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Figuring Out Your Life and Lifting Goals

Figuring Out Your Life and Lifting Goals


I'm a huge fan of Steve Ilg's book, "Total Body Transformation." In the introduction, he makes a small point that continues to shape my understanding of training, health, and life.

Very simply, he notes that the word "Fit" comes from the Old Norse meaning "to knit." I can't think of a better way to describe, in the most basic terms, the goals of life.

Many of my T Nation articles deal with goal setting. If you're familiar with my work you've probably noticed that my most common response to a question is, "What's your goal?".

For instance, if someone is Olympic lifting and wants to try to increase load without burning out, I often recommend the One Lift a Day program.

Now, a 14 year old boy from Iowa who wants to be Mr. Olympia, play in the NBA, and become a Navy SEAL might not benefit from this program. So, goal setting is a crucial part of any discussion concerning training.

Some ideas simply don't work, even though they're fun to read about or watch your friends do. I see all manner of strange, bizarre, and quirky moves at workshops, conventions, and on blogs. People are using balls, slides, ropes, and stretchy bands to do every imaginable lateral lunge – and I still think a heavy back squat trumps the whole lot of them.

So, if standing on a Bosu ball juggling kettlebells with a stretchy band around your knees is driving you to your particular goal, well, Bless you and carry on.

But most would be better served considering Ilg's insight: Fitness is knitting.

An old friend of mine who died not long ago once told me that "life is a tapestry." These threads from here and there knit together to form you as a person, and Ilg's work is a great example of this. Yoga, strength training, cardio, nutrition, and meditation are his pillars, but you also find in his work insights about life, living, and everything (with apologies to Douglas Adams).

With that in mind, I'd like to suggest a few ideas about seeing your training and fitness goals as part of a larger tapestry of life.


Get on the Success Track

Figuring Out Your Life and Lifting Goals


First, there's an old saying that says, "Success leaves tracks." Growing up, I was lucky that Strength and Health magazine came out once a month. I'd read the training of football players and track athletes and realize that I had to get stronger. Gary Ordway, an elite American discus thrower, had these numbers in his pre-season training:

When I read this article, I realized that the road from my lifts to his lifts wouldn't be overnight. But at least I knew the path! My 85-pound incline barbell press – and pardon me for bragging but I was doing eight reps with it – was a bit shy of his load.

In my many travels, I enjoy visiting college campuses and researching old articles and materials. Recently, I found an old American Athlete article that discussed how America's best shot put and discus thrower at the time, L. Jay Silvester, had added deadlifts to his training.

The article discussed how a 400-pound deadlift would help him improve his marks "even more." That's a lift routinely done by high school sophomore football players now.

So one of the most fundamental lessons of my career was clear by age 14: lifting weights and getting stronger would support my goals. The lesson I missed was that "enough is enough" when it comes to strength. L. Jay, for example, threw 210 feet with his 400-pound deadlift. At the same time in my career, I threw 190 with a 628-pound deadlift.

The toughest issue for me to wrap my mind around is still that you need to be strong enough. Certainly, I guess you could add flexible enough, mobile enough, and enough of enough is enough, but you need to get to certain standards and then do your best to stay there.

So, how do you find out those standards? Ask those who've been on this road before you.

A certain Austrian boy named Arnold competed in Olympic lifting meets and snatched 242 and clean & jerked 303. Other great bodybuilders, including Sergio Oliva and Franco Columbu, competed on the platform. No, Arnold's numbers aren't earth shattering, but they're pretty good – good enough to support one of the best bodies in history.

How strong should you be? Here are some standards that I've used with success the past few years:


Men

Figuring Out Your Life and Lifting Goals


Push
Expected:Game Changer:

Pull
Expected:Game Changer:

Squat
Expected:Game Changer:

Hinge
Expected:Game Changer:

Loaded Carry (Farmer Walk)
Expected:Game Changer:

I used to use different terms than "expected" and "game changer," but no matter. I recommend the basic training templates if you haven't reached the minimum level of simply expected. You honestly don't need much more than linear periodization and perhaps a few minutes or hours on the basics of technique.

If you have game changing numbers across all five movements, well, let's just say the weight room isn't your problem unless you're in a pure strength sport like powerlifting or Olympic lifting or strongman competition. The distance of the Farmer Walk will vary, but let's assume something as short as 40 meters.

For women, any strength training seems to help. Even though I've been chasing standards that are appropriate, the chasm between the drugged ladies and the clean ones has made it hard to find good numbers. Honestly, I used to think that any lifting was a pretty good beginning.

These are the most current numbers I'm using with women:


Women

Figuring Out Your Life and Lifting Goals


Push
Game Changer:

Pull
Game Changer:

Squat
Game Changer:

Hinge
Game Changer:

Loaded Carry (Farmer Walk)
Game Changer:

Again, once a woman reaches all five levels in all five movements, good things tend to happen in the field of play. Now, I know these numbers are low, but it's the balance across the five that seems most important for athletes.

Moreover, achieving all five levels tends to support this notion of knitting. If you have the appropriate levels of strength for your goals, look beyond the weight room for the reasons you're not achieving them. If your goal is fat loss, look at the plates on the table, not the plates in the gym.


A Case for Failure?

Second, failure also leaves tracks. In the past month, I lost my training journal and doubt I'll ever find it again as I lost it in Orlando. I hate losing my journal as this – as I've said before – is, or was, my gold mine. I can trace injuries, illness, and competitive failures back through the days, weeks, and months leading up to the moment things became unglued.

As I look back over a career that takes us back to the Johnson administration, I can pull out failure after failure. Let me suggest something that I put into my book, "From Dad to Grad," that I wrote for my daughter on her graduation from the eighth grade. She recently got married, but the advice is still sound:


"On Successful Failure and Failing Success"

not

Kelly went on to become Prom Queen and All-State in the discus in the same week, graduate from college in three years while also volunteering full-time at an impoverished school, and is now a first grade teacher. Her life, so far, is "knitted."


Find A Worthy Mentor

Figuring Out Your Life and Lifting Goals


Is there an easier way to learn how to achieve your goals and learn from failure? Actually there is, and it's my third insight: Pick good lifelong mentors.

This is not what most people think. I'm not necessarily talking about those who guide, coach, or teach you here. What I'm saying is that you should watch carefully someone who is ten, twenty, or thirty years older than you that you admire and salute their success in life, learning, and lifting.

In my case, my positive role model has always been Dick Notmeyer. When my family first met him he was 47 and looked to be in his early thirties. He trained with very basic movements, took his supplements, and drank protein drinks every day. He looked and moved great.

When the great jogging boom hit, Dick got swept up in it with his friends and lost some of his shoulder mass and looked older. When Dick moved to Arizona, he dropped the jogging and began simply cycling and lifting – and he looked younger!

Dick not only taught me how to Olympic lift, he also taught me the value of combining lifting and cardio throughout a lifetime. The key, it seems, is not to let the cardio side destroy the muscle mass.

As I've since noted in every talk and work shop, after age 28, the body seems to conspire to lose lean body mass and stiffen up. Jogging, while certainly better than nothing, tends to waste some muscle mass and lock up the joints. Runners turn to everything to deal with injuries from arch support, weird shoes, yoga, and herbal concoctions. The alternative, as I learned from watching Dick, is to just lift and get some crashless cardio in.

Of course there were others I learned from. One thing that's clear to me is that alpha males tend to hang around the sports I compete in. The day of the competition is the day to shine.

Alas, that's not what most guys in the throws and lifting sports seem to understand. If a stupid challenge somehow presents itself, it becomes:

As anyone with an internet connection can see, this is where things tend to go badly. Among us who came up as throwers in the 1970s, the bulk of the injuries are from doing something extremely stupid. Blown biceps from challenges, hamstrings torn off the bone from doing something the human body wasn't designed to do, and dislocated shoulders from trying to prove that the shoulder joint can really do much more than God thought it should do.

When I also think about the number of friends I've lost to heart attacks and bad choices, I'm also happy that I avoided those life-altering bad choices, like drugs.

When I think of the dozen or so old friends who are dead or crippled from bad choices, I'm happy that I was lucky enough to have "chosen wisely," as the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade tells us.

I wanted to be "healthy, wealthy and wise" and I observed, followed, and studied those who had this, and simply did what they did.

Your goals and your dreams should be intertwined with threads of career, family, and community, as well as fitness, health, and body composition. Certainly, that 17-inch arm is a noteworthy goal, but be sure to knit it with a lifetime vision of health and success.

Study those who have achieved your goals and follow their tracks. Learn from failures along the way and even embrace them as the price of failure is so high.

Finally, take some time to "Go back to the Future" by looking at those people who are a few decades older than you and reflect the lifestyle you want to eventually have.

Knit all of this together for a fit life.



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