I learned two important lessons during my powerlifting days that were critical to my development.
First, you should know that I came into the sport raw, immature and injured. My spine and spirit were banged up like hell after a decade of American football. I didn’t want to keep up that fight anymore. But more to the point, I felt static and wayward.
On a team of 105 players aged 18-22 years, there wasn’t much room for self-discovery.
Powerlifting was only intended to be therapy at the start. I had a few lumbar disks that had blown-out and left my back wobbly and riddled with pain. I was a physical and emotional mess at the time, but I can recall clarity around one and only one point.
“I will not accept the pain meds. I won’t accept the sentence that these Docs and Therapists are hanging over my head. I just need to make my back super-duper strong. If I can do that, this injury won’t matter anymore.”
I got there.
If you are dealing with a significant injury you have to gather as much medical advice as possible. However, you have to also understand that the only person in control of your fate is you. It’s always your decision.
My approach to that initial therapy 13 years ago isn’t at all different than what I would recommend now:
- Resolve pain and stabilize the affected area.
- Move through a full range of motion as soon as possible and often, pain permitting.
- Reintroduce training stress very, very slowly. Your first priority is executing the lifts with perfect form, then with speed. Once that is accomplished you can slowly add load and intensity, but from now on just know that there’s a premium on quality. You’ll get stronger by lifting better.\
- Once your key barbell work is wrapped, place a heavy focus on drilling your weaknesses with special assistance exercises. For my back, there’s no way of tallying all of the back raises, reverse-hyper extensions and sit-up reps I performed. By the time I was feeling strong again I was doing 5-10 sessions of this targeting work every week.
- Crank the load back up!
Once healed up, I was able to ascend from broken ball-player to national level record holder in about 1 year. That high quality approach wore down the raw edges and taught me how to work hard and efficiently for my results.
It made me truly strong for the very first time.
Lesson #1: No one is going to hand you anything, even when you get hurt. Make your own magic, and do not accept any prescribed fate. Work with both great attention and intention if you want amazing results and great effect.
As you might already notice, this is a lesson for barbells and for life. Master it and you’ll do better all over. The second lesson is much the same.
I’ll just start that point by telling you what you already should know – Nothing lasts forever. Be ready when the call for change comes. Be ready to quit what you love!
Just like in football, I stayed around the sport of powerlifting for about a decade. It was enough, that’s all I can say. For maximum effect you have to attack your training with extreme focus. You’re primary aim in this reality must be careful progression, efficient recovery, and complete diligence under the barbell.
Understand that if you’re pushing as hard as you should, it means you won’t be able to keep up the journey forever. That’s a big time problem for many athletes. They invest so much effort into these goals, pretty soon they feel as though they can’t or shouldn’t graduate from it.
That’s probably the best word to use here. At some point all of your hard work will lead to a graduation moment.
Lesson #2: When you know the time is right to walk away from something, do it. You cannot move on unless you let go of what you have. Take the lessons forward and apply them to something better, bigger, harder.
Because I moved on from the sport I’m able to look back and appreciate everything that it taught me. You can’t do that when you’re still in the middle of the fight, you know? It’s hard to see.
Here’s what I can tell you. In the end all the PR’s won’t count for much. It might get hard to remember the records, the competitions, all that. But some things will draw into sharper and sharper focus, like this final note…
Real progress isn’t about holding on to something for as long as possible. It’s really more about letting go so that you can move on to your next great challenge. When in doubt, move forward.
- Need a proven system for building size and strength? Check out Underground Strength Evolution by Zach Even-esh.
- Want to learn more about effective strength progression? Don’t miss episode 148 of Barbell Shrugged.
- If you need to improve your weightlifting specifically, check out our free training webinar HERE.
I love this article.
Literally a great how to in terms of getting involved and finding ways to stay involved. I got into strength after having to accept I was in denial about how unhealthy I was after two knee reconstructions. I hid behind the idea of being a hockey player even though I took horrible care of myself. Strength sports knocked that denial out of me and held me accountable.
Phenomenal Article. Thanks a lot.
Thanks for reading.
Dammit that was a great closing line