Friday, June 14, 2013

-10% sessions and "who you are"

I'm writing this fresh off the worst session I've had in months.

I've had a few -10% sessions here and there over the past 6 months but this one was brutally awful.

I usually judge the rating of a session by how I feel and by how the weights move.  On this particular session, well, everything felt as off and as bad as it could feel.  I mean, squats felt atrocious.  Worse than being on the receiving end of some prison sex by inmates who chose to wear sandpaper condoms.

My legs hurt, they wouldn't cooperate, I got on my toes too much during squats even though I tried fighting that to stay on my heels.  Deadlifting felt even worse.  Everything was a grinder.  I couldn't get into a tight and strong position at the bottom.  My hernia hurt.  My right shoulder hurt like hell.  I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea.  It was just a total cluster fuck of a session.

This got me to thinking.  Not only about the dipshit trolls that took my comment about "not a 650 squatter" out of context (on purpose of course, because that's what dipshit trolls do), but about my interview with Eric Lilliebridge from a few years ago, to setting a training max.

Eric said in that interview.....

People will write to me online and be like "well what happened to your lifts? you look weaker." And I'm like no shit. There is no way you can stay at that top level forever, there is no way you can. I can't pull 800 any day of the week. I only hit that number a couple of weeks before a meet or at the meet.

I feel like this concept is lost on so many people.  People take numbers and phrases and use them at face value without any understanding of the ebb and flow of training life, and the ups and downs of training cycles and where you are at at any given time.  

So someone could show up at the gym Eric trains at, some arbitrary day, and ask him to pull 800 and he would/could fail to pull it.  Hell, I know for a fact he missed a 675 no belt deadlift, but of course the video never made it to the internet because you've never seen a video of Eric having a miss.  I know this because his dad pulled it no belt, and taunted him about said miss on the video.  

This isn't to say that Eric gets 100+ pounds out of his belt.  Not at all.  It's to say that on THAT DAY, Eric was not a 675 beltless deadlifter.  He couldn't do it. 

On his best day, his did pull 850 with a belt.

So which one is he?  

He's both.  

That's the whole point of training.  Building a base level of strength, and then understanding the ups and downs of training.  Good days and bad days, rain or shine, sometimes who you are isn't as good or as bad as you'd like him or her to be, but that's what you are, on that given day.  It might be who you are tomorrow, or next week.  But that's why we keep training.  In order to be something more.  In that quest to be something more, sometimes we falter, or lose footing, and training progress declines. 

Is that who we are at that moments?  Yes, it indubitably is.  We can only be what we show on any given day, in any given moment.  It doesn't mean that's our best, or even our worst.  It just means in that moment, this is what our body can do.  We train to be more than that.  That's the whole purpose of training isn't it?  Because we aren't happy with what we can currently "show"....we're trying to become something more.  

My comment about "you're not a 650 squatter" got me to thinking about this a lot.  The context of that quote was pretty clear. It meant, "you're not a 650 EVERYDAY squatter" so don't program like one.  Which was the point.  If you once did something, but can't do it everyday, are you that thing? 

I think that's a great question.  

What if you had done it before, but couldn't do it on that day?  Does it still stand?  No?  Yes?  Are you what you were, or are you what you are in that present form?  I've had a million war stories told to me from guys who "used to bench...." whatever.  Even if it's true, can they do that while they are telling this war story?  Probably not, otherwise they aren't telling me what they used to could do.  

People have taken great liberties to take shots at me about saying I've claimed to have pulled 700.  I never said that I HAVE pulled 700.  

Not once.  

I said that I can.  That I will.  These are examples of me being prophetic.  Not telling a war story or belaboring that I've done something.  I haven't.....yet.  I will.  I don't care if people like me using "I can" or "I will."  It' phrases people need to learn if they are ever to believe they will accomplish that thing.  If you're using phrases like "I might" or "I will try" then you have no real belief or confidence in yourself about accomplishing that "thing".  Brandon Lilly used these same phrases to me.  "I can..." "I will..."  It's pretty common.  I'm not sure why people get up in arms about it.  Pete Rubish made the same type of quotes.  We all did.  None of us blinked an eye about it.  Self belief is a critical factor in success. 

So as I write this, I doubt I could have squatted 600 tonight.  A weight I've squatted on more than a dozen occasions in my training life.  But who was I during this training session?  Probably not a 600 beltless squatter, I can tell you that.  

Understanding who you are and where you are at in your baseline of strength, is a great way to come to grips with how to program and get better.  It may be humbling, but it's smart, and it's rewarding.  Combine this with the belief that you CAN and WILL reach your goals and that's a proper recipe for success.  


  1. Great Article Brother. Thank you.

  2. Are you what you were, or are you what you are in that present form? That is one hell of a can you ever precisely determine the value of constantly moving average? The value is inclusive of the highs and lows...anybody trying to peg that value will have more luck milking a bull.

    I just keep pushing and working towards my goals knowing the ups and downs come with the territory and I can honestly say in your blog has opened my eyes up to that truth in the strength training world.

  3. This makes complete sense, and should be clear as day to anyone who has lifted more than twice in their life. Some days it's there, some days it's not. And that's ok. The whole point is to move the entire range upwards.

  4. "How much do you lift?"

    "1,000 lbs."

    "Wow, that's a lot."

    "I know."

    As funny as I find that exchange, I think it does well to summarize your thoughts. I mean, that question is pretty ridiculous to begin with (which lift? what's my big 3 total? bench?), but when you think about it, it's not much more silly than when someone asks, "What's your bench?" or "How much do you squat?" Are you asking how much I CAN [realistically] bench, or how much I HAVE benched, or how much I program my bench around? They are all different things.

    It's something that I think a lot of people (myself included) fail to realize and fail to apply to their own training.

    As an aside, I really appreciate your thoughts on how training doesn't have to be about the biggest weight you can put up, and how technique training and volume (support) training are just as vital. I'm not a strong guy by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets even more frustrating when I convince myself that I need to be lifting heavier and heavier, when my body has simply said, "Back off."

    1. At least you're learning that now instead of "later" and aren't spinning years grinding away so hard with little in return for it.

  5. Paul, I've been reading your blog every day now for several months. This post captures what I like most about it - your clarity and honesty about what you do, and your ability to articulate points that other guys can use and benefit from.

    Have you ever tracked your everyday max on a regular basis? And if so, what formula do you use? Seems like that would be a good thing for all of us to be doing, rather than obsessing over PRs.

    1. No, I don't know how I'd track my "max". That's why I believe understanding your EDM to be so important. Because even on down days you need to be able to hit your numbers.

  6. Good points

    Im not trolling but I feel its an important point to make about guys who use versus guys who dont use. The guys who use are bound to have big drop offs because they also peak their hormones before a meet. So obviously they cant e.g. pull 800 in the off season but can just before or at a meet. Im not bitching or moaning about it, it is what it is, but it tends to be something many drug free guy strength competitiors are entirely unaware about

  7. Great words. As I have said before, and I believe I stole it from a movie, "Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar, well, it eats you.

  8. At first read, this sounds like a ringing endorsement for autoregulation--which I don't get the impression that you are a fan of. For a guy like me with only a couple years under the belt, it would probably put me in a training yo-yo of a +10% day and several -10% days. All because of ignorance.

    Honestly, with all confidence you can say what you lift on a -10% day is _at least_ what you are. What you do day in and day out, taken on the whole (in and out of the gym) is who you are.

  9. Paul, the same thing happened to me on Thursday. Felt HORRIBLE, weights wouldn't move. 14 hours later, I set 3 PR's and tied one. Hang in there.

  10. You don't get this kind of crap in most other sports. You don't get somebody asking Roger Federer "What can you tennis, bro?" it's just accepted that he's one of the best. On a good day he will wipe the floor with just about anybody, on a bad day he might fuck up every damn serve and go home.

    Friends i have that play tennis or basketball or rugby or whatever go out and have a bad day and say "That sucked. I must be tired, just wasn't feeling it." but other friends who lift will go to the gym, have a bad bench session and it's "What the hell, this program sucks, i'm getting weaker, i don't understand why I couldn't lift that!! I need to do more board pressing to fix my bench by next wednesday..." or something.

    What is it about lifting that generates this kind of mentality that isn't there in other sports?

    1. I'd imagine it's that way in any "numbers based" sport. Playing football, no one asked me how much I could football, but competing in shotput, people would ask "how far can you throw". Competing in shotput, I would also wonder wtf was going on with my form on bad days, before usually chalking them up to simply bad days. I'm sure Usain Bolt runs a bad 100m and wonders wtf is wrong with his routine too.

      I think it's just a matter of quantifiable performance vs qualitative. + or - 5% performance in football or tennis is easy to shrug off as bad luck or just not notice. + or - 5% in track or powerlifting is staring you right in the face at the end of the day/meet.