“The true Way of swordsmanship is to fight with your opponent and win. This should not be changed in the slightest.”
— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book Of 5 Rings
The Katana is one of history’s greatest works of craftsmanship. Among sword collectors, a traditionally-made Katana is prized the way a Picasso is prized in the art world.
From the point of view of the steel, however… the process of becoming a Katana totally sucks!
Over and over, you are:
- Burned and melted in the fires of Mordor
- Beaten with a hammer, folded, and beaten again
- back in the fire
- More beatings
- Repeat ad nauseam…
At some point, Stockholm-syndrome finally sets in and you accept this situation as a positive.
Life for a Katana-in-the-making is a good analogy for that of a weightlifter-in-the-making: brutal, long, and full of beatings.
The following is my response to some questions by one of the members in our Super Total coaching group, Sheldon.
His observations and thoughts, his questions and his concerns, are so common and understandable that you will likely relate — and hopefully the answers will help you as well.
Fundamentally, these are his concerns:
- He hasn’t made the progress on strength he was hoping to over the last 9 months — weight added to barbell for his one-rep-maxes
There are things he HAS made progress on that he is quite happy about — but isn’t sure how that relates to his future progress
- Athlete’s Observations
- Analysis & Advice
- PART ONE: The Good, The Bad, & The Evolutionary: What It Takes
- PART TWO: Curls For The (Weightlifting) Girls
- PART THREE: Snatch vs Unicorn Farts, OR, The Way Of Weightlifting
I will answer him in 3 parts (below)
- The Good,The Bad, And The Evolutionary — What it actually takes to get strong.
Curls For The (Weightlifting) Girls — The value of the kind of training he was doing for the last 9 months for FUTURE success
Snatching vs Unicorn Farts — Why your PR means nothing on contest day.
Let’s start off by quoting some of his own observations.
(These are his words)
Here are some of the things I’ve noticed this training phase:
- I stopped experiencing a constant stream of minor injuries. Squatting 5-6 days per week, there was always part of me that hurt. My knees would be stiff, my wrists would hurt, my calves would ache, all kinds of weird stuff. All of that stopped completely this time around.
During my workouts I experienced much less adrenaline rush. I didn’t get as ‘amped up’ before lifts.
Warm ups took about half as long this time around. I felt like all of my tissues were pretty much ready to go every time I walked into the gym.
During squat workouts, I was able to do many more sets. Quite often I’d have to do 4-5 sets of 10 before speed dropped off. Or, I’d have to do 8-10 sets of 2.
My working weight on my snatch went up by about 10kg. However, my snatch PR only went up 3 kg (from 72 to 75kg). I was able to spend most days training around 65-70kg and rarely missed lifts.
Here are the things that I did differently since October.
- Dropped intensity on all movements (never ‘maxed out’ on squats or pulls). Mostly worked 8-12 rep range from Oct to Jan. Mostly worked in 2-3 rep range from Feb to May.
Dropped squat volume. I only squatted 2-3 per week (as opposed to 4-6 before Oct). Pull volume remained the same (once per week).
I let my body recover much more between heavy training days. I waited until I ‘felt ready’ to handle heavy weight again. I averaged 2-3 days of rest between squat workouts (although I always snatched regardless of how I felt).
I started working with a sports massage therapist (4hrs / month). This is what has made the difference in flexibility.
Analysis & Advice
back to me now 🙂
While my answers were sparked by Sheldon’s questions, they are applicable to a wide range of athletes.
PART ONE: The Good, The Bad, & The Evolutionary: What It Takes
“The Body Blow is executed by closing in on your opponent and hitting him with your body the split second before he takes action. Turn your face a little to the side, extend your left shoulder and hit your opponent’s chest. The action of hitting him should be done with great bodily force, with breathing and rhythm and while being mindful to close in with momentum. When you grasp this way of closing, you will become strong enough to throw a person back a great distance. You will be able to hit him with such strength that he dies. You should practice this well.”
— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book Of Five Rings
You have to answer these questions with full soul-searching honesty:
- How badly do you want to get stronger?
How quickly do you want/expect to see results toward that goal?
Are you willing to do what is necessary to reach your goals in the time frame you set for yourself?
The answers to those questions come BEFORE we can give you advice that makes sense.
However, in lieu of that, I will assume these are your answers:
These are the extreme answers in the positive, of course.
I prefer starting here and dialing back — rather than going in the opposite direction — as I find it keeps people from being held back by the glass ceilings they place above themselves.
Hurt: What Does That Mean?
You say that you used to feel hurt somewhere always. Now you don’t. Is that good or bad?
Let’s take apart the word “hurt” in order to answer that.
- If you mean injury — minor or major — then less hurt is good!
If you mean sore, tired, brutalized, and beaten down — then less hurt is BAD.
Remember the Katana! Without forging you don’t get to be a Katana… you’ll be one of those “display” swords they give away at Powerlifting contests.
Clearly this is a fine line we are walking! So, it is deeply important that we walk it correctly.
In the past, you didn’t: And THAT is why you were constantly suffering from minor injuries from a training load that was LOWER than other athletes we coach — which is saying a lot, because your loads were quite high.
You need to force adaptation without hurting yourself: The goal of the Body Blow is to kill, not to be killed.
The Intensity Principle: Balance, Not Moderation (OR, How To Avoid Injury Like A Badass)
You have now fixed a TON of your mobility issues and you are going to a sports massage therapist now. You’re doing more of what needs to be done to keep injuries at bay.
You have also learned how to eat enough — that has to be taken as seriously as a full-time job.
You MUST be in a calorie surplus ever single day — without fail. And then — on top of that pain in the ass — those calories can’t all be donuts (as loath as I am to say that!).
Always keep your RECOVERY work at the same level as your strength work.
However hard you kick your ass in the gym, you must work equally hard at all the shit that goes into supporting that training.
When you slack on this — food, sleep, mobility, bodybuilding/assistance work, etc — you WILL get hurt. It is only a matter of time.
Conversely, if you work your tail off on your recovery, it ENABLES you to work harder in the gym without getting hurt along the way.
Balance, not moderation: I call this “The Intensity Principle”
Your Body WANTS To Be Skinny & Weak: Pain, Soreness, & An Evolutionary Heuristic
“This better be a damned good reason!”
— Your body
If by “hurt” you mean feeling sore and rundown… that IS part of the process — too bad.
You are FAR more advanced than you give yourself credit for.
- 3 years ago, you only weighed 135 pounds — and you’re a tall guy!!!
- Now you weigh a SOLID 50 pounds more and are quite good at the Olympic lifts and power lifts.
You have blasted past the line of “reasonable” strength and muscle mass.
From an evolutionary point of view, your body is already too big and strong — It’s a liability — A body like yours requires too much energy to sustain safely.
People like you die first in a famine: Your body will not adapt without an overwhelming reason to do so.
You have to give it that reason.
Hard — Katana-forging — training creates a new “normal” environment where the cost/benefit analysis flips — the body believes that the only way to survive the constant onslaught of pain is to adapt to it.
You are ALREADY STRONG and carrying 50 pounds of muscle above baseline! That’s a massive shift the body has already made in favor of strength/muscle over resource saving.
You have to convince your body that conservative resource management is NOT what is going to save you!
- Change the environment — and you change the drivers of evolution.
Where once you needed gills — you now need lungs.
Heavy, Hard, Often = Adaptation to an environment where that is the norm.
Practical Advice, OR, The Santa Clause
Give yourself 90 days of the following:
Increase your weekly loads/volume — a lot.
But do so with an associated increase in your recovery/support/assistance work. It won’t work without that.
- More food
- Higher quality food
- More sleep
- Higher quality sleep
- More mobility work (hyper focus on your worst shit)
- More quality of movement (MASTER the basics — this never ends)
- More, more, more…
DEFINITION: The Santa Clause — More Is Not Always Better, But It Usually Is.
PART TWO: Curls For The (Weightlifting) Girls
“Establishing hard-and-fast rules is not the Way of Victory.”
— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book Of Five Rings
You wonder, “Why haven’t I been getting stronger?”
The answer is that you haven’t been strength training.
Yes, you did strength training in the general sense. But, not in the very specific sense: “how do we make Sheldon hit a new PR as soon as possible?”
You trained for muscle size and mobility, for movement pattern acquisition, for speed — not strength.
That was the RIGHT move!
With this better foundation, you have the opportunity to get stronger than you would have been capable of in the past.
Welcome to periodization.
Sometimes you need one thing — so you train for that thing. Other times, you need something else — so you train for that.
That is the right way.
From Bodybuilder To Weightlifter: (Anthony) Pomp And Circumstance
A good friend of ours — Anthony “Pomp” Pomponio — is one of the best 85kg weightlifters in the country right now. But, he wasn’t always a weightlifter.
He started out as a competitive bodybuilder, and even won the Mr. California title! He’d spend YEARS working hard to build shear size — lots of it — for the sake of it.
Back then, he was strong. But, he was only strong for a bodybuilder… not a serious weightlifter.
Now he IS a serious weightlifter — who also happens to be jacked!
More muscle mass means more potential.
- Anthony came in with the raw material.
Spending time building muscle size — and improving the quality of your movement — for the sake of it — and at the expense of increasing strength — is GOOD because it lays a foundation upon which REAL strength can be built.
You did the right thing.
PART THREE: Snatch vs Unicorn Farts, OR, The Way Of Weightlifting
“Everyone in this world fancies the insignificant principles in the martial arts.”
— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book Of Five Rings
Your working weights on your snatch went up by 10kg — but you were worried about your PR.
This is wrong.
By definition, a one-rep-max is a statistical outlier, an anomaly that can’t be trusted — and has virtually ZERO connection to what you will do on contest-day.
Who cares if yesterday — when the stars aligned, magic dust was floating through the ether, and a unicorn farted on the barbell — that you were able to hit a PR… I want to know what you are going to do TODAY.
On ‘any given Sunday’, what can you lift? That tells me everything I need to know.
Good news for you: You can answer that with a 10kg increase! That’s a huge win!
At a contest, I now know that you can:
- OPEN with bigger lifts
Make them more consistently
Do so safely
You are a better competitive athlete.
Only focus on increasing your working weights — this is the Way of Weightlifting.
Basically, you’re the anti-bro:
You chose to do things the slow, long, and hard way which paved the way for future success at the expense of immediate PR’s on the barbell. Now, you can get back to some dedicated strength training and grunting like an animal in the gym — fun!
Just remember that while the phrase “no pain no gain” is often used wrong, it does carry a message of truth: Your greatest gains will come as the result of your journey through the Dark Times.
Katana’s are forged in fire — and beaten into submission. Welcome to life as a weightlifter.
Now go lift something heavy,