Can you smell what the Swede is cookin?
It's like this: You set a goal and -immediately- you should begin moving toward it. That is not to say you do not need a very specific goal and a well thought out plan, you certainly do. Both of these will evolve and develop as you go. However, there is always some action you can take right now, which will bring you closer to your goal, even if it's just taking a step in the general direction of your destination.
Let's say that for example you have a specific sport you would like to one day compete in, such as Powerlifting, Strongman, Olympic Lifting, or even The Crossfit Games: It should be obvious that embarking on a training program geared toward that sport is a good first step. Wouldn't you say?
Now let's say, as a second example, you're a different individual; someone who is uncertain which
of the four very different strength sports you're the most interested in, but you'd like to compete in one of them, eventually. Beginning a basic strength training program is a step in the right direction!
Why am I presenting these simple scenarios with obvious, common sense courses of action? To illustrate a point!
In my experience as a trainer and coach, I have noticed that there is a good deal of ‟goal setting" and ‟planning" which goes on, in and around the gym, accompanied by an even larger amount of procrastination and fantasizing. In most cases, the individual's goals are never reached, because even after limitless time has been spent focused on planning, realistic plans were never forged. And, these individuals are still no closer to their goals than the moment the goals were formed. Why? No action has been taken.
My third and final example for right now, I think should be the offseason athlete. Put yourself in the place of someone whom competes in Basketball, Football, or Collegiate High Jumping. You're confused about what aspect of your training needs the most work and what areas specifically you should be working on during your offseason to improve your performance on the field (or court). Having a good coach point these things out makes life a lot easier, but some coaches suck, plain and simple. Perhaps you're not the best athlete on the team, so you don't get as much attention as you'd like, and the coaching you do get is vague. This leaves you even more confused. You can spend the entire offseason trying to figure out exactly what you need to work on, if you'd like. The other option is that you dig in to your sport-specific offseason training program and work your ass off. Stop over-thinking, over-analyzing, and planning. You're wasting time. Get to work. If you improve on every aspect of your training in the offseason, you‘ll start the new year a better athlete than you were the last.
You might be asking yourself ‟Why is this guy talking about track athletes and basketball players in a column about Powerlifting?" The answer is simple: We're all, as athletes, of a very similar psychology.
The message I want to get across is just as simple: Eventually, as you're heading in the general direction you want to go, the specifics you were struggling with before you began will iron themselves out. However, you need a solid training program. You need to be committed to your goals, even as they evolve; and they will evolve. If you continue to take action, they will develop and become very specific; if you don't fear them, you'll blow those goals away and need to set new ones. If you remain confident and active, always moving toward your goal, it cannot escape.
I share the meat of that last paragraph with every athlete I train, but more than that: I practice what I preach.
About six months ago, I came to the realization that if I was going to be the best strength coach I could be, I was going to have to re-light my own competitive fire. I had not competed in a sport, seriously, since I was 23 years old and I'm now 30. In my own defense, three of those years were spent in prison, but that's a story for another article.
Since I am obviously not a celebrity and you probably do not know anything about me, I'll give you a little background.
I started lifting weights when I was 11 or 12 years old, after demanding that my parents buy me a Hulk Hogan weight set. I wanted to be big and strong like him, so I was going to need HIS weights. They were plastic, filled with sand, and I lifted the shit out of them. Bench Presses, Shoulder Presses and Curls were performed, pretty much every day. I had no idea what I was doing, but without knowing it, I was moving closer to my goal, vague as it was at the time.
I competed in Wrestling and Powerlifting in High School. I was not a very good wrestler and lost interest in it quickly. The Powerlifting I did was organized by the Physical Education teacher- Mr. Davis, with whom I became friends. He taught me to squat when I was 15, which has quite possibly helped me more than any other single thing I have ever learned. An exception to this statement would be the time I learned how to use a toilet, which has also come in handy throughout my life.
The sport in which I competed from the late 90's to the early 2000's was Bodybuilding. It is my dark, shameful secret and I do not like to talk about it. No, I'm joking, of course. At the time I was passionate about it, and I did achieve some success in the sport. In 2002, I signed an endorsement contract with a supplement company and placed top ten in a national level NPC contest, in the Super-Heavyweight class. I was on my way to the bodybuilding ‟big time", I thought. However, that wasn't how my story played out.
Along the way, I made some serious mistakes. I also saw and experienced some things that left me disenchanted with bodybuilding. It was hard for me to look at it with the same excitement I once did. In 2003, I decided that bodybuilding was not the sport for me and I stopped competing.
Even when I was training for bodybuilding I was more concerned with strength than all of the other bodybuilders I knew and trained with. This hunger for strength has stayed with me throughout my life and it has always been a focal point in my own training. It was obvious to me, when the time came, my new competitive sport was going to be a strength sport of some kind.
I'd always been interested in Strongman, from the first time I had seen the World's Strongest Man contest on ESPN. At first, I was pretty sure this was going to be the sport for me. Being a student of my own teaching, I made a step in the general direction of my new vague goal to compete in a strength sport of some kind. I joined IronSport Gym, in Glenolden, PA. Owned and operated by Pro Strongman-
Steve Pulcinella. It's a full service Strongman/Powerlifting gym, and the Mecca for those two sports in the Philadelphia area. The gym is actually located about 45 minutes from where I live in Philadelphia, but I knew that if I was going to get serious about competing I was going to have to abandon the gym I'd been training at (for the simple fact that it was a quarter mile from my home) and get into a real training facility. I spoke with my wife and we made the commitment together to make the drive four nights per week.
It's worth mentioning that we were in a motorcycle accident about 12 months earlier and were just finishing up rehab from that. She made out better than I did, but we were both injured. We were out of them gym for a month completely and rehabbing injuries for the better part of the year that followed. The only problem I couldn't shake was in the area of my left hip. When I squatted, or even sat in a position where my knees were above my hip, my femur felt like it was dislocating. It was a horrible shooting pain, accompanied by a terrifying cracking sound, like a knuckle. You should not be able to crack your hip, but to this day I can.
I had a hard time getting into the idea of Strongman training; I just couldn't get my head around it. I liked the idea of it more than the reality. Training to be able to perform a certain odd lift for a 1RM seemed cool, but it was hard for me to get interested in training to perform a combination of odd tasks in the shortest amount of time. Watching others compete in Strongman is something I still love, but at heart I think I've always been driven by the idea of lifting a heavier weight than anyone else. I have also always liked the idea of performing the big three lifts without equipment of any kind, which is why I shifted my focus to Raw Powerlifting. It's wildly popular right now and I think it's bringing a lot of new attention to Powerlifting as a whole. That said, almost every one of my heroes in the sport of Powerlifting was or is an ‟equipped" lifter and I do intend to compete in the Unlimited Equipment division one day.
Now, I wasn't sure I'd be able to squat. As it turned out, I was not able to train the squat heavy excepting the use of about 50% band tension and 50% bar load. (Doing so throughout my preparation for this meet has almost completely rehabbed the mysterious clicking/shooting pain issue.) For those who don't know, I am referring to the use of bands as a form of accommodating resistance, which will provide more tension at the top of a movement. I will address bands, in greater detail, in a future article.
Once I had decided, firmly, that I was going to compete in Powerlifting, almost immediately, the issue of which meet to compete in ironed itself out, as I always tell athletes it will. After seeing that I was training seriously for Powerlifting, the proprietor of IronSport, Steve Pulcinella, approached me and told me there was going to be an APA meet held at the gym in November. Once I checked online and saw that there was a "raw" division, the decision was made. I had four months to train.
I immediately began shifting my programing to a very specific way of training, which is a variation on the Dynamic-Effort/Max-Effort method, modified specifically for Raw Powerlifting. Certain exercises were omitted and others, which focus on areas of strength needed for raw Powerlifting were added. Rest periods were augmented and a structured schedule for de-loads was added. I am currently working on the definitive E-Book for raw Powerlifters whom want to use a DE/ME training protocol for meets and offseason training.
With four months to prepare and considering my limitations, I was ready to set some realistic goals for myself. I wanted to do this meet without equipment of any kind, so I thought 495lbs on the bench was attainable as long as my wrists didn't start acting up. If I could avoid using wrist wraps I was going to do it. I do not even own a belt. I haven't worn one since I competed in bodybuilding and even then it was just for pictures. Considering the issues with my hip I figured shooting for a number over 600lbs was realistic. So that was it. I could not squat in the meet, so I'd be doing push/pull and shooting for 495/600.
Within two weeks of training, my goal had already evolved. I'd decided that I wanted the state record for bench press, which was currently 500, so I changed my goal to 505/600. That would be an over 1100lb push/pull total.
My goals continued to evolve...
The meet day arrived and I was ready. I bench 525lbs and deadlifted 700lbs, completely raw, with no equipment of any kind, belt or otherwise. The meet director confirmed to me through e-mail, the next day, that both of these lifts were APA/WPA World Records for my weight class.
They gave me 4 attempts on both lifts, because they were records. Here is a video of all my attempts:
Another highlight of the day was that I got to meet and compete alongside a raw Powerlifter who I greatly respect, Scott Yard. He's a very kind and humble guy. It was a pleasure to see him get a 2000lb raw total.
The love and support of my wife/training partner is an integral part of my program and without her I wouldn't be the man I am today. I would also like to thank my trainees for bearing with me around the date of the meet as far as scheduling.
Cory ‟Swede" Burns is a Specialist in Strength and Conditioning. As a Raw lifter he's broken the APA/WPA world records for bench press and deadlift in his class. This was done at his first sanctioned meet. Swede coaches and develops programming for all levels of athletes and is available for consultation online or in person, anywhere in the Philadelphia area. He's looking forward to relocating to the private training facility which he's opening early next year, in western Pennsylvania, Keyhole Barbell Club.