Saturday, May 25, 2013

Training Through Adversity

Recently I've been reading and hearing from guys complaining about how they're not where they "should be" in regards to lifting. This kind of talk is demoralizing to themselves and if done habitually will result in being trapped in a permanent quagmire. Many times it sounds like this:

"If I only had a equipment-x."

"If I only hadn't been injured."

"I wish I had a team to train with."

"My gym sucks."

If, wish, and a whole lot of boohooing. Those are hurdles to progress and eventually they'll get higher and higher- until you're either physically or emotionally incapable of overcoming them.

Now, I'm about to get real on you, life stories, and all that crap. So if you don't want to read it, turn back now. But what follows are some examples of of things I've trained through, and if you're not a close friend or family- you've likely never heard me talk about this stuff. If just one person reads this and realizes they've been throwing themselves in quicksand and then pulls themselves out of it and refuses to get back in, then it's worth it.

From the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2011 I was in Afghanistan. My gyms were decent most of the time, but about 30% of my life out there was spent driving around and hopping from outpost to outpost. Many times the gyms looked like this:

This was by far one of the worst though.

And guess what? I still trained. A large part of my training was spent outside in the winter of Afghanistan training with old bars, plates, and the basic equipment- squat racks, benches, and pull up bars. Towards the end though, I did get access to newer bars and plates- still no fancy monolifts, specialty bars, or bands. Although, we did get some heavy duty chains out of the junkyard. That was nice. While in Afghanistan I trained as much as I could, as hard as I could. Why? Because I didn't know whether or not it would be the last day I could squat... for the rest of my life. While there my conventional deadlift when from 405 to 455 and my bodyweight dropped from 185 to 160; got stronger while getting leaner- all before I truly became interested in powerlifting. Here's one video from the best gym I had access to.

"Well I cannot afford quality nutrition." I'm sure many times you have heard people talk about this. Hell maybe even you yourself has used this excuse. Well, many times I ate MRE's and guess what- I still got leaner and stronger.

Not exactly "quality" nutrition. But damn are those peanut M&M's a lifesaver. 

Once I got back from Afghanistan in May-ish of 2011 I started to become interested in competing in powerlifting. At this time I began using 5/3/1 more or less and had access to a "normal" military gym (AKA pretty much a 24-Hour Fitness) which I soon decided was stupid and so I bought a power rack, a bar, and enough weight to get me stronger. This was in the summer, in 29 Palms, California, with no A/C or swamp cooler in my garage. Needless to say, it was damn hot. Here's me failing a sled push on my home made Prowler. I had to wear gloves otherwise the metal handles would have burned my hands. 

Guess what happened? I got stronger. 

Then came a dark time in my life. On September 10th, 2011 my grand mother passed away. I drove back to Colorado to be with my family and say my good byes. But guess what else I did? I signed up at a gym in my neighborhood and continued to train. Some people were hurt by this and I had to explain to my family that training is like my meditation. That's how I release. That's how I focus. That's where I go to think. After that, they understood. 

Then just one month and twelve days later my mother passed away. Again I drove back to Colorado to be with my family. And again I went back to the gym in my old neighborhood to train. And again I had to explain why I do what I do, because it is who I am. While in Colorado for my mother's funeral I hit my very first 3x bodyweight deadlift. Not because I had it planned, but because I had been training hard, consistently, and frequently- regardless of obstacles.

I was taught to get through obstacles, not to let them stop me.

That next month I signed up for my first powerlifting meet. If Afghanistan and the passing of two very influential matriarchs in my family couldn't stop me from training and getting stronger I was damned sure the devil himself couldn't either. 

Well, lucky for me the gym on base went through a major remodel and I started training there for the last two months leading up to my first meet. Video sampling here. I also had an on-and-off training partner who also signed up for that meet. 

I was hooked and continued to train. 

Shortly after my first meet I had to go to a military leadership academy; which essentially was "Running Summer Fun Day Camp." After being there for two weeks and doing a gratuitous amount of running I hit my first 500 lb deadlift, literally the day after a run through the sands and hills of Mordor itself. Even then, the devil and all his running and desert heat couldn't stop me from training. I'd go to the gym at 0430 only to go to "school" and run, study, and do more studying. I ended up the Honor Graduate of my course.

After leaving that Academy I continued to train. My off-and-on training partner moved across the country and in turn I picked up another off-and-on training parter. It wasn't their presence in the gym that made me stronger- it was the fact that we, as Marines, talk shit to each other constantly. Whether that be in person, over the phone, or online. I didn't need a spotter to squat or bench heavy, I just went heavy in a power rack. If I did want a spotter I didn't get shy either, I would ask a stranger. No big deal. That's not a reason to not train with intensity. Then, eight months after my first powerlifting meet I put nearly 100 pounds on my total in my second meet. 

There, that's enough story time for now. I'm not one to get "inspirational" or any of that bullshit- as I hardly ever do. Hell, there are thousands of people out there who have done much more than me, with far greater obstacles to overcome. There are probably hundreds of other lifters who still have done more than me in worse circumstances; here's just one. I just wanted to spread some light on how training circumstances, tragic events, and of all things equipment have very little impact on whether or not you can get to where you want to be, not where you "should be." 

Because in life, all that truly matters is your character. 


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  2. in the marine corps for four years now i think a lot of it is our determination to not let anything get in our way quit just isnt a word in my vocabulary. really appreciated this story and could relate perfectly to almost all of this thanks man.

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