Posted on May 14th, 2013
It’s silly to feel certain about anything. There is just too much tough, greasy truth out there to chew on. The wise among us simply read and digest what they can, celebrating this stupefying complexity with a smile and a few margaritas alongside curious friends.
In the end that is what’s best in life.
Still, I’m pretty damn confident about one thing – Most of us are operating well below our capability. This immediately sounds bad, but that is not necessarily so. We can’t be expected to maximize everything all the time, right? This is when it helps to be realistic. The ends do not always justify the means, the labor, or the risks. Battles must be picked carefully.
I’m not sure where our characteristic restraint comes from. It must be some mix of calculated laziness and defense, as if holding back is the safe and surefire path towards a stable and injury free future. Who knows? But in any case, this is hardly a guarantee. We need to learn to dismantle this inherent mechanism if we want to achieve our best, whether it’s in business, barbells or all-you-can-eat hot wing competitions. We need to get used to more.
For now, think of your brain as a picky toddler at the dinner table. No matter what is offered, she will turn her head and shout, “No!” Your job as the parent here is to get that food down, with coaxing or trickery where necessary. Sure it’s a bit of a hack, but if you can get just a little bit of food in that mouth, the toddler will quickly realize that this is really something they want. Our minds are no different. Give a taste of something more and the defenses and inhibition will start to come down. At first you start to believe that more is possible, then you will grow to expect it. That’s a big deal.
Let me regress to my meathead ways and share a lifting story with you. I’m terrible at the front squat. Blame it on years and years of assuming a less than ideal bent-over posture during lifting, or simply call it laziness. Say your worst.
I’ve always hated that lift, so I never gave it any measure of focus. That all changed recently. As you might have gathered from my writings, I think it’s a damn good idea to face your goats head on, dismantling the weakness entirely, or at very least, learning to suck less with time! I changed my mind for one simple reason: it’s too easy to keep doing what you are good at. Also, it’s pretty unrewarding. The wiser, more fulfilling, more virtuous path requires that we pick up a fresh chunk of wood and shape it into something new and useful. Here, the wood was my bad posture and the front squat was the razor sharp tool.
The first few sessions were predictable – I hated it. Progress was coming very, very slowly, and worse still, I was not getting any more comfortable with it. I was talking myself out of this pursuit. But that’s when I changed my approach.
First, I started front squatting every day to something heavy. Well, at least five to six days per week. Because I’m such a novice in this lift, I knew my brain was in the way, holding back effort, using dread as a weapon against me. I was completely untrained in the lift, so there was no way I could overdo it! So, I turned this disadvantage around. A shot of frequency gave me time to practice my positions and get used to the activity under an accelerated timetable. To be honest, I started to look forward to the front squats within the first week or so of the change. That’s how quickly things started to shift.
Second, I use overload as my quick and dirty hack. After my heavy work sets I perform an extra three or four rounds, adding about 30-50 pounds per set. Do I try and squat this? No! That would be a terrible idea, for now. No, all I do is pick up the weight, step back, and hold. The focus is on position and my breathing…and maybe not shitting my pants. With an extra 150 pounds on the barbell, this would probably start to happen in just about ten seconds. So, just before the inevitable sets in, I return the bar to the rack and add a bit more weight.
So what’s the point? Simple. If I can show myself that holding extra weight is no big deal, then squatting just a few more pounds above my top work set is surely possible, if not expected by now. That has turned out to be true. While I still have quite a long way to go, I’ve managed to add 50 pounds to this lift in just a few weeks. I need more time to adapt and grow, but my brain is now out of the way. All it needed to know was that there was nothing to be alarmed about, and that this adaptation and expense to the body was worth it.
It’s ok if you’re not always at your best, or if you sometimes do not try to be, really. Pick your battles carefully. But I would encourage you to find your goat. That thing that you really want to improve – that you should improve! Start with two key steps.
First, make it important to you. Elevate the issue, creating a set time to work on it during your daily regimen. And yes, work on it daily.
Second, find a quick and dirty hack that sets this task into perspective. Show yourself that it is possible, and should even be expected.
Let me tell you, expectation is an incredible thing.