Tuesday, June 21, 2011

At war with a demon

The Demon of Fear 

Possibly the toughest thing about making progress in the lifters realm is overcoming fears.  In fact, that applies to almost everything we do.  From lifting to life and relationships.

For lifting, fear is almost always the demon that sits atop a perch, barking negativity at us.  Instilling the doubt in us that we are capable or able.

Fear is the demon that keeps the skinny guy from eating enough to gain mass, because he doesn't want to lose his abs.

The fear demon is the one that keeps the fat guy from getting in shape, because he fears that dip in strength.  

The fear demon is the one sitting atop the bent bar in the squat rack, telling you you can't squat that extra plate.

The demon of fear that keeps you from competing because you don't want to be embarrassed because your lifts don't measure up to your "peers".

The demon of fear stands at the foot of the gates and guards the village named Plateau.  He dares you to enter.  Few will.  The ones that do, most of them don't believe they can conquer him and overtake the village. So they proceed half heartedly.  And of course, they die a doubters death.

This demon is responsible for making guys say shit like "I want to get leaner and bigger and stronger".


You might as well say "I want to grow taller, and look just like Brad Pitt when I do."

It's these fears that cause guys to look all over for magical training routines, avoid hard work, put more weight on the bar, not compete, not eat more, not eat less, and care about all the wrong bullshit.

"Another plate....?"

Fear causes confusion.

"What the fuck do I do?  I don't want to exclude side laterals, my shoulders won't look like Jay Cutler's if I do that!"

They aren't going to anyway.

Fear causes misinformation to seem really true!

"All I have to do is fix all of these weak points and my lifts will jump right up.  That's been what has been holding me back.  Not the lack of weight gain or hard work."

No one wants to believe that you don't need to worry about weak points and assistance work that much.  Because it's easier to believe you suck because you just have too many weak points, and need to straighten them out.  Rather than work hard on the shit you're trying to be good at.

The Demon of Fear causes guys to become COC's.  Chronic Routine Changers.  They are in fear of not being on the hidden program that will produce "mad results".

You know these guys.

"I did 5/3/1 for 18 minutes, then MadCow for 7.5 days and even PC's strong15 program but I didn't get a pump or as jacked as I thought.  So I'm going to do bruh-wizard69's routine because he's more jack3d than anyone here.  16" pipes and a 320 bench."

4 days into that routine he'll find another routine that's even "better", and switch.

They never squat deep or squat at all either.  Of course because at 16 years old they already have bad knees from all of their Kumite/Blood Sport fights.


Overcoming fear is difficult.  Finding a way to overcome it generally requires looking at the bigger picture.  Fear is generally governed by short term expectations.

"If I compete people will laugh at my lifts!"

No they won't.  When I am at a meet I applaud everyone that is there competing and doing something they love.  I've never seen a single person get laughed at about their lifts, and if anything no one bothers to really check what other people are lifting unless it's some kind of world record.  Almost every guy there will give you nothing but support.  Competing will give you a reason to train, and it will get your training far more focused.  The big picture here is that you will have something to train for, and you will be rewarded with a great experience.  The small picture of fear is "people will laugh at me."  And fellow lifter, this is a lie.

"I don't want to lose my abs!"

This is the "I want to get big and stay lean" crowd.  You can do this to an extent.  But not like what they generally think about.  Which is blowing up to a whole new size level and maintaining their low bodyfat percentage.  This just isn't going to happen.  You are asking the body to do two different things.  If you want to grow to a new you, even a new lean you, you have to eat enough for growth.  You don't have to become a lard ass, but you probably aren't going to keep your abs either.  Just keep it at 15% bodyfat or less.  Taking off 5% down to 10% is not difficult at all.  The big picture here is a bigger, stronger, you.  The small picture of fear is just losing abs temporarily.  After a few weeks of dieting, they will be right back, and you'll have more muscle to go with it.  If you're 170 or so, just shut the fuck up and eat until you feel like dying.  No one gives a shit about 170 pound guys with abs.

"I can't squat that much!"

One night I had this client who was scared of squatting with a plate.  I knew she was capable because she was doing multiple sets of 10 with 115 easily.  I put a plate on and she looked at me like I was crazy.  I told her she would be fine, just get under there and do it.  She meekly walked into the rack and unracked the bar. She barely walked it out and did a pathetic squat with it and racked it.

"What the fuck was that?" I said.

"I don't know." she said.

"Look, you take the next 3 minutes out and get your shit straight.  When I come back you better be ready to squat that shit.  We clear?"

She nodded.

When I came back into the room she was focused and ready.  I could tell.

"Are you ready now?" I said.

"Yeah!" she said.

"Then get in there, and just fuckin do it!"

Who was more intense and fearless than Wandy?

She marched into the squat rack like a roided out gorilla, unracked it forcefully and sunk 5 deep reps with it, like there was no weight on the bar.

This was followed by a big celebration of course.

The Demon of Fear just got his ass whipped.

It wasn't a physical limitation that held her back from squatting it.  It was just the sight of two big ol plates on the bar.  After that day she did sets of 10 with 135 easily and often.  But overcoming that fear was paramount.

...duh, winning!

The fastest way to start winning, is to start overcoming your fears.  And overcoming your fears means looking at the big picture of training, and of course life as well.  Living in the moment can be a good thing, if you're in Vegas and have three hot women accompanying you back to their hotel room.

Living in the moment is usually a bad thing if you let a fear of change or failure keep you from accomplishing something bigger and better than the status quo.

Missing a lift in the grand scheme of things isn't a big deal.  Not taking a shot at it however, can keep you spinning your wheels for years and years because you never mustered up the courage to take on that challenge.  Learning from failures is often one of the best ways we learn things.  We really don't learn a whole lot when we are shitting peaches and walking on rainbows.  It's the internal battles and struggled we face that tell us about our character.

So are you going to let the demon of fear intimidate you, are or you going to storm the gates?

Your choice.


  1. Story of my life. This is both relevant to this and a followup to my questions in the last Q&A:

    I finally got tired of living in fear of strength loss and "turned on the gas" while running these hills. I've been using your Conditioning Block program for 5 weeks - this was the first day in a while that I've used shorter rest periods and felt like I was going to shit out my lungs right before death.

    Here's my question - how do I transition from running my ass off for 5 weeks into your High Rep Strength Block? Do I take it easy on the last week of the cardio block? Should I drop the sprints at first and add them slowly during the Rep Strength block?

  2. Nope. Just start light and go from there. Your conditioning will help you with the rest periods.

  3. This is a very astute post Paul.

  4. Fuckin awesome man! Had to say it. You should write articles for websites. Really good stuff!

  5. A much needed post Paul. Thanks!


  6. Thanks guys. I needed it as well.

  7. 'shitting peaches and walking on rainbows'


  8. paul,

    alright, i have to admit it, i was one of "those guys". The "change routines every 2 weeks and then even MORE often on some" guys.

    UNTIL i found your site, which was by accident by the way, but there is more solid advice here than anywhere, more MOTIVATING articles that cut through the bullshit and go straight for it.

    even though i dont agree with your thoughts on certain MMA fighters, (cough cough), everything else has been solid.

    just based off of SOME of the articles youve written, ive stuck it out, sucked it up, and pressed the intensity and eaten more damn PBnJ sandwhiches than i ever thought i would and because of it ive gained 2 inches in my legs, 1/2 on my bi's 2 inches on my back and this isnt flabby like i figured it would be, which surprised me, its solid, hard as stone, strength levels through the roof ( well, for ME anyway) and no im not NEW to training. and this all happened within the last month and a half.

    granted i did almost veer off the straight and narrow and switch to 6 days a week when i asked u about it before, but once again u shut it down, (which i already knew the answer ud give haha) so i stayed with it and am thankful i have.

    thanks again man.

    p.s. my calves are still skinny as hell, there has to be a better way to make them bigger than get fat and stay fat for 6 months lol.


  9. This is awesome to hear Dave.

    Sometimes it is hard to stay the course, even I get off track. But a good reminder is worth gold.

    As for calves, no clue. That's the only thing that did it for me.

  10. I used to be the change of routine..5/3/1 for over 2 years now..finally..And awesome post Paul !

  11. This is a great article, a lot of writers forget about the fear that faces a newcomer to weights or ignore it or deny it exists, but as with every challenge in life you have to face up to its existence before you can deal with it.

    On the calves topic I wonder has anyone here tried wearing a weight vest for a few months to see if it would help growth in the way getting fat does?


  12. Might help during steady state cardio. Good idea.