Thursday, October 23, 2014

Earn it - My article at

One of the biggest takeaways I got from the week I spent hanging out with Poliquin and Klokov came from a conversation I had with Dmitry at dinner the last night he was there.

He was talking about how when they were training a major competition, and that training would get planned for the entire year. There would be nothing left to chance. There was no “winging it” or “instinctual training”. The whole year was mapped out and every workout was accounted for.

In that time, there was nothing else going on in their lives. No partying, no social life, no back yard bar-b-q’s with your buddies. It was, in Dmitry’s words, “training…all training.”

Dmitry said during that year they would also slowly diet down into their weight classes. So their food intake, or lack of, had to be accounted for as well. Despite what you’ve read on the net or think you know, he was almost 270 pounds when he was training. He would diet down to the 105 kilo class over the course of training as part of prep for competition.

After much thought, I realized that for Dmitry, to do a 400 pound clean and press shortly after waking up with no breakfast, coffee, or water wasn’t doable just because he was a freak. Let’s be clear about that, he is. But it was also something he was capable of because he was a freak that was a product of his environment. I mean, when you’ve spent years and years living that kind of discipline then traveling around doing seminars, and working up to sub maximal weights on little sleep and no food probably isn’t a big deal for him. It looks like a big deal to us, but I imagine his training in preparation for the Olympics was infinitely harder.

The discipline those guys have when preparing for a competition appears to me, to be far greater than what we see from the typical American lifter. Many, not all of course but many, write out a routine but are more or less haphazard in their training, aren’t as consistent as they should be. Not only that, the other parts of their life reflect such inconsistency as well. Eating and sleeping aren’t made priorities. Guys eat a lot of poor quality food, and get a lot of poor quality sleep. That part of “training” isn’t really factored in as being quite as important as the training itself. Yet the people at the very top, even the genetically gifted, eventually realize that if they are going to grab that last 1% then everything that can contribute to them getting better, has to be accounted for. Nothing can be left out. No stone could be unturned.

Upon thinking about all of this, I realized that despite how disciplined we think we are, there is always room for improvement. There just has to be a change in mental approach.

Nothing given; everything earned.

That rest day? Earn it.

Those extra calories? Earn them (you probably don’t need 1000 grams of carbs after an arm workout)

Your goals? Earn them.

I was thinking about all of this yesterday as I sat on the couch with a cold, with every part of me saying “you don’t really want to go train legs again. You just did squats yesterday.”

I wasn’t able to get my squat assistance and deadlifts in afterwards because my arms have been killing me every workout, and the pain is very intense. However, I have a meet in a few weeks, and I realized what a little bitch I was being about it, then packed my shit up, went to the gym, and did 4 sets of 8 on hacks, and then pulled 635 for two sets of doubles from a deficit. The cycle had called for 675 x 2, however because of the factors mentioned before, I had to reduce intensity a bit, and increase volume a little instead. I think this worked well, and at least I got my work in and was able to leave knowing the work was done. If I do well enough at the meet, it will be because I earned it. If I had missed this training session, maybe I am left thinking that a part of my performance suffered because I didn’t “man up” enough to get the work done.

We often think we have earned things we have not. I mean how often have you heard someone say “I did cardio this morning, so I earned this piece of cake.”

What’s going on in this situation? If you did cardio then I assume that your goal is probably fat loss. So shouldn’t the mentality be that since you’re supposed to be in fat loss mode, that what is being earned is the loss of fat? Not the cake?

As strength athletes we tend to understand this a little better when it comes to weight on the bar. Bodybuilders tend to understand this a little better in terms of gaining muscle mass or a new degree of leanness. So there is context there but far more often than not, it only exists in a vacuum. It’s simplified.

“I need to train to get stronger, because I want to earn more weight on the bar.”

“I need to train to get bigger, because I want to mass on my (inert bodypart name here).”

For non-competitors I think it’s a little more difficult to get into this mode. Especially from an all encompassing standpoint because the body doesn’t want to change. So the bare minimum is done in most facets yet frustration sets in when change doesn’t happen fast enough. I think a large part of that is because the mentality is, they are focused on earning the wrong things. People spend all week being disciplined on a diet to “earn” a cheat meal. A more focused mentality would be to “earn” more pounds off the scale or earn a lower bodyfat percentage. With a simple change in ideology, the earning of the cheat meal gets pushed aside, and now that person could/should be more focused on being more disciplined in their diet and conditioning to earn something else.

This same backwards mentality creeps its way into training as well. People want to earn more pounds on the bar, but often get trapped in a cycle of testing, testing, testing, to see if the new poundage is there. Forgetting that training for it is the earning part. Put in the time training, rather than testing, and the new PR is earned more quickly.

Just so that we don’t lose context, Dmitry was in a rare class of people whose only job was to train. Most of us aren’t afforded this luxury. We don’t get to base our entire day around our time in the gym, plan naps, plan meals, etc so forth and so on. Most of us have normal jobs, have kids, and significant others that need or expect a certain amount of personal attention from us. So we have to strive for balance between all of those things, and also find a way to make training as efficient as possible.

Understanding balance -

The key to balance, I have found, is to understand you can’t have balance all the time. Balance should be seen as something attained over time, instead of something maintained at ALL times. At certain times, you will need to prioritize one thing while something else takes a bit of a backseat for a while. If you want to get in the best shape of your life, and have a time frame in which you desire to do this, then for that time frame you will need to make that undertaking a priority. When that goal is met, then you can move the things you neglected back to the forefront. It’s important to have a strong support system during these times that understand why you are doing what you are doing, and understand their role. People who aren’t on board with what you are trying to accomplish will often make reaching your goals much harder than it has to be. There has to be understanding and patience on their part in order to help you make these things a priority.

Understanding all the facets that will help you succeed -

Sleep, stress, diet, training, and supplementation will all play a role in helping you reach your goals as quickly as possible. When you only account for two things, like diet and training, then you’re shortchange the entire process by a significant amount. Now the process will take longer. It’s been proven through studies that less sleep equals less fat loss. I think anecdotally we all know that less sleep also means less recovery. Now training will be sub-optimal and the entire cycle of getting better is short circuited. Progress will be slower, and reaching the goal will take longer. If you want to get from point A to point E, then take B,C, and D into account.

Don’t deviate from your plan unless it’s absolutely required by setting HARD goals -

Everyone talks about goal setting, and I do as well. And it’s vitally important to not only set specific and realistic goals, but difficult goals as well. When is the last time you went 30 days without eating anything except what was on your diet? When is the last time you mapped out a training cycle and didn’t miss a workout for 60 days? When is the last time you mapped out a three month training cycle and didn’t miss a lift for those three months? When is the last time you were in bed every single night at the same time? Again, when you start factoring in all of these things then how you plan may look drastically different. Someone who is overzealous may sit down and say they are going to train 6 days a week, twice a day some of those days, then realize after a week that their battered body just isn’t going to hold up to this for months on end. Then the plan has to be scrapped. You should be able to sit down and write out two well planned 6 week training cycles, and not deviate from anything on that paper unless injury or “life” happens.

Conclusion –

If training has sucked, or if progress has been minimal for a while then maybe you need a self assessment in how disciplined you’ve been with all the facets that play a part in success. Maybe you’ve been setting goals trying to earn all the wrong things. Maybe your self discipline needs a swift kick in the ass. If that’s the case, refocus and find all the right things you need to be earning.


  1. I know this isn't the request line, but one thing that really stuck out for me on your trip was your mention of Dimitry being a fan of TUT. It would be great if you could expand on that a little, since it flies in the face of all the dynamic/explosive training dogma out there.

    1. He liked it to make the muscles stronger. That simple. To really target a certain area.

  2. Really awesome article, Paul.