further you move up the ranks the harder it becomes, and the pressure from others begins to weigh on you, and the stress of it all can be overwhelming. That is why I tell people to slow down when this happens. Sit back, and think of how much you enjoyed the gym early on for no other reason than you knew you were getting better, getting stronger. How your body felt after an extremely difficult workout, the way you could imagine yourself doing great things one day. Get back to that.
Enjoy the gym, make it a part of who you are, but don’t let it become all that you are. Find the fun in training, and the results will come… Never stop pushing yourself to new heights, but also keep an eye on the big picture so when those small victories come you learn to enjoy them instead of always wishing for more. There will always be a drive for more, but it’s celebrating the journey that makes it worthwhile.
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