Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lessons Learned Part II - Comfort is your enemy

I had a conversation a while back with a guy I have helped with training quite a bit over the years.  He expressed to me his frustration with his lack of strength increases in the past few years.

"I don't know why my strength hasn't moved.  I can't even get back to where I was before, like two years ago."

"Maybe you're at your ceiling for strength right now because of your size?"

"Well I don't want to get fat."

"You don't have to get fat, but you will have to add SOME fat in order to get bigger.  Getting bigger requires a calorie surplus."

"Ok then tell me what to do."

I proceeded to iron out a plan I knew would work.  He fought me every step of the way.

"I want to do the powerlifts too."

"No.  Take a break from them for a while.  We're building mass.  We can use similar movements to do that."

"I don't want to eat the way you describe.  I don't feel good eating like that."

"No one feels good eating like that.  But it's part of the process."

"Well I'm just going to add a lot of extra olive oil instead of doing that."

"Well that won't work.  There is a reason why mass gaining diets do better with more carbs."

"Well I know what works for me."

"Which is why your lifts haven't moved in over two years and you're still the same size?"

Eventually, he relented (sort of) and said he would do what I outlined for him.  However he sent me an update this week telling me that he didn't do the training I outlined for him because it wasn't "satisfying" to him.

He wanted to do snatches and squats and didn't want to do high rep leg pressing or some of the rest/pause work I outlined for him.  He didn't like it.  It wasn't comforting.

No shit Sherlock?  Why do you think those are the things I told you to do?




You ask me to help you because what you have done has failed, then when I help, you shit all over what I tell you to do.  Why?  Because I am asking you to move out of your comfort zone.  And the reason you haven't gotten any bigger or stronger in the last two years, is because you've spent too much time in that fucking comfort zone.  So why in the hell don't you think you have progressed?  It's called being lazy.

Some might laugh at the fact that I call a guy that is competing lazy, but it's in the context of being a competitive lifter.  No different than Randy Moss not running his route at full speed.  Just because he's out there, doesn't mean he sometimes isn't lazy.

Just because you are in the gym doesn't mean you aren't being lazy with your training.

So said lifter above will continue to toil about in mediocrity until he wakes up and realizes what he's been doing isn't working, and the shit he doesn't want to do is probably the shit he needs to do for the next 6-12 months.

This mantra can only be used in conjunction with the "why am I doing what I'm doing?" question.  If you are on a wobble board doing split squats you should have a real solid reason for doing that shit, and right now.....I can't think of one.

I should never see you standing on a damn swiss ball squatting.  There is no solid answer for "why am I doing this shit?" in that scenario.

Getting out of mental and physical comfort zones -

So how will you know when it's time to do shit you don't want to do?  


Roam about in your own personal mediocrity until you can't take it anymore.  That's when you will be ready.  

At some point you have to look in the mirror and say "enough is enough, I'll do whatever it takes.  I will eat until I hurt each day.  I will do rest/pause leg presses for 50 reps until I can't walk.  I will do drop sets on dumbbell bench presses until my arms and chest is rubber."

At some point, you are going to have to evaluate why you suck.  You might not be strong enough because you aren't big enough.  And the reason for that is because you don't eat enough.  Every skinny guy I know thinks he eats a ton and usually doesn't eat jackshit.  If I tell them how to eat, they complain like a bitch and never do it most of the time.  Again, this is something out of their comfort zone.

You might not be training hard enough.  Maybe you're one of those volume guys, that thinks everything can be fixed with more sets.  Or maybe you're a low set guy, who hasn't done enough volume.  Maybe you're an "ab" guy.  You don't want to lose your abs because you are too vain right now.  Only you can answer that.

If you're a fat guy and are tired of feeling and looking like shit, start with walking.  Push back from the table and cut out carbs at night.  After a few weeks add some sprints and cut off carbs after lunch.  Take the stairs at work and park in the back of the parking lot when you go to the store.  Eating less is going to be uncomfortable.  STFU and deal with it.

All of these things are related to mental and physical comfort zones in your training.  If your training progress has sucked ass for the past year or past two years, what have you been doing?  And why are you continuing to do it?

Make a List -

Another easy way to get out of your comfort zone is to make a list of the 10 compound exercises you hate to do, and the ones you love to do.

Now spend the next 6 months getting strong as shit on the ones you hate.  You can't include any of the ones you love.  Period.

"But my bench will go down!"

So what?  Are you going to quit training after this?  If so it doesn't matter anyway your bench will go down when you quit too.

You have to be smart about the list too.  You can't include the swiss ball squat that was mentioned above.

It's not always about doing the opposite of what you have been doing, but about doing the things you don't always want to do.  At some point, to make your body go to the next level you will have to ask it to do some things it doesn't want to do.  That means you are going to have to do some things you don't want to do.

Or just keep doing the same thing, and toil about in mediocrity.

Be honest about your fears -

This is really what keeps people in their comfort zone.


It drives everything.  Fear will keep you from doing 20 rep squats.

Fear will keep you from eating until you hurt.  Then doing it again 2-3 hours later.

Fear works hand in hand with comfort.  They are best friends.  Fear is what makes your hands shake when you add that extra 45 to the end of the bar that you've never done before.  Fear is why that guy needs 2 or 3 minutes before he unracks the bar for that top set of squats.  And fear is what makes him rack it early when he knows he had a lot more reps left in him.

So you need to be honest about your fears to overcome them.  If your fear is losing your abs, you already know that.  You want to get bigger and you know that you have to ad some calories to do that.  You also know that you will gain some fat to gain mass.  But the fear of not looking quite as good keeps you in that comfort zone.

Fear of losing strength is what keeps the fat guy from pushing away from the table.  Even though he knows he would die of a fucking heart attack in 7.3 seconds if he took off into a sprint.  But his bench is kicking ass right now, and he doesn't want to mess with that.  So he eats another plate.

These fears keep us dangling in that comfort zone.  I know about these fears because I too have experienced them.  So have most of you.  But you aren't honest about them.  Not face to face with people.  It's these internal fears that keep us from becoming better than we are.  We fear sacrifice because it's easier to tow the line of status quo.

But there is a good fear.  A fear that drives you from that comfort zone faster than a car load of fat chics drives to a Justin Timberlake concert.

It's the fear of failure.

But that fear can't exist without having something to fail at.  And you can, and will still fail, if you don't ask yourself the right questions that I talked about in part I.

"Why am I doing this?"

If you don't have an answer you will keep failing, no matter how much you want to avoid failing.  Having a reason behind doing what you are doing, and why you are doing it are the biggest questions you will ask yourself not only in lifting but in life.

So make em count.

Comfort can kiss my ass.


  1. " Fear is why that guy needs 2 or 3 minutes before he unracks the bar for that top set of squats."

    That right there hits home.

    Awesome article, I've been making great progress this year but there's definitely room for improvement. The comfort zone is so inviting at times.

  2. What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

    If it's not working you got to change something and get out of that comfort zone.

    Really enjoy your blog Paul. Good shit.

    RyanH (from P&B)

  3. At the start of the new year (2010) I made the decision that each and every time I trained I would be "uncomfortable".

    When doing my cardio intervals, if my heart rate is dogging in the 140s or 150s, I will go harder until I am hitting the 180s again. When lifting, if I have more reps in the tank, I do them until I physically can no longer lift the weight.

    Let me tell you, this type of training sucks. The mental game comes into play because I know that the cardio is always going to lungs are always going to burn, my legs are always going to fail, my heart is always going to pound out of my chest. I always know the lifing is going to hurt...every time I grab the bar.

    I used to have that fear factor because I knew it was going to suck...but it doesnt take long and the fear goes away and is replaced with confidence. When you start out 20 minutes on a pedal bike and can barely finish and now can run 20 hill sprints, with 10 rep squats mixed in every 5 with 275, or go 10-3 minute rounds on the heavy bag and finish the last 10 seconds of the 10th round strong, you realize that from last year to this year, you have improved so much that it is like you are a new man. You have the gas tank you had when you were 33. That feels fucking awesome!

    Nothing can take that from you.

    And when you are out and you see the sheep that are the "regular humans" and you realize that you could run circles around them, out lift them by 200 pounds, and roll them into a pretzel in 10 seconds, you know that being uncomfortable is what it is all about.

    Now starts the weight cut for me. 220 now...I want to get below 200. Recently started BJJ plans to compete, but I want to be able handle any situation...especially considering where I work.

    As always...motivating stuff Paul!