Here's what you need to know...
- You have to be a little insane to crush records once considered unbeatable. You also have to be willing to get injured and keep grinding.
- To get insanely strong you have to be willing to overcome self-doubt and physical pain. You'll need to do what others aren't willing to do.
- Injuries are nothing more than bumps on your road to success.
- Your diet must be consistent with your goals. Eating for strength requires a lot of food, planning, and consistency.
- There aren't any real reasons for not getting stronger, only excuses.
1 – You must be willing to train through pain and discomfort.
Getting insanely strong isn't just about physical strength, it's about mental strength too. Getting under big weights is daunting and grueling. If your mental game folds like a cheap lawn chair, it'll be much harder to reach your strength goals.
You must overcome fear, self-doubt, and pain. You must push yourself to places you've never gone before. Your mental game will determine your ability to overcome obstacles and do so.
One week prior to the 2007 WPO Championships at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, I tore my left distal triceps tendon while taking some heavy singles in the bench press. Angry, black and blue bruises soon appeared on my upper arm confirming the damage I'd done.
However, it wasn't a complete tear and in my mind I knew there was no way I was pulling out this close to the biggest meet of the year.
No matter what I was going to bench at the meet, and the tendon would either hold or it wouldn't.
As it worked out there was some additional tearing and subsequent bruising but the tendon held together well enough to allow me to complete all three bench attempts and I ended up hitting a PR bench and PR total.
2 – You must constantly strive for progress.
Every day you set foot in the gym, your goal should be in some way, shape, or form to surpass your previous best. It may not happen every day, but that shouldn't deter you from constantly striving to achieve it.
Even if it's as simple as getting one more rep on your last set of an exercise, that still represents progress and that's what matters most. It's the small successes day-to-day that lead to big results over time.
3 – You must eat like it's your job.
You must consume the right food and enough of it to reach your goals. The further you progress, the more important this becomes.
Eating is a key component to achieving all of your strength goals. The easiest and most proven method to add pounds to your lifts - especially your bench and squat - is to add quality body weight. Want a bigger bench? Start putting as much effort into your diet as you do training.
A lot of people complain that they just can't gain weight. Fortunately, physics teaches us that if you consistently consume more calories than you burn, your body weight will increase regardless of how fast your metabolism is or how much you already weigh.
Consistently means day in and day out. Most people who argue that they already eat a lot don't really understand what that means.
Pigging out a few times a week doesn't equate to a hypertrophy-inducing diet. Your diet must be planned and consistent - from your first meal of the day to your last - in order to progress.
In the Marines I was constantly infuriated by my inability to add significant body weight. Why? Tons of physical activity and a limited diet (the only food available when on duty was in our chow hall).
I'd add quality body weight over the winter months, just to watch it be stripped away when the weather warmed up and our outdoor activity increased.
One winter I'd finally broken the 200-pound barrier and succeeded in pushing my bodyweight all the way up to 211 pounds. which seemed huge at the time, only to watch it fall to the mid 190's by the end of the summer.
I got fed up and promised myself that the next time I went home on leave, I'd come back in three months weighing at least 225 pounds.
My finances were very limited and the only place I had to store food was a small mini-fridge in my barracks room. I considered my options and resorted to drinking skim milk in order to gain weight. I drank three gallons of it every day.
How well did my plan work? I weighed in at 225 pounds on the nose one day before I flew home. I gained 30 pounds in a three-month period.
4 – You must be willing to train around injury.
The stronger you get and the heavier you go, the more likely you are to get injured. The guys at the top accept this as part of the process. Success isn't dependent on avoiding injuries. It's dependent on how you deal with them.
The risk of injury increases proportionately to the amount of weight you're lifting. This is because your muscles have more potential for growth and adaptation than your tendons, ligaments, and joints do.
Handling heavier weights also requires improved technique. You may be able to get away with terrible form while squatting or deadlifting light weights, but with heavier weights the risk of injury substantially increases.
Often what determines which people reach the top and which fall by the wayside is the ability to successfully come back from injury.
View injuries as bumps on the road to success not dead-ends.
There's a powerlifter that ruptured both patella tendons and was told by doctors that his squatting days were over and he'd be lucky if he just walked normally again. This man came back to squat over 1,100 pounds.
Another friend with a steel rod in his spine and was also told by doctors he'd never squat again. He came back to squat more than he ever had, breaking the 900-pound barrier.
Successfully negotiating injury is more mental than physical. Never doubt your own ability to come back stronger. It's never if you can come back from injury but rather simply how long it will take. The fact that you'll recover must be a foregone conclusion.
In 2008 I tore my right quad badly while squatting 545x10 raw. It sounded like a pair of blue jeans being ripped in half. Here's the video for those of you that aren't squeamish.
I couldn't even walk on it initially and people on the internet forums were talking about how my powerlifting career was over. I'll never forget how one anonymous keyboard warrior even went as far as to say, "Stick a fork in him, cause he's done!"
Never doubt your ability to come back.
Those comments only fueled my resolve to come back better than ever. I started with bodyweight squats using a countertop to support myself. At first my arms were doing more work than my legs. But soon I was able to squat without using my arms for support and then I was back in the weight room several weeks after the injury.
I started with an empty bar and slowly worked my way back up each week. The quad tear happened in January of 2008 and in July at the UPA Pro Am, I squatted a PR 1014 pounds.
5 – You must be willing to do what others are not.
Do what everyone else does and you'll end up like everyone else.
If you want to do extraordinary things, do what others won't. Push yourself to places in training beyond what the average athlete is capable of. Sacrifice less important things and prioritize your lifting goals.
This isn't for everyone.
But if you have a hunger to reach a level few others have, accept the fact that in order for your dreams to be realized, you'll have to push harder, suffer more, and make greater sacrifices than most other people.
Over the years I've done lots of crazy things to ensure I could get my training in. In the Marines I threatened the guards on duty to allow me access to the gym in the middle of the night. I lifted in the dark with the lights off and even got caught once by the sergeant of the guard.
In college I'd pry open doors, climb through windows, and do whatever else was necessary to get access to our private gym after hours. But it was training prior to the USAPL Nationals in 2002 that posed the most obstacles for me.
Nationals were in July and in the several months before the meet I graduated from pharmacy school, took my national pharmacy boards and law exams, moved across the state, started training in a new gym, started a new career as a pharmacist, and had a third child with my wife.
I had to go to great lengths to make sure I trained at a level sufficient to ensure success and don't think for a minute that I slacked off in the other areas of my life.
I was among the very first grads to pass my boards and become licensed. I excelled at my new job and I've always been an involved father and devoted husband. I simply made a lot of sacrifices in other areas of my life to keep my family, career, and lifting as priorities.
It was never easy, but always worth it. And if you're wondering how the USAPL Nationals went for me that year, I went 9 for 9 under some of the strictest judging around, hitting PRs in the squat, bench, and total.
Success is always possible. You just have to be willing to do what's necessary.
6 – You must realize that numbers mean nothing.
The seemingly unbreakable record will soon be surpassed by others. The four-minute mile, the 500-pound clean and jerk, and the 1000-pound deadlift are all good examples of this.
These records were like limits, but as soon as one person surpassed them, it showed us all that it was indeed possible. Limits are more psychological than physiological.
How many of us have been limited by numbers that seem significant to us? Maybe it's the 315-pound bench, the 500-pound squat, or the training partner that you can't out-lift, no matter how hard you try.
These are all examples of being limited by the mind, not the body. We need to recognize this, understand it, and develop strategies to overcome mental roadblocks. How?
Train with athletes that are better than you, attend competitions where you watch the very best compete, and recognize that you have the physical ability, but your mind is the problem.
Always strive to be the one that breaks the limits, not the one that follows later.
7 – You must focus on numbers that are close to your abilities.
The distant numbers ones will soon be closer.
This goes back to small achievements that add up to significantly over time. We want everything today, but that isn't how the world works and the bigger your goals, the more this axiom applies.
Patience and consistent hard work over time will get the job done. Winning daily battles over and over again ultimately leads to victory in the end.
8 – You must be passionate.
Getting ridiculously strong requires working extremely hard for years and enduring vast amounts of pain. If you don't go to bed thinking about getting stronger and wake up thinking about getting stronger, then you may want to pursue something else.
Obtaining a freakish level of strength can't be successfully accomplished with a halfhearted effort. You must either give 100% every day or accept that this is something beyond your capabilities.
But if the pursuit of strength is something you're deeply passionate about, successfully working toward and achieving your strength goals may be one of most rewarding things in your life.
9 – You must realize that there's no reason for not getting stronger.
"Reasons" for not getting stronger are excuses. Got injuries, job problems, lack of money, poor genetics, no time? All excuses. Accept this and you'll instantly be much closer to accomplishing your goals.
Take responsibility for everything that happens to you. While this may not be true in every case, adopting this philosophy gives you control. It can't be overstated how important this is to obtaining success - in all areas of your life.
10 – You must be at least a little insane.
Getting freakishly strong isn't something the general public - or often even those closest to you - will understand. It's not going to make you rich or famous.
You'll probably accumulate injuries, be stereotyped as unintelligent, be mocked, and you'll sacrifice lots of time and energy pursuing something only you and other serious lifters "get".
But if you're at least a little insane, you may start a journey that will strengthen your body and mind. You'll learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible.
I've done a lot of things over the years that most people would consider insane, but this is one of the most extreme examples.
(This isn't something I advise doing. It's not an example of bravery or wise behavior and if it ever happens again, I'd probably take a different course of action.)
Example of Insanity
I was training legs in college. I'd just finished squatting and was repping out on leg extensions.
I felt a tremendous amount of pressure building in the back of my skull and then I felt a sudden "pop" inside my head, followed by a sensation I can only describe as cold water being poured over my brain.
A few seconds later, I experienced the worst pressure and pain of my life. It was so extreme I couldn't even think straight. I got up and gave my training partners a vague description of what had just happened and said I was done for the day. Once home I briefly considered my options and then... I went to work.
I returned to the gym a day or two later for my next scheduled training session. The pain had stopped and I completed my scheduled training while being conscious of not doing anything to make the pain come back.
I fully realized exactly what I'd done, though. I'd strained so hard that I'd burst a blood vessel inside my skull and caused intracranial hemorrhaging. Why didn't I go straight to the hospital? To be honest, it's difficult for me to explain that to people.
The simple answer is that I felt that I wasn't going to die and that going to the hospital would be of little benefit to me.
The complicated answer is that I'm a little insane. Sure, intelligent and rational, but I don't think about risks the way most people do. Situations like this don't distress me the way they would most people.
I've often pushed things dangerously close to the edge, and while I greatly value life and have no wish to end it any anytime soon, I don't fear things the way most people do.
I don't have a voice in my head cautioning me to stop. It only urges me forward. As the saying goes, I never feel more alive than when I'm close to death.
Close to the Edge
I don't know how to quit and retreating is not an option. The times that I didn't give everything to an effort still haunt me. I think about them even though most happened over 25 years ago.
And while this has caused me to take unnecessary risks many times in my life, it's also the same mentality that's allowed me to accomplish all of my most important goals.
You probably believe no goal is worth the ultimate price, but a life without getting close to that edge isn't much of a life at all.