I read an article on Elitefts by Chad Aichs about belief and it got me thinking about my own journey through strength sports in general and strongman in particular. The gist of Chad’s article is that among the many things that made him an elite powerlifter, belief in himself and in what he was doing was chief among them.
This past weekend, I competed as I so often do, but this time I had full video footage of the contest. Upon reviewing the video, a few things caught my attention. I was very pissed off at only hitting 7 reps on the log – clean and press each rep. It dawned on me that only a few years ago, that weight was my 1 rep max. I hit 23 reps on a car deadlift. I wasn’t upset with this number and, in fact, knew pretty well I would hit at least 20 going in. This one was heavier than the first car deadlift I ever did in competition…where I hit a whopping 3 reps. Lastly, I smoked 10 reps on the stone over the bar. I spent my first 6 months in strongman attempting to load a stone of the same weight…to a lower platform.
So what changed? Aside from the obvious answer that I’ve gotten a lot stronger over the last 7 years, the answer is belief. Every PR I have ever set came only after I finally believed I could do it. Your mind will stop you long before your body will. My first ever log press of 300 pounds came on an “accidental” misload by my training partners. I could smoke 290 and even 295, but 300 crushed me consistently. They told me it was 290 and it was 300. I got it and said “Damn, that felt heavy. Guess 300 ain’t happening today.” Then one of the guys starts counting the weights and says, “Hey, count that up. I think 300 already did happen today.” Pricks.
On other occasions, watching other people do things has given me belief. I got a 300 stone loaded for the first time only because another guy with my same general build came out to train with us and loaded the 300 stone. I thought “Well, shit. If he can do it, I should be able to do it, too.” I first pressed a 155 Thomas Inch replica bell because one of our 231 guys did it. I knew damned well he wasn’t stronger than I was, so I damned well should be able to press the thing, too. About an hour later, I figured out my technique and did.
Another thing that builds belief is getting around people much stronger than you. It redefines what is possible. I love going out to Steve Schmidt’s to train. Where else can you watch 3 guys make a 400+ pound presses look routine? I love being around Dimitar Savatinov and Vytautas Lalas. Both amazingly strong and they’re both built like me – I can claim first because I’m at least 9 years older than either of them. I don’t have any illusions that I can reach the same levels of strength as them, but why shouldn’t something like 90% as strong be possible for me? That change in my perspective of what is possible is why I was able to press a 350 pound log last year and why I’m aiming even higher for the years to come.
When I have a max event at a contest, I use a method I call KTH to set my attempts. KTH stands for: know, think, hope. My opener is something I know I can do, my 2nd is something I think I can do, and my final attempt is something I hope I can do. I feel that belief in your lifting ability flows in the opposite direction. First you hope you can do it, then you think you can, then you know you can. This is one of the many things that make strongman so awesome. That moment when you finally do something that scared the shit out of you…that you knew for sure was beyond your ability to do. When what you hoped you could someday do becomes what you know you can do.
Seven years ago, when I got started in this crazy sport, I knew I’d never be strong enough to press a 300 pound log. Now I know I can press a 300 pound log at will. I’m pretty excited to see what I know I can do a few years from now. If you’re not, you should be.