I walk in the first day as an intern, ready to learn. I say that like there is a choice. I don’t know a damn thing about strength and conditioning, so all I have is room to learn. I’m an empty cup. Fill me up. Everyone else is trying to fill my cup with pisswater. College degree, commercial gym, physical therapy, sports research lab. Every single one offers big talk and a good drink, but all they have is pisswater. None have the truth, none have the experience in the trenches to know a real drink when they see one. I’m 6’5, 210lbs, and I need a taste of the truth, a taste of real training. Not just to advance my craft as an aspiring strength coach. I need to feel the thrill of challenging myself again. Pushing the edge, to test your conviction, to find the kind of man (or woman) that you are, and how hard you’ll work for what you want.
A few days at Penn tells a new story. Steel, Brindle, Tracy, Cristi. They lay it straight. Strength training is a fine whiskey. It has a hard bite that only some choose to endure, but it is a peerless drink that electrifies the mind and sets your soul ablaze.
I have no deep squat. I have no deadlift. I don’t even train with consistency. I need a path, I need to understand how.
Then the training starts. For 3 months, I learn basics. Squat: deep, ass to grass. Weight at the center of the feet, heels stay down. Deadlift: Set your back, weight in the heels. Don’t be a bitch, it’s gonna be hard, finish the damn lift. Grit through. It’s not that difficult, you just don’t know how to make yourself work yet. You’ll learn. Even as I struggle to adapt, learning more and more the commitment that strength training takes, the endless battle, my body strengthens. My conviction strengthens. A passion is building.
Steel the blacksmith intervenes. Submit the sword to the fire. If it is strong, it will temper and craft into a stronger, sharper blade. He assigns me the Hatfield 80 Day program. Readers will be familiar, as Steel praises the program highly, so I will leave off of that here. My results speak my regards for themselves. My squat and deadlift increase by almost 100lbs each (95/90). I think that is all that I need to say about that. Except that I want more. It was one of the most physically and mentally challenging experiences in my life, and I just want more.
I pursue new programs. Sheiko. Brindle loves Sheiko , and points me in that direction. The volume is immense. If you have a squat day that doesn’t hit 50+ reps, consider yourself lucky. I’m burning so much energy, stimulating so much muscle growth, I just lift, eat a couple thousand calories, and sleep the rest of the day. Almost like a kid again. Play, eat, sleep. If you get a break off work for a couple weeks, give it a try. Eat, lift, sleep. It’s almost idyllic. The passion grows.
Steel customizes 2 or 3 programs for various competition cycles. Damn the high rep deadlifts. I got a trashcan in the weight room with my name on it, and it is my close personal friend when high rep deadlifts come along. Everyone tells me “What the hell are you puking for? Stop puking!” Trust me, throwing up isn’t really high on my list of priorities either. If you find a way to make it stop, I’ll be first in line to find out. It doesn’t matter though. Exhaustion, vomiting, struggle, pain. It is fleeting. It goes away in 5mins, 10 mins, even if it’s a day or two. It’s just a day or two. The strength, the confidence, the pride, the discipline, lasts beyond your reckoning. I remember the hardest workout to date. It was training for a powerlifting meet. 85% 10x2 bench press, 85% 20x2 DL. I was struggling massively with the bench press, as competition requires that you pause it for a duration on your chest. Big bump to the difficulty. A few prior lifts, I also struggle with the bench and ask Steel what to do. “Take more rest. Get it done. No missed reps.” Short and sweet. Not the workout. The workout was long and bittersweet. It took me an hour forty-five to finish the bench without missing any reps. Thenthe DL was another hour. In truth, Steel assigns some harder lifts than this. However, this is just plain mental endurance. I am already struggling to lift a regular amount, and the volume is significant here. Can you get back under the weight again? Even when you know it’s going to suck? Even when you know you will need to do it again after this? And after that and after that and after that? Yes. Yes, I can do it easily. I know it will make me stronger. It will build my resolve. It will build me as a person.
Two years, a powerlifting meet, a strongman competition, and 6–8 training cycles later, I stand 75lbs heavier (mostly muscle), over 200 lbs stronger in the squat and DL, bigger, stronger, more confident. I have developed a conviction in my training, in my opinions, in my actions, a strength of will. I can’t make any real analogies on how strength training is a drug, or even a whiskey, because that is not enough. It is a part of me. It is now a part of the way that I define myself, define my life and experiences. I am happier for it, I am stronger, I am better for it, and I am just getting started.