Shut the Hell Up and Listen

The Nine Great Secrets of Training Success: The Final Four

A couple of days ago, I laid out five of what I consider the nine great secrets of training success, based on over ten thousand hours I've spent under the bar, and from the experience of my coaches and peers.

Here are the final four secrets. I should warn you, though. If you get queasy easily, you might not want to look at a few of the pictures in this article.

6 – You Have Better Things to Do than Talk Shit

Many of you here know Matt Kroczaleski. If you're not involved in powerlifting, then you probably know him as the guy who did the 225-pound dumbbell rows.

Matt Kroc Kroczaleski

Well, back in 2005, when he was getting ready for the APF Wolverine Open, Matt learned the hard way about talking shit when you ought to be thinking about training.

There was another lifter in Michigan who had just set the new all-time state total record. Matt started talking shit on a couple of the forums, and the two of them started talking shit back and forth, albeit in a civilized and good-natured way. Matt put a lot of effort into participating in the forums, keeping up the banter, and crowing about what he was going to do at the upcoming meet.

On the day of the meet, we were all sitting around bullshitting, when all of a sudden the doors burst wide open. In struts Matt, grinning, laughing, shaking hands, waving. It was like the grand entrance of some pro wrestling star.

It was about 11:00 AM when he arrived, and he was scheduled to lift at 2:00 PM. The whole time, he just giggled, laughed, and goofed around with everyone, without eating or drinking anything. Finally, as if he just remembered why he was there, he said, "Oh, yeah, I have to lift!"

You can probably guess what happened next.

He got under the bar for his first squat attempt, which was loaded to about 848. He stood up, then squirted out from under it and dumped the bar. It came crashing down and bent the monolift. His next two were high and he bombed out.

The other guy from Michigan, the other shit talker, also bombed on the squats.

This was a big turning point for Matt. He had never realized until then how much of a distraction and dissipation bragging and talking shit can be. Now he hardly ever reads the forums, and generally never talks shit outside a small circle of friends.

7 – Fanatically Believe You Can

If you want to do anything of value, in or out of the gym, you must believe fanatically in your own ability to overcome and succeed. Here's one of the best examples I can think of, and it also stars Matt Kroczaleski.

Just a few weeks out from the Arnold Classic, Matt noticed that his knee was hurting. Hurting pretty badly, and it just kept getting worse.

"I think I need to take it light today," he said on Monday. "My knee is sore and bothers me."

"Man, something really feels funny inside my knee," he said on Tuesday, "it almost feels swollen."

On Wednesday it was no better. "You guys aren't going to believe this," he said, "but I had to sit down at work today and talk to patients from a chair. My knee hurts so bad I can't put pressure on it. I haven't been able to train, and I'm starting to get a bit concerned. I have no idea what's wrong."

By Thursday it was even worse. "This is unbelievable," he grimaced. "I can't walk today and had to go get crutches. My knee is swollen and hurts to the touch. I can hardly bend it. I'm very concerned I might have some sort of infection or something. I can't train and the pain is unbearable."

That Friday, he was practically beside himself. "I went to the doctor today and they don't know what's wrong," he told us, still hobbling on crutches. The Arnold was only two weeks away, and to say he was frustrated would be an understatement. "I've trained my ass off for this," he growled. "All the work's done. I can't believe I'm dealing with this right now. And I don't even know what the hell's wrong!"

Then he answered the question none of us had the heart to ask him. "You bet your ass I'm still gonna compete, though" he said, the fire building in him. "I'm going to will this knee better, and convince myself that it's healed. I won't let this defeat me, and I'm going to do everything humanly possibly to step onto the platform and win."

At the Arnold, despite the fact that he literally was unable to walk only two weeks earlier, Matt ended up squatting 970, and won his first World Championship. That, friends, is the power of belief.

8 – Stay Focused

This is the most important secret of the bunch. Lock yourself onto your destination and eliminate any possibility of not getting there. Make your goal the core essence of your existence. Fix your focus 100% onto your desired outcome and the process of achieving it.

Let nothing stop you from training toward your goal, short of a crippling injury or major life trauma. And as you'll see below, not even that is enough to stop some highly motivated individuals.

A lot of people are afraid of making this kind of commitment. They don't fear failure so much as they're simply unwilling to sacrifice certain parts of their lives. This isn't a bad thing as such, and anyway, most of you reading this probably don't have the kind of aspirations that demand heavy sacrifices. Nothing wrong with that. If everyone was exceptional, no one would be.

For those few, however, who do aspire to the highest level of sport, you need to understand that greatness comes at a high price. The price is the time and energy that you can't devote to the other aspects of your life.

We all have the same 24 hours, and the choice of where to focus our attention. There's no way you can focus on your work, family, church, personal development, friends, and on your training.

Yes you can achieve balance, and as I said, this isn't a bad goal. All I'm saying is that you can either be balanced, or you can be great. You shouldn't expect both at the same time.

I can already hear the murmurs of dissent from the peanut gallery.

"Dave, you have to keep a balance in your life to move ahead. How can you say balanced people can't be great?"

My response is, show me one great person who achieved balance at the time of their greatness. To be in the top 10% of anything requires a selfish, fanatical drive that most people will never understand, let alone possess.Maybe there's someone somewhere who can be great at everything, but I haven't seen it.

What I have seen are people who would give their right nut to be the best at the one thing they're pursuing, at the expense of everything else. No way are they attaining anything close to balance in their lives.

Okay, here's a story that ought to illustrate my point. It's a little harsh in places, so if you're a pansy, maybe you should leave the room for a while.

Jason Pegg is an aspiring powerlifter, and a until a few years ago he was a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. On Memorial Day, 2005, in a little shithole town about 10 kilometers southwest of Khowst, in eastern Afghanistan, Sgt. Jason Pegg and other members of his team were hit by a roadside bomb. Fragments from the exploding 107 mm rockets ripped through Jason's elbow, tearing away a good part of his forearm.

An x-ray of Jason Pegg's left arm gives only a hint of the grave damage done.
Surgeons at Walter Reed do what they can to save Jason Pegg's mangled arm.

He spent the next year and a half at Walter Reed hospital, his bodyweight dropping from 310 down to 238 in only 45 days. When he was given leave, he didn't have the energy to walk 500 yards from the hospital to Fisher House, where his family was staying, without stopping to rest at least twice.

Even after several surgeries, his left arm was so weak, he couldn't keep his eight-month-old son from prying his fingers apart. It was unlikely he'd ever bench over 155, let alone compete again. Most people would accept this situation as an excuse to give up, but not Jason. Instead, he focused every remaining fiber of his body and mind to building up what he could still do: the squat and deadlift.

At first, Jason couldn't squat 315 with the safety bar, and didn't have the mobility to use a regular bar. But with one good arm and laser-like focus, he put all he had into attaining the biggest squat possible. Sure, there were plenty of people who told him all the reasons why he couldn't or shouldn't pursue his goals. Jason ignored them all.

Jason doesn't let a little thing like getting his arm nearly blown off interfere with his goals.

Now two years later, this past weekend in one of the EliteFTS Underground Strength Sessions, Jason squatted 900 on two separate attempts. He can also pull over 700 pounds.

Here's a video of Jason squatting at the Cincinnati ProAm last year. Not bad for a guy with one freaking arm, right?

So don't let me hear your lame-ass excuses for why you can't even make it to the gym. How you have crappy genetics, don't have time, bla, bla, bla. Just get your lazy ass away from your keyboard and remote, and start busting your ass the way Jason has for the past two years, savvy?

Listen, Jason has every reason to sit at home and make excuses, but decided to "ball up" and see just how far he could push himself. Think about him next time you make some shitbird excuse why you can't do something.

If you want to be successful, you will rearrange your priorities, and put your focus where it belongs: on the one thing you want to obtain. Results will follow.

9 – Shut the Hell up and Listen

It's very hard to be an athlete and coach at the same time.

I've been very fortunate in my 25 years of training, in that I've always found people to look over my shoulder. I'm sure I know how to train myself better than anyone else knows how to train me, but I also accept that I don't know everything. I also recognize that no matter what, there's probably always a better way.

We'll never know for sure what the "best" way is, but something tells me that we miss more than we hit. Having someone look over your technique, training plan, diet, and other training aspects can save you time and mistakes down the road.

Let me say something here about programming. We all know there are different aspects to program development, ranging from (but not limited to) flexibility, strength, endurance, mobility, pre-habilitation, and all their subcomponents such as strength-speed, strength-endurance, dynamic flexibility and a host of others. The thing most people seem to miss is you can't have it all.

Think of it as a stereo equalizer, with each aspect having its own control. It you were to slide all the controls to the right, all you would hear is distortion (overtraining, imbalances, injury, etc.). If you were to slide them all to the left you wouldn't hear anything (no training: no results).

The key is to find the right settings that produce the perfect sound for the goals you're training for. This is where a coach or someone with experience can help out because what you're used to hearing may not be the best sound because you've become accustomed to it (your cheap Walkman sounds great until you walk into a BOSE store).

The other thing to remember is that there are lots of different settings, and what sounds good to one person might not sound the best to you. If you're getting the results you want, then you're good to go.

Finally, if you do ask or seek help, then shut the hell up and listen. If you asked the right person, then they have something to offer you. Even when you don't ask, keep your ears open. Believe it or not, there are people who are better than you, and who know more. They just might say something that can help you. You may have been missing something that they were able to spot.

People always ask me, "knowing what you know now, would you have changed anything about your training or diet from years ago?" My answer is always the same: no. You can't turn back the clock and change the past. You can only do what you can do today. I see no reason to answer what I can't do anything about. Do I offer people different advice now based on what I feel were my mistakes of the past? Yes, of course. I've made some huge mistakes, but they were necessary, because without them I wouldn't have learned anything.

The best way I've found to use coaches is to make your training result a team effort. So you're not just training for yourself, but for everyone who's involved in the process. When all's said and done, they'll get (and deserve) the credit, but you're the one who'll get the result.

I have and will always consider this a fair trade, and because of this I've been able to enlist the help of many of the best coaches in the world. You may recognize some of the names: Alywn Cosgrove, Justin Harris, Dr. John Berardi, Dr. Eric Serrano, Jim Wendler, Louie Simmons,Todd Brock, Chuck Vogelpohl, Joe Defranco, Dr. Ryan Smith, and many others. Without their help over the years, I wouldn't have been able to achieve all the goals I had set for myself.

Pretty Simple, Right?

Okay, so that's it. Twenty-five years of blood, sweat, puke, and iron condensed into nine bullet points.

I almost feel guilty writing now that I've written this article, because I'm sure every reader will already know all these points. I also know most people will skim read this and say, "Uh huh, not much here."

These are the same people who are looking for the holy grail and mystery exercise that will launch their training into the stratosphere. While there are programs and movements that can make a world of difference to your training when implemented at the right time, there are no programs or movements that will have a positive effect all the time. These simple points can and will have a positive effect all the time, but with training, clients, and life, everyone seems to want the most complex solutions to solve simple issues.

Mastery of the simple things leads to greatness. Application of the complex leads to confusion. Yet, 90% will jump at the complex for the solutions to our problems. What's interesting is the most complex things are external, while all the simple things are internal.

I'd suggest reading the Points to Ponder (below) and asking yourself the questions and taking a moment to REALLY think about it. If you do, you will have taken a huge step toward mastering your own training.

Points to Ponder

  1. Have a destination (goal) but keep the specifics to yourself. Do you even have a goal?
  2. The world is full of pricks who can only criticize. Are you one of them?
  3. Use a program designed for your goals. Is your program leading you to your destination?
  4. The things you hate to do are the things you need to do most. Are you doing them?
  5. If you're not making progress, it may be your attitude that needs adjusting. Are you willing to change?
  6. Your time and energy are limited. Are you wasting them by talking shit on the forums?
  7. Become a fanatical believer in your cause. Do you really believe you'll succeed?
  8. If you're afraid of breaking any of your precious eggs, don't expect too many omelets in your life. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your goals?
  9. There are people who are better than you, and who know more stuff than you. Are you listening to them?
Dave Tate is the founder and CEO of Elitefts and the author of Under The Bar. Dave has been involved in powerlifting for over three decades as a coach, consultant and business owner. He has logged more than 10,000 hours coaching professional, elite, and novice athletes, as well as professional strength coaches. Follow Dave Tate on Facebook