Chuck Taylors On Steroids: The Ballad Of Mark Bell And The Reebok Crossfit TR Lites

Thanks for dropping by!  Here’s the video to go with this if you’d rather watch than read:

 

Originally released in 2014, The Crossfit TR Lite shoe was a joint project between powerlifter and Super Training Gym mogul Mark Bell, and Reebok.  The idea of this new shoe was essentially to allow your feet more room for full use during lifts, whereas a shoe like the Chuck Taylor, which I wrote about in my last article, can tend to be a little to narrow for some lifters.  If you’re pushing hard in your main compound lifts and are performing them correctly, you’re pushing down against the floor with your whole foot.  Most lifters call this “splitting the ground”, or “pressing the ground away”. In essence, the Reebok Crossfit TR Lite was the first ever shoe made strictly for Powerlifting.

Specifications

   

The pictures you’ll be seeing as I go over the specs are of my own pair of TR Lites.  I bought them two years ago and I still use them today.  Just remember something when buying shoes just for training; if you just use them for that your shoes can last a long time and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth regardless of the price.  The shoes themselves are made of a very thin leather, with cotton inside.  But there is leather.  The tongue is made of mesh, which is very beneficial for ventilation, since this isn’t a shoes made out of canvas.

What you’re seeing here is a hi top shoe but I’m sure there were low tops available.  But what you would wear clearly had to be of personal preference.  I felt like the hi tops gave me more ankle support which I needed since I’m already flat footed.  As you can see in the photo above, the toe area of the shoe is a little wide.  It was the most important aspect of the shoe in terms of allowing the lifter to use his/her whole foot because you now had room to use to engage your toes.  The one caveat to this would be that most lifters would find their standard shoe size to be too loose for their feet.  Reebok even suggested on their own website that buyers would benefit from buying at least half a shoe size lower than they’re accustomed to.  My general shoe size is 10.5, so therefore I ordered these in just a 10 and they fit me perfectly.

    

 

The sole is flat, much like Chucks.  This perfect for Deadlifting, of course.  Although, there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t use these for any of the other lifts.  In terms of squatting, not everyone prefers raised heel shoes, such as the Adidas Powerlifts.  But again this is just preference.  But the single most important component of the shoe, as seen above, is the sole itself.  It’s a carbon rubber heel with “teeth”, designed to provide traction on the ground.  Stable feet make for a safer lift.  My former gym has a power rack with a diamond plated platform and my feet would slip a bit while preparing to Squat.  Squatting in that rack with my Crossfit TR Lites made all the difference, as I noticed my feet were barely moving around at all, staying exactly where I placed them before I even unracked the bar to start.

What’s In A Name?

This right here is a very important question to ask in terms of business and marketing.   Imagine for a moment that, as you’re about to release the next best thing, you and your marketing team are trying to figure out a name.  You have to ask yourself if that name will resonate with the general public, or at least with your target audience.  Unfortunately, appearances are everything too, especially with clothing, and especially with color.  You need to have an appearance, especially with your target audience, that will appeal to everyone.  So what happened to the Reebok Crossfit TR Lite and why was production stopped?

I think I’ll start with color schemes.

Image result for reebok crossfit tr lites  Image result for reebok crossfit tr lites  Image result for reebok crossfit tr litesImage result for reebok crossfit tr lites  Image result for reebok crossfit tr lites                    Image result for reebok crossfit tr lites

Now granted, some of the shoes shown here might be women’s shoes and that’s okay.  But I personally am not a fan of bright colors.  Some might be but there probably aren’t that many.  Yes, the Crossfit TR Lite was in the first ever shoe made just for Powerlifters; but the colors schemes fit more along the lines of pricey basketball shoes.  Jordans come to mind.  Also, guys who would claim to be “a man’s man!”, would probably prefers a bigger selection of solid colors.  The color of the pair I own is actually the shoe’s primary color, the color you’d see in the ads for it.  But I have to be honest, if that color wasn’t available when I ordered it on Amazon, I don’t know if I would’ve given the other colors a chance.  I myself prefer not just solid colors, but dark colors.  I like black and most shades of blue, but nothing bright.  Call me boring – I might agree!

This leads to the last reason this might failed.  And the reason can be seem on the tongue of the shoe itself:

Unless you’re someone like me, who understood enough about the benefits of the shoe to ignore the name, you probably didn’t want to touch this with a ten foot pole.  I clearly remember reading articles in Mark Bell’s Power Magazine, in which he referred to his own shoe as the “Power Shoe” as opposed to it’s branded name.  In a case of Bad Marketing 101, Reebok decided to call it a Crossfit shoe.  I can see the vision they were going for from a business sense.  Reebok knew that Crossfit is in fact far more popular than Powerlifting, which even now is still somewhat considered a fringe sport; and as it stands, Reebok also sponsors the Crossfit Games every year.

It might’ve sounded good on paper, but let’s be real for a moment.  First off, once Crossfit athletes found out what the shoe was really meant for they probably felt like it wouldn’t properly serve their needs.  And, to be honest, most Powerlifters absolutely hate Crossfit.  Unless they were someone like me, who read enough information about the Crossfit TR Lite to ignore the name and give the shoe a chance, they probably thumbed their noses at the idea of wearing any shoe with the word Crossfit on it.  All of this brings me back to my original point of what exactly is in a name.  Everything.  I just had this discussion with my girlfriend, by the way.  Putting the Crossfit label might’ve sounded like a great mainstream move on paper, but the brass at Reebok either were too out of touch to understand that the two cultures can’t seem to mesh at the moment, or they just refused to listen to Mark Bell’s input.

Thanks for reading!

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Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars

If you’d rather watch than read now you can!  If not then proceed below.

Welcome to my first product review!  Here I’ll discuss particular strength training oriented equipment that I’ve used in the past or even now.  I’ll also include a brief backstory into the product in question as well as my personal opinion.  Just remember that one guy’s opinion is not the end all be all and only you can truly judge for yourself.

With that out of the way we’re going to start things off with an all time classic, the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  If you’re reading this right now, your age being irrelevant, you’ve seen these in your nearby Foot Locker.  But instead of buying such a vintage looking shoe you instead bought the more expensive and way cooler looking Nike.  I’m totally guilty of this as well.  But what I didn’t know as a kid was that those vintage looking Converses were originally designed for Basketball use.

Created in 1901, the originally named Converse All-Star was one of the first shoes in the market specifically for Basketball, which was still it’s infancy as it was.  Chuck Taylor, a high school Basketball player from Indiana began wearing them.  Six years later he not only began working for Converse as a salesman, he also used his experience from wearing the All-Stars on the court to suggest to his bosses that changes be made to provide better functionally, including more flexibility and support, as well as a patch to support the ankle, hence the design you see today.  The All-Star logo was added to the patch and not even decade later, Chuck’s name was added to the patch in his honor, thus renaming the shoe the Chuck Taylor All-Star.

So, with all of that being said, why use Basketball specific shoes to lift?

Here are two different views of a Chuck Taylor.  As you can see the most important aspect about it is the sole is essentially flat.  It may seem like nothing important at first.  But upon reading up on them on Stronglifts I realized something as I had begun to take my lifting technique more seriously in late 2009: in order to properly perform most major, multi-joint moves – especially the Squat and Deadlift – you must be flat on the ground and you must remain stable.  Perform those two moves alone in any cross trainer sneaker with a cushy sole and you will tip forward, which could be very disasterous if you’re someone who squats 315 or more.

As I’m writing this I actually remember the first time I saw a powerlifter wearing a pair of Chucks during my time in Bally Total Fitness.  I actually spotted him as he squatted 405 and I took note how perfectly stable and solid he remained throughout the lift, not wobbling once.  So what else makes Chucks so convenient?  Unlike most gyms of yesteryear, you won’t come across many gyms today that’ll let you train barefoot and it’s easy to see why.  Therefore, with a pair of Chucks, you can easily emulate the experience of training barefoot yet still having a layer of protection.  You now are able to use your whole foot to push against the ground.  There’s one more really important thing to understand about Chucks: they’re dirt cheap.

ken waller

Here’s a photo of former Mr. Universe Ken Waller squatting barefoot.

I bought my first and only pair of Chuck’s in January 2010 – for just $50! – after having not trained in about three months.  As I performed my first set of squats with just the bar for ten reps I felt different, not because I was away for a bit, but because I finally had traction.  Only problem now was that I realized how weak I really was.  It was while in Chucks that I first started to get real strength gains, finally being forced to use my whole body to stabilize myself.  It was with Chucks that I first deadlifted more than 200lbs.  I used the same Chucks for over five years until I purchased my current training shoes.

Like any product, even the Chuck Taylor All-Stars have a drawback or two, however.

converse aerial

As seen above, Chucks are pretty narrow, which can prove uncomfortable for anyone with wide feet.  It’s a bit tight against my toes, which made it frustrating during my squat sessions.  Also, at least accodoring to Stronglifts founder Medhi Hadim, “But the sole is made of rubber so it compresses a little.”  But it’s nothing to worry about.

It’s often said that you get what you pay for, and let me tell you; for just $50 at most you’re getting a very simple, yet extremely versatile and effective training shoe that could last you years, so long as you take care of them.  I recommend this shoe particularly for beginner and intermediate lifters, although even more advanced lifters surely can use them too if they want.

                                        My pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars

 

The Stronglifts article used in reference:

How to Deadlift with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide

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Doug Young And The Origins Of Power Bodybuilding

Welcome to the first of what I hope to be many articles on some of my favorite strength related athletes.  But not only will I obviously speak of their accomplishments, but I will also add some insight into aspects of their training routines that were crucial to their success and how it might even benefit you and your goals.

The subject of today’s article is none other than the Lone Star State’s own Doug Young.  By the time I discovered the late Doug Young in the spring of 2009, I had already begun research into the type of training that wound up steering my interests away from Bodybuilding and more into Powerlifting.  So since I just happened to be online I just type in “powerlifting” on YouTube and I found clips of the 1977 IPF World Championships held Perth, Australia and televised on NBC Sports with commentary by Powerlifting coach Terry Todd and a very young Bryant Gumbel.

Doug Young didn’t come to the platform for his first lift until about the 1:30 mark in the video.  He’d apparently already accomplished a lot in a span of a few years, having won 1st place for Team USA the last two years in a row with respective totals of 2,000 and 2,005.  But the big story here was that as this big behemoth with this intense, intimidating look on his face approached the Squat rack, he’d apparently dropped thirty pounds in just seven days in order to make the 242lb weight class.  You have to think about the major possibility of strength loss with something that dangerous.  He began growling to psyche himself up and to hear it was to believe it because that growl was frightening!  He successfully hit a 699lb Squat attempt before bending over in pain.  He had broken three ribs.

He had miraculously gone on to actually win first place again with a 545lb Bench Press and a 710lb Deadlift, even after fainting from the pain twice.  However, what intrigued me about Doug Young, equally as much as the fact that he apparently was a man’s man, was what I heard him say in an interview about his training.  He mentioned that in between Powerlifting training days he actually performed Bodybuilding style training, saying that he thought it was just as important to look “pretty” as it was to be strong.  What he was talking about is known today as Power Bodybuilding, or Powerbuilding for short.  Power Bodybuilding, in essence, is overloading a targeted major muscle (ex:chest, legs, back, etc.) with heavy weights, low rep ranges and relatively long rest periods, breaking down the Type 1 (fast twitch) muscle fibers to strengthen it, and then  with light weights, high rep ranges and shorter rest periods to stimulate growth by breaking down the Type 2 (slow twitch) muscle fibers.

Doug’s Chest Training

According to Starting Strength author Mark Rippetoe, Doug Young was more known for his Bench Press throughout his lifting career, having Benched 612lbs in 1978 with just a t-shirt on, in the 275lbs weight class, making him the first person under 300lbs bodyweight to hit that kind of number.  Doug’s training, as evidenced by the NBC Sports interview segments, were very high volume, which is more akin to Bodybuilding, as alluded to earlier.  In short he started his routine with Bench Press, warming up with singles until he made his targeted weight for two sets of singles, followed by two high rep dropsets.  After that he’d go on to perform multiple isolation moves for the shoulders, triceps and lats such as Front Delt Raises, Lat Pulldowns, Cable Flyes, Tricep Press and even One Arm Concentration Curls for up to six sets of six reps.  Very high volume.

He used a routine containing all these moves to increase his Bench Press by 235lbs within an eight month period.  The big key to this kind of routine was that Doug performed this three times a week, only Squatting every tenth day and Deadlifting every fifteenth day.

Looking back, I feel like Power Bodybuilding is slowly becoming more prevalent today, with Powerlifters such as Dan Green who not only are strong, but undoubtedly look the part with physiques that look more aesthetic than almost any competitive Bodybuilder not named Dexter Jackson!  I think programs such as Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 are also a major part of this movement, with multiple low and high rep ranges per muscle group to stimulate growth, strengthen the muscle, as well as even condition the body because now more and more athletes and lifters are finally aware that strength and even conditioning go hand in hand when it comes to staying in shape.  Big muscles, strong muscles, and little fat.

Here’s Doug Young’s 699lb Squat from the IPF World Championships:

References:

https://www.muscleandperformance.com/training-performance/doug-youngs-bad-ass-bench-press-program-6160?_escaped_fragment_=

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My Visit To Savage City Strength

Hardcore gyms.  Things such as the internet, YouTube, and other forms of social media are known to get lots of flack, sometimes for very good reasons.  Heck, before I made the decision to become a personal trainer I had shunned social media alone for more than two years!  But upon my return to it, along with the start of my Instagram account, I remembered just how easy it was to search for non-commercial, no nonsense, serious gyms run by and for serious lifters who actually want to be strong and even work as hard as it takes to get there.  That’s the problem with hardcore gyms; it’s not that they just don’t exist anymore, you just have to dig deep to find them.

It was around the beginning this year that I was first contacted by Savage City Strength, if memory serves me correct.  I received a comment on one of my pictures and I was told this new gym was opening up soon and I should come see it.  Based on the pictures I saw at that time I was able to see three squat racks and a squat stand under construction.  I looked forward to seeing how things progressed based on that alone.

Over time I saw through Instagram all the gear that came in as the gym opened up, including atlas stones, tires for flipping, kegs, as well as several videos of some really strong deadlifts.  Just a few weeks ago I knew I  desperately needed help with my deadlift form so I contacted Shawn, the owner of Savage City Strength, and I finally made the near hour drive to Hillsborough this past Monday for help, as well as to take a tour.

Upon walking in I finally saw exactly just how much work Shawn put in to the gym.

Walking in I not only saw powerlifting related equipment; I came across a 350lb tire, various kegs and even a sledgehammer for all of your Strongman and conditioning needs.  For those of you unaware, what you see in the bottom picture is a yoke.  You place either your traps or your scapula under the top bar as if you were preparing to perform a squat, lift it up as if you were lifting a bar off a rack, a walk with it.  This is a staple of Strongman competitions as well as a great option for conditioning work.

What you see on the top right is called a Reverse Hyper Extension.  Invented decades ago by Westside Barbell’s own Louie Simmons, he created it as a therapeutic means of opening up the muscles in the lower back after an injury he sustained.  It has since become a staple for most powerlifters alone, as a means of active recovery and can pretty much be found in most specialty gyms.  The top part of the station is bigger than it looks, since you rest your entire upper body on it and hold on to the handles.  I look forward to the day I can finally pull off Tire Deadlifts.  In fact I’ve made a few sketches inspired by the main picture to this site and the plates on the bar are usually replaced by two monster truck size tires per side.  Benni Magnusson style!

Also, available for members is an in-house Brazilian Jujitsu dojo, run by Mike Lazarte who also makes a cameo in my video.  One things that was brought up, that most of the general public no longer seems to understand is that strength and sports skills actually go hand in hand.  In sports, especially one that involves fighting, the overall goal is longevity.  If you don’t take care of your body in the right way to maintain your strength, your shelf life will most likely be about five years before you’re forced to give it up because of an injury that could’ve been avoided.

In our conversation, which I’ll leave the link to at the end of this, Shawn and I spoke about a lot a things before working on my Sumo Deadlift, including his love of all things strength sports, having competed in five Strongman competitions, a few Powerlifting meets and revealed to me his intentions to competed in the Highland Games next year.  He calls himself a “strength enthusiast”, and it’s easy to see.  He has used the gym a base to hold multiple Strongman events for charity over the last few months, including one for the Wounded Warriors Project.  The gym will also host the Strongman Summer Blowout on August 27th, with the proceeds going to benefit the Special Olympics.

Upon beginning my workout Shawn told me that the main problem he saw in the video I tagged him in was that I wasn’t sitting low enough, which actually might explain why my hip flexors were in so much pain afterwards.  So we started off light, with reps of 5, then to triples, then to singles, until I completely burned out at 365lbs for a single.  Very disappointing, being that the goal was to get me into the 400’s.  The next move was to lower the weight to 200lbs and Shawn placed 60lb resistance bands on both sides of the platform to work on my explosiveness and hip mobility.  This assistance work that followed was 3 sets of 40lb Kettlebell Swings for ten reps, which were surprisingly easy for me.

The Sumo Deadlift workout:

135lbs – 1 x 5

185lbs – 1 x 5

225lbs – 1 x 3

275lbs – 1 x 3

315lbs – 1 x 3

335lbs – single

365lbs – a failed attempt, followed by a single, followed by one last failed attempt

200lbs + resistance bands – ten singles

Kettlebell Swings

40bs – 3 x 10, 10, 10

The Swings will most likely replaced Hanging Knee Raises as my assistance exercise from here on in.

Savage City Strength is everything you’d want in a serious, hardcore gym.  It caters to all serious styles of strength related sports, holds enough diversity to branch outside and introduce the community to a fantastic, cerebral style of self defense.  If you live anywhere in Central Jersey, and want all of this, run by someone with a passion and understanding of what we stand for, and all at an alarmingly low price, do yourself a favor and visit Savage City Strength today.

Savage City

Here’s the interview:

Savage City Strength:

216 Highway 206 Hillsborough, NJ 08844

On Instagram: @savagecitystrength

https://www.savagecitystrengthnj.com/

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The Three Things I Wish I Knew Upon Entering The Fitness World

Hey there!  Been a short while since I last wrote in here, work got in the way.  But now that I’m free for the next two months I hope to get a few more of these in.  So lately I’ve been reflecting on my journey from novice wannabe bodybuilder to wanting to be as big as possible to becoming a budding competitive powerlifter.  There were so many bumps in the road, and fourteen years is a long time to get anything right, especially when you are your own worst enemy.  I’ve been thinking lately about what I’ve done wrong and how I could’ve done things differently to get to where I am now even sooner.  So here before you are a few things I wish I knew so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

3. Listen To Your Body

This is a bit of a hard one because some of you out there reading this might not know what to look for and most problems are bound to vary based on the person.  That being said, this goes out to those with undiagnosed conditions or those that are new to training.  Regardless of the goals of you, the reader, there is a major difference between an amateur just starting out and a professional.  The professional knows his body.  The professional has taken the time over a good amount of years figured out what exercises, how many sets and rep schemes work for him.  He’s also taken the time if he’s gotten hurt to figure out how and why he got hurt, as well as come up with a plan to make sure he never makes that mistake again.

This is called a Subjective Evaluation and if done right it will work in your favor.  When you evaluate yourself subjectively, the results are endless because the primary source of feedback is yourself and your inner thoughts.  That’s what differentiates this style of evaluation from an Objective Evaluation, in which the primary feedback source is someone else.  That person’s response to you is absolute because they just know what they see.  They can’t read the constant flow of thoughts in your mind or physically feel the changes in your body like you can.  You can bench press 315lbs for just one rep right now and struggle to the point that you think you’re not going to make it.  But as far as your spotter is concerned, he might tell you that from his point of view that your execution was perfect.

This is what makes Subjectivity so unique.  You’re in charge of everything.  Is the weight too heavy?  Is it too light?  Do you feel the movement?  Are you short of breath after a set?  During it?  Do you feel pain – by which I mean joint pain, not muscle soreness?  Did you make sure that the right weights are set up on both sides of the bar?  One great thing you can do for yourself is, if you’re already tracking your progress, be sure to write down anything usual that might occur during your training session, so that way you can take steps to prevent it from happening next time.  I made this mistake so many times during my time training in Bally Total Fitness.  Not long before I finally started learning how to program my lifts I would just go in their with a very broad plan and I’d wing it from there.  It’s not productive at all when you Cable Row 70lbs for 3 sets of 10 one week and then you’re doing it again the next week because you completely forgot that you already rowed that weight just last week.  Well, that’s exactly what happened to me.

Which brings me to one last thing before I go to number 2 on the list.  No matter what see in the gym, no matter what your hero’s do in magazines or online, lift only weights you can handleThere’s a fine line between what you see and the truth.  And even bodybuilders will tell you that while they may be lifting heavy weights for photo shoots, it’s not usually the way they train at all.  If they trained at their heaviest all the time, wouldn’t they injure themselves just as frequently?  Also, you must understand that what works for them does not work for you.  Just because there are videos of Ronnie Coleman dumbbell bench pressing 210lbs doesn’t mean you’ll be able to.  He was able to hit ten reps.  Could you?  Never lift for ego.  Never lift to impress anyone and never perform an exercise at a certain weight if you don’t feel the exercise affecting the desired bodyparts in the right way.  Regardless of your goals you still want to feel the eccentric movement of a lift and you still want to feel the contractions, especially if your goal is bodybuilding.  This finally brings me to number 2 on the list.

2. Learn How To Program

This was one of my biggest problems for years and I wish every day that I could turn back time to 2003 and start over again with the knowledge I have now.  If you are truly serious about improving your body you must have a strategy.  Oh sure, I might’ve known to split my days by bodyparts but I had no clue as to how to arrange the amount of sets required, how many reps to do, how long to rest in between sets, or even the appropriate exercises to suit my goals.  Forget any of that – I was too intimidated by barbells for years to understand that all I had to do was perform for basic, compound lifts to get as strong as I wanted to be!

I really wish I could go back and truly research the right ways to get strong as well as take the time to break down anything that might’ve gone over my head.  My father had written out a whole beginner’s workout just for me but the concept of performing a full body workout three times a week just terrified me.  Funny enough, Bodybuilding.com had just been created the same year I began training, yet I was completely unaware of it’s existence until five years later.  YouTube was still two years away and I never thought to just do anything online research.

But if there’s one important piece of advice I can give it’s this.  You must stick to the basics if you truly want strength and size.  No matter your gender, or goals, no fad routine or BOSU ball exercise will compare to barbell movements such like the Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift and Overhead Press.  I’ll probably discuss this all another time, but as I mentioned earlier these are all compound, multijoint movements that don’t “just” train the targeted area, but they also indirectly train the surrounding ones as well.  as a quick example, since I just performed the Overhead Press this morning: Yes, the move is meant to train your shoulders, but you also need your triceps to help push the bar over your head as well as keep your abs nice and tight to keep yourself stable.  You do those things correctly then how could they also not be positively affected?  I’ll say right now that I’ve probably gotten more triceps growth from doing multiple pressing sets than an isolation move like a triceps pushdown every time.

1. Never Fear Your Fellow Gym Goers! 

You probably have heard quite a bit that the clientele in most gyms isn’t quite favorable.  It could be those knuckleheaded Planet Fitness commercials for one thing.  You know the ones!

It could also be articles you read in magazines and even online, virtually demonizing serious lifters in the same way a politically biased news channel will go ahead and demonize a politician on the opposing party, saying we’re loud, arrogant, hogging the weights and judgmental..as if that Planet Fitness commercial isn’t judgmental at all.  Right?

To say I was apprehensive about entering a gym for the first time in April 2003 would be a major understatement.  Just a month and a half away from turning nineteen and I was virtually bone thin.  I very rarely did anything active at that point, I didn’t know a thing about eating right, and I stayed out or at least up late a lot (like most college kids!).  To exacerbate matters, I was under serious depression, still reeling from my first girlfriend breaking up with me months earlier and I was in fear.  Lots of it.  It had been nearly a year since I left high school hell and I had yet to fully comprehend that, for the most part, college was a completely different animal.

Needless to say, I had lots of anxiety upon walking in for the first time and I did very little, making sure I was in no one’s way.  That’s no way for anyone to train.  But that was just day one.  Nut something strange slowly started to happen as time went on.  The more I showed my face at the gym, and the more I tried different things, the more random people started to approach me and kindly offer advice on how to perform my exercises better, as well as why they were more effective with the tweaks they were showing me.  I’m open to anyone giving me advice so long as I can sense they mean well; but this was happening every time someone came up to me.

It opened up my eyes to the world outside of what I knew and was seemly conditioned to accept.  Within months I found myself being approached by someone in the gym who just happened to know that I played drums and asked me to audition for his band.  Even after it didn’t work out between us I still managed to become gym buddies with him and his other friend.  When that friend saw me struggling with all my might with preacher cable curls he immediately commented in his Barbados accent: “You have the heart.  You have the desire.  You should come here more often man!”.  Around that same time I found myself talking with the woman who held on to ID cards at the front of the weight room.  Fourteen years later she’s one of my best friends…and literally one of the only friends I have left.  If you told me in 2003 that I’d meet one of my best friends in a place I figured for sure was filled with jerks my response wouldn’t be too kind.

In fourteen years I’ve only come across two people who were absolutely out of line in the gym.  But small problems aside, I’ve come to learn over time that the gym promotes more of or at least as much of a sense of community as anywhere that caters to any other hobby or even workplace environment.  I’ll talk about some of those people in detail in another article, but in short I’ve found that the ones who visually are the most intimidating are actually some of the kindest, most giving people I’ve ever come across in 33 years.  Regardless of whether the gym in question was a hardcore gym or even a commercial gym, these guys are always willing to lend a hand and ready to offer any advice that could help you succeed.

So remember this, no matter what you read in magazines or online, no matter your social fears, don’t be afraid to accept or ask anyone for help.  The cardinal sin for a serious lifter, regardless of his or her goals, is that they are so dedicated that they are that willing to sacrifice most of their lives just to improve on themselves.  But never fear that.  Spend a day or two with someone willing to take you under their wing and you might find their work ethic rubbing off on you!

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to follow me here on WordPress for updates on upcoming blogs.  Please be sure to also follow me in Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube!

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Photo Credit for Main Picture: http://philmullins.fitness/fitness-mentoring/

 

Success, Humility, Brotherhood, And New Goals: The RPS Jersey Rumble. May 20th, 2017.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I competed in the RPS Jersey Rumble, and I regret having taken so long to write about it because I definitely have a lot to talk about here!  It was a day of success, it was a day of reunions, it was a day of brotherhood.  But to balance it out of course, it was the day I suffered my first defeats up on the platform.  It was also a day in which I chose to take a major subjective look at myself to see how I could make sure this didn’t happen again…at least for a while, anyway.

So arrived at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Newark, NJ maybe half an hour before the weigh-ins began at 11am.  I woke up that morning weighing approximately 175.2lbs, which was fine because I competed in the 181lb weight class for the first time, but after eating a big breakfast of four scrambled eggs, flank steak seasoned with garlic salt and an English muffin, I now weighed 179.8lbs, a good 2.2lbs before breaking the threshold into the next weigh class!

Since I was literally the first person to be weighed in I had a good hour to kill before my group, Session B, was to be given the rules.  So I watched Session A, which was the women and juniors (under 18) and some of the women alone impressed me very much.  I don’t know that women alone get enough credit for even attempting to lift in this style, let alone compete.

IMG_20170520_133024828

Since I can’t upload raw videos on here at the moment, here’s a still frame of one woman pulling 245lbs for her final attempt.  That’s incredible.  For those of you who might not know, women generally carry less muscle and more fat than men.  Not only that, but I spoke to this woman for a few seconds after she was done and she told me that this was her first ever meet.  It had me thinking of her potential, as 245 is a lot for most women, thinking that as long as she keeps working she’ll be hitting 300 in no time.

During this hour I ran into two absolutely incredible lifters that I met at last year’s Jersey Rumble, Eric Chase and PJ Santa Teresa.  PJ, who trains at Garden State Barbell in South Jersey and won 1st place in the 198lb weight class for the Open Division last year, was now gunning for a 600lb Deadlift and a total that would get him out of the Amateur ranks and into the Pro ranks.  He made me laugh when he said that after he hits Pro he’s going to give up Powerlifting.  Yeah PJ, whatever you say bro.  Eric, on the other hand, suffered an unfortunate mishap doing Leg Presses and injured his knees, prompting him to back out of Squatting and treat this as a “Push-Pull” meet.  In a “Push-Pull” style meet you’re only Benching and Deadlifting.

 

 

 

                                 

 

Ah, my buddy the monolift.  This thing looks so hardcore and I wish I could lift under it more often, especially as the weights get heavier.  I also am absolutely in love with the 65lb bars they provide.  The thickness is incredible.  Once you put on of these on your scapula they’re not slipping off any time soon, believe me!  After I drank my first bottle of C4 I began my squat warmups, working in with a few guys, which is always great when you’re using a monolift because you can lift while another guy unlocks and unlocks the hooks.  If you’re in New Jersey and looking for a gym that provides such an awesome machine, you can try Skiba’s Gym in Carteret, Apollon Gym in Edison, and Strong And Shapely in Rutherford to name a few.

Having used the Powerlifting template for Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 for over a year I brought my squat up to 305lbs for a single a good week before the meet, making me feel confident about going a little a above my calculated 1RM of 315lbs for my final attempt.  My opening and second attempts, 280lbs and 305lbs respectively, felt fast enough that I decided to go for 330lbs as my third attempt.  Could I do it?  As I’m waiting for the spotters to finish loading up the bar, I’m starring at it with a very Doug Young – like intensity.  Compared to last year I was considerably more serious here; where I was intentionally aiming as low as I could last year, this was the meet were I was beginning to challenge myself.  Much like Doug was notorious for doing I began psyching myself up by growling…although his growl was way more terrifying.  I hear the command to squat and I felt just a little bit of struggle once I went down, “UUUPPPP!!!!” I yelled as loud as I could and I finished pushing that bar back up!  Did I get it?  All three green lights – and a new PR!!

                                                         330lb Squat – new meet PR!!!

It was a great confidence booster, making me feel like I would experience the same amount of luck during the Bench and Deadlift portions.  I’d sadly be wrong, for it was during the Bench Press that it all started going downhill.  Due to circumstances beyond my control the strap for my shoulder bag broke recently, forcing me to carry it my the handle, which doesn’t seem like a big deal on paper.  But the constant stress of weight on one side of your body does take it’s toll on your shoulder joints after a while, and sadly my shoulders were just wrecked going into this.  I now know that I had what is called Bicep Tendinopathy.  Medscape describes Bicep Tendinopathy as “pain and tenderness in the region of the biceps tendon. The biceps musculotendinous junction is particularly susceptible to overuse injuries, especially in individuals performing repetitive lifting activities.”

To make this part as painless for myself as possible, I was hoping to at least bench 180lbs as a final attempt, a twenty pound jump from last year.  But after my first and second attempts of 150lbs and 160lbs, the pain had become too much and I decided that I’d rather take a small, incremental hop, as it were, than risk injuring myself before I could Deadlift.  But sadly, I couldn’t even move a measly 170lbs off my chest, making this the first red lighted attempt of the night and my short career.

I was down, but I now had plenty of time to eat and rest before it was time for me to prepare for Deadlifts, where I was to face my biggest challenge yet, a 420lb Deadlift with a calculated 1RM of 405lbs.  I made sure I took in Gatorade and a lot of sodium via Kirkland (The Costco brand) Beef Jerky and Kettle Potato Chips.  I actually want to write an article on the benefits of sodium soon but in short, sodium is dependent upon but many important amino acids to even function, regulates muscle contraction functions and even replenishes electrolytes – just like Gatorade does.    

The Deadlift portion of the meet started around 7:45pm, significantly earlier than last year, until I looked at the flight sheet and realized that there were at lot less people there just for benching.  During last year’s rumble there were literally more people there for Benching both Raw and Geared than for any of the other lifts, meaning I sure as hell wasn’t leaving that night until around 11pm!  My first two attempts were 355lbs and 385lbs, respectively.  In fact the main picture for this post is of my 385lb pull.  It seemed a tad more difficult but I still felt confident enough to pull 420lbs, so I asked for it as my final attempt.  I made sure I had an ammonia cap ready for when I was called up.  So many emotions swimming through me while I was waiting to be called; nervousness, excitement, fear – of injury!, anxiousness to just get it over with already.

So as my name was called I stood at the bar, my hair no longer pulled back, almost as if I was trying to channel Dan Green for all I knew, sniffing an ammonia cap, desperately hoping for the same effect it gave me last year.  A few screams and deep breaths later I positioned myself and off I went!

See this moment right here?  Right here is where I unexpectedly got stuck.  I tried everything I could think of to will myself up, but in the end I found myself dropping the bar, a major no-no.  Regardless of that however, it was my second red lighted attempt of the evening, and the end to my night.  That fear and anxiety I felt earlier had now turned into depression…and then into a very intense anger.  As I slammed my Inzer Forever belt on the floor all I wanted to do was walk out and go home.  I was feeling violent.  I trained so hard for this moment.  How could have this happened?  There is no way I alone could’ve messed this up!!

Until I took several deep breaths and asked my girlfriend to show me the video she made of the failed attempt and there it was, right in front of me.  My hips shot up too early, before I even lifted the bar off the ground.  That mistake right there is bound to undo anyone’s form and is a clear sign that I wasn’t tight enough.  That was enough to humble me for the night and make me rethink my training for the future because there now was no question that I let my nervousness take away from my concentration.

But if there was one moment I won’t forget it was my reunion with Henri Skiba, who’s gym I mentioned earlier.  A few posts ago I mentioned that it was Henri to told me over the phone that if I keep waiting to compete I never would.  I caught him as he and I were both watching PJ hit a Deadlift meet PR of 550lbs.  I reminded him of who I was and he seemed genuinely flattered after I told him that he’s one of the reasons I finally found the courage to sign up for a meet.  Let this be a lesson to all of you, that sometimes all takes is someone nudging you to get the ball rolling, regardless of what you do in your life.  The rest, however, is up to you.  I hope to train with him again this summer when I have off from work.

So, where do I go from here?  As of today, not including the day of the meet, I haven’t trained in three weeks and I will finally be going back tomorrow.  I think the time off has been very beneficial to my physical well being; I bought a new Under Armour strap bag to carry to work, giving my shoulders much needed relief and a chance to heal up, my knees aren’t hurting any more, and I’ve had a chance to enjoy life a bit more.  I’ve also had the chance to reevaluate my approach to training and I’ve decided that I must focus on my Deadlift technique if I want to lift heavier.  One thing to remember is that strength is a skill, and therefore technique is everything.  I clearly am able to rip more than 400lbs off the ground, but if my setup isn’t worked on then I shouldn’t expect to finish the movement any time soon.  Also, for the sake of my chest and shoulders especially, I’m going to make my training more size focused.  I still am going to train using 5/3/1, but the template I’ll be using is his much praised Boring But Big template, in which you follow your standard 5/3/1 sets with the same exercise at 40, 50, or 60% of your 1RM for 5×10, followed by assistance work for the opposing/antagonist muscle group, also for 5×10.  It clearly gets more technical and I hope to discuss this more in another post when I can.

So to finish this of I want to reiterate something I mentioned in another post.  So why did I choose Powerlifting?  This particular night reminded me of exactly why.  More that just training in a gym, more than bros just raining their chests and arms, Powerlifting, to me embodies the most important things in life, self-improvement, companionship and the brotherhood I had looking for virtually my whole life.  When I feel let down by the rest of the world, all it takes is a barbell and friends cheering me on to bring me right back up.

My Stats for RPS Jersey Rumble 2017

Squat: 280, 305, 330

Bench Press: 150, 160, 170 (failed attempt)

Deadlift: 355, 385, 420 (failed attempt)

Total: 875

You can now click here if you’d rather watch instead on read!

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The link to Medscape’s definition of Bicep Tendinopathy:

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/327227-overview

All About Your First Powerlifting Meet Pt.2

Hey there and welcome to Pt. 2 of this little minseries, geared toward all things preparing for your initiation into the Powerlifting family!  In the previous post we talked a bit about why we do what we do, our all around positive attitudes toward everyone regardless of their strength/performance levels, as well as a brief yet simple run through on how to choose a federation that provides you with a comfortable environment, regardless of your goals.  If you’ve not read it yet you can now do so by clicking here:

https://unitedinstrength.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/all-about-your-first-powerliftiing-meet-pt-1/

Otherwise, we’re now going to go into a bit of detail about the essentials.

How To Pack For A Powerlifting Meet

It may seem simple but it can be a little complicated it you don’t read between the lines in your chosen’s fed’s rules and bylaws.  But let’s go over the basic requirements first.

  • Singlet – this is required by all federations.  These are usually the same singlets you ‘ll find high school, collegiate and Olympic wrestlers wearing.  However there are singlets that are made specifically for Powerlifting and are approved by the IPF and are available for just under $40 on Amazon.  You don’t necessarily have to buy a brand name singlet, also most are just as cheap.  Even if your fed has sponsors you can just have a plain color singlet (or man teddy, as my girlfriend calls it) and off you go.  In fact I just bought a plain black singlet in a large before my first meet last year; it’s was probably the simplest of anyone’s singlets, but it still got the job done.
  • Shirts – it’s most likely a requirement in every fed that you must wear a t-shirt for your Squat and Bench Press attempts, but it won’t be a requirement for the Deadlift.  The two most important things you need to know is that your shirt must usually stop before the elbows and unless you’re really good at covering it up your shirt(s) cannot have any profanity on them.  Even if your fed isn’t the USAPL/IPF there are some feds, such as RPS, that pride themselves on promoting a family environment so their tolerance for things like that is pretty low.  You might also want to bring a few extras along incase you’re one of those people who sweat a lot.  Just saying.
  • Socks – this may seems like a no brainer here but believe it or not some feds actually don’t require you to wear long, calf length socks for your Deadlift attempts.  IPF does, obviously.  But RPS doesn’t and neither does USPA.  In fact, when Gene Rychlak, the meet director/fed owner read us the rules he flat out told us that if we scrapped up our knees to the point of bleeding, “no big deal, we’ll just clean it up, pour some bleach on the bar, on to the next lifter”.  Ew!  I think I’ll wear socks…thanks…
  • Footwear – so long as you have shoes at the meet the style you wear, whether they are Chuck Taylors, Wrestling shoes, Olympic style with the raised heel, etc., is up to you.  You can wear slippers for the Deadlift, however.  This can get just a bit dicey though based on how you position your feet when you Bench Press, however.  Some people tend to keep their entire foot on the floor after they arch and some won’t.  But some feds will require that your entire foot stays on the floor, as a friend of mine explained to me as he was preparing for his USAPL debut back in December.  So, my recommendation here is that if you feel more comfortable benching with your feet raised and your fed doesn’t allow that, you can simply just get yourself a pair of Olympic style shoes.  Adidas makes plenty of great shoes like that, as does even Nike!
  • Belt – if you’re reading this and are new to the sport, please please PLEASE make sure you get yourself a quality leather belt that’s one length all the way around.  That means do not get one of those cheap belts they sell at sporting good stores – I made that mistake years ago.  I wonder why those belts are even being made still; they may be generally aimed towards bodybuilders but I wouldn’t even recommend it for them!
  • Underwear – one more time, read your federation guidelines and make sure you ask questions.  Some feds will make you wear tighey whiteys, no ifs, ands, or butts (see what I did there?).  Yeah, I know.  Some will let you wear compression briefs but again you need to check and make sure.

In getting your basic requirements together please remember that some federations will check your bag(s) upon your arrival to make sure your gear meets their standards.  The following items from here on in can be thought of as a survival kit for the day.  Remember, you’re here anywhere from a few hours to the whole day so make sure you’re prepared:

 

  • Knee Sleeves – these are acceptable in all feds.  Just make sure they’re the right size so you can put them on/take them off with efficiency.  Also remember that some feds do have sponsors so if you’re lifting for that particular fed make sure your sleeves are sponsor approved, as with all other gear.
  • Wrist Wraps – these are allowed in all feds.  Just make sure that they stop short of your palms.  Of course, read all your fed guidelines before you do anything.
  • Foam Roller – always bring a foam roller with you.  Me and my foam roller?  We be tight son!  We’re bros for life.  The foam roller is a highly recommended tool for both pre and post-workout use, meant to loosen the muscles and open up key parts of your body, areas such as your Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex and your Thoracic Spine.  I don’t have time to get in all the ways you can use a foam roller in this post but in short, if you’ve never used one before you’d probably benefit from investing in one.  You’d also greatly benefit from taking one with you to the meet.  Think about it; depending on your fed and meet location you’ll be at the event anywhere for a few hours to virtually an entire day, and you’ll be performing three lifts with three attempts per lift with short to long stretches in between.  You want to be able to loosen yourself up before you even begin your Squat warmups, you’ll want it to loosen up again after you finish for the night, and you’ll definitely want it around if you feel something get tight and even knotted up somewhere in between.  You’ll thank me later.  😉
  • Food – first off, make sure you eat a nice, big breakfast before you go anywhere.  I’m talking four or five scrambled eggs and a flank steak, with an English muffin or home fries for carbs.  Upon my departure I brought with me three bottles of water along with two nutrient dense protein smoothies I made at home so I could avoid spending any money at the hotel.  Of course, you can do whatever you want with your money.  I also knew that there was no restaurants of any kind in sight where I was going.  Make sure to pack a few protein bars with you and if you’re like me and you depend in pre-workout to get through your lifts – take it with you!!  It’s also recommended that you bring with drinks that contain electrolytes, especially if you sweat a lot.  Gatorade comes to mind.
  • Liniment or Icy Hot – I’ve not had this issue yet but you might find yourself in a spot where you’re just that sore, where not even a foam roller or lacrosse ball can help you.  So your next best bet might be to take some Icy Hot and just lather yourself in it, as least until you get home and take a nice, cold shower.  That’s right, I said cold!
  • Smelling Salts – these come in various forms, such as nose tork or even Ammonia capsules, which were very useful to me in my first meet.  In either form these are a mix of various chemicals that release a small Ammonia gas.  This gas irritates the vessels in your nose, causing a rush of oxygen to the brain.  The use of such items goes all the way back to the days of the medieval barber-surgeon, so you could only imagine how potent it is as a nice wake up if you’re feeling very tired or close to unconsciousness.  I didn’t touch any though, until I knew I really needed it, that point being my final Deadlift attempt, which took place after 10pm.  So if your meet takes place anywhere other than a gym, it might be something to consider because you’ll clearly be stuck for a while.

showtime                                            showtime-3

How To Train For Your First Meet

This is not necessarily the post for me to get into various powerlifting routines, for I have no right to assume I know your strength level.  You might be a beginner but for all I know you could be an intermediate or even an advanced lifter.  Hey look, a friend of mine who trains in my gym just flawlessly pulled 455lbs for the first time last week at a bodyweight of only 155lbs and without any kind of belt yet he’s never competed.  But regardless of your strength levels and your abilities I will tell you that in the month leading to your meet you must take great responsibility with your body.  You need to have the discipline to start restraining yourself and your workouts.  If you have a particular rep scheme that you use for the main lifts, stick to them and do not do any more than what’s prescribed.  You should also cut down on most if not all assistance work if you’re even doing any.  The focus from here on in is the three lifts.  One week out, I wouldn’t do any lifting at all.  I’d use the week to foam roll as much as I can for the sake of keeping my mobility, perhaps take a nice, brisk walk outside for light cardio, and use the rest of that time to pack your bag(s) and make sure you have everything you need.  If you have to drive a little bit out of your way you definitely don’t want to do anything hold off anything until the last minute.

I also have here a great link from Heavy Sports that goes into detail about what I just discussed as well as how to warm up for your lifts once you arrive at the meet.  You can read it here:

http://www.heavysports.com/emag/curtdennis/meetprep.html

In Conclusion

So here before you is a short list of all the essentials you’ll need to survive your first ever Powerlifting meet, along with ways to physically prepare as well.  You’re aim here is to make sure you’re both emotionally and physically prepared to do your best and have a lot of fun while doing so.  As I stated in Part 1, you’re going to meet a lot of great people, witness some amazing feats of strength, and have plenty of fun.  If you’re reading this and you’re already preparing for your first competition I wish you the best of luck and hope this article and it’s predecessor are helpful.  If you’re thinking about, think no further.  Just do it and I promise you won’t regret it.  Get ready for an amazing ride and welcome to the family!

Thanks for reading!  Please feel free to leave a comment or message me with any questions.  You can also find me more frequently on Instagram and Tumblr.

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All About Your First Powerliftiing Meet Pt. 1

If you’re reading this blog right now then chances are you might be thinking about competing in your first Powerlifting competition.  Is this you?  Yeah?  Great!  Congratulations!  As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing more primitive, more macho, more exhilarating than putting your maximum strength to the test.  I used to play in bands and not even being on stage was anywhere near as exciting as feeling the support of several hundred people cheering me on while I was on that platform for the first time just last May…which actually brings me to the first portion of this topic.

Fear Of Failure

Let’s face it; if there’s at least one factor holding anyone back from trying anything new it’s definitely the fear of not getting it right the first time and, in some cases, even being judged for it.  It’s not fun, the feeling that everyone’s looking right at you – even if they aren’t.  It’s sadly a feeling I know all too well as someone who’s anxious all the time.  Well, I am here to tell all of you reading this that you have absolutely nothing to fear. 

In fact, if there’s one thing I learned from my initial meet experience last May, it’s that it feels so much more like a family and brother/sisterhood than a competition.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many amazing people I met that day.   It truly felt like the single biggest support system I’d ever been a part of since I first entered a gym fourteen years ago this month, with lifters allowing me to pic their brains for tips and advice, as well as everyone rooting for each other, regardless of who did or didn’t go home without a trophy.  It was all about everyone coming out to bring out the best in one another.  It’s truly a beautiful experience.

Also, one of the things that held me back from entering my first competition for years was that I was under the impression that I’d have to be able to lift a particular number per lift in order to even qualify for anything.  My mentality?  “If you aren’t there to break a record, they don’t want to know you.  Period”.  And since I was unaware for years that I’m asthmatic, I could only lift so much before my lungs waved the proverbial white flag and I was forced to failure every time.  A total confidence downer.  I owe a lot to Henri Skiba of Skiba’s Gym in Carteret, NJ for adjusting my mindset completely two summers ago.  I contacted him about checking out his gym and as soon as I expressed my concerns he immediately cut me off and told me “What you lift is irrelevant!  You can lift anything you want.  So why don’t you just enter one?  If you don’t do it now you never will.”

If you don’t do it now you never will.

Wow.  I’ve been told that so many times in the past and it’s definitely the perfect moto to live by.  And he was absolutely right.  I was 31, I let the opportunity pass me by in my 20’s and I could not live with myself if I let it go any further.  So how did I overcome my fears before even walking into the ballroom of the Ramada Plaza Hotel last May for my long awaited first meet?  Believe it or not, all I did was treat it like another day in the gym, only this time everybody was gunning for a PR and we were all there to psyche each other up.  Of course, not everyone might be able to do the same.  But just know this: if you go ahead and enter in for your first meet you’ll be on track to starting a new journey with many memories and many new friendships made along the way.  So what are you waiting for??

How To Choose A Federation

Image result for ipf logo   Image result for uspa logo   Image result for usapl logo       

Alright, you’ve made the decision to join the ever growing family.  Welcome aboard!  So here comes the somewhat difficult part – finding the right fed and meet for you.  There are a few ways to go; you can go the way of the gold medal, you can go the way of looking for sponsors, you can go the cash route because some feds do offer cash prizes, or you can just lift for fun and what happens…..happens.  Here’s a great website for you to do some research on federations:

http://www.powerliftingwatch.com/

If you choose to check the site out, simply scroll down a bit and their federation directory will be on the left side.  There are a lot of great federations based on your preferred route including USA Powerlifting (USAPL) – the American affiliate to the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), The United States Powerlifting Association (USPA), Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate (RPS), the fed I’m lifting for next month and was brought to my attention two years ago by my friend and mentor Matt, Southern Powerlifting Federation (SPF), and many more.  Make sure you read each federation’s rules and bylaws, especially when it comes to acceptable/unacceptable equipment, and requirements in regards to what is considered a good lift and what can be red lighted, as some feds – especially the IPF (and therefore the USAPL) – are very strict with that.

What’s most important, more than anything else, is that you pick a fed and meet that makes you feel the most comfortable.  Believe me when I tell you environment is everything.  In fact, in a 2014 interview with Power Magazine, Powerlifter and coach Chris Della Fave stated that the reason he chose not to lift for IPF was because to him just attending one of their meets alone felt like being at a funeral, and most likely because it’s so quiet.  No music allowed during those meets.  None.  And I can totally related because I love Heavy Metal and RPS was mostly blasting that’s music alone and even used Iron Maiden’s Ed Hunter mascot in their banners.  It was totally the vibe I needed that day!  So, my personal advice is that you pick a meet that’s local and caters to beginning lifters, such as RPS.  That way you don’t have to stress so much about travel time and such.  Also, with something a little more simple, you’ll have an opportunity to get a feel for the event itself without the pressures that usually go hand in hand with high stakes competition.  Take it all in, it’s an incredible experience.

I will address how to prepare for your first meet as well as how to pack for it in Part 2 of this topic to come soon.  Thanks for reading and please feel free to message me with any questions or comments.

You can also find me on Instagram and Tumblr.

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Iron And The Soul by Henry Rollins

Around seven years ago, possibly around this time, I discovered Iron And The Soul, this incredible, well written article by Henry Rollins.  Upon reading it I was absolutely stunned to see how much I could relate to it, especially the many moments of fear, self loathing, weakness, anxiety, depression, lack of hope in life itself.  However, I thankfully was also able to relate to the ability to find solace in weight training, and that the fact that I somehow was able to learn so much about myself and what I want to be.  So why am I talking about it?  Because I’m positive that all of you reading this right now can absolutely relate to something in this article.  I like to preach that if I can do it so can you and what I love about Iron And The Soul is that Henry is pretty much preaching the same thing.  It’s amazing that at the time of the article’s original release, Henry was willing to expose what he was really thinking underneath his macho, tattooed exterior, that there was more to him than the fact that he was once the frantic lead singer for  Black Flag.  So, if you’re reading this for the first time, sit back, relax, and see if there’s something you can take home from this.  I dedicate this to my hardcore brothers in the Iron game, and to everyone fighting for direction in their lives, this is for you.  So without further delay, I bring you Iron And The Soul.

Iron And The Soul by Henry Rollins

I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself.

Completely.

When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me “garbage can” and telling me I’d be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn’t run home crying, wondering why.

I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

I hated myself all the time.

As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn’t going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you’ll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn’t think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no.

He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn’t even drag them to my mom’s car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn’t want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say s–t to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr.Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn’t see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone.

It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

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