As the growth of strength sports have come about we are starting to see more young people compete in strongman. As a young strongmen myself, I love the idea of our youth picking to do something challenging and not as popular. So I decided to compile a list of some of the unhealthy habits that I, and fellow young people, commonly do. I am sure there are way more than 10 (says the older lifter) but these are some of the big ones that came to mind. The purpose of addressing these is not to accuse young lifters but to inform them and help guide them through the lessons that many mature lifters already know.
1. You always want to try something new
With the internet, plethora of magazines articles, and gimmick infomercials it’s no surprise young people are losing interest in one training program to go to another. With the demand for content in the health and fitness industry, new and exciting training programs and wild and elaborate exercises are being published. I wish I could say I didn’t fall for it. I used to see new articles posted weekly and think, “That’s what I was missing”. So another exercise got added. Eventually you find yourself doing 100 exercises each with little benefit. I only stopped when I started to notice the cycle of exercises or the flip-flop. One week unilateral leg work is cool and the next it’s not.
So what works? The basics will almost always work. The thing is, no one wants to hear that squats, deadlifts, bench, and overhead will work now and eight weeks from now. Once you can wrap your mind around the idea that your program has the potential to get you strong you will get strong. Belief in the system combined with hard work will make you gains, even if the programming isn’t ideal.
2. You think you know everything
I guess every young person goes through this stage. In training this can be even more crippling. I read the articles mentioned above and thought I knew something about training. Maybe I was teaching my friends to lift or something. I had empty confidence I knew what I was doing. In the end this just led to overtraining, injuries and stagnation. All the while you think, since you know it all, you don’t need to ask for help. WRONG! It is never too late to ask for help. The further I got in strongman the more people I found myself asking questions. The best part is most strongmen, whether professional or amateur are very open and will share some insight, or at the very least, point you in the right direction. In asking for help I learned I knew less than I thought, much less. As I went into college I was also faced with more of the science of training. It’s now laughable to think I knew anything considering the complexities that are involved in the development of the human organism. Ultimately, this has left me very humble and open to others’ ideas.
3. You don’t listen or respect your strength elders
Just like thinking I knew everything I found myself not giving credit to the men and women that came before me. As I started to develop my abilities in strongman events and competing in general there were times I beat guys who might be 20 years my senior. Sometimes I even overheard that I had beaten their all-time personal best. So as a young kid that went to my head. “Why should I respect someone who, at 30 something years old, with a decade of training just now overhead pressed 300?” My answer: They have been in the game awhile! Now having nearly 5 years of strongman competitions under my belt I realize the physical, mental, and emotional toll it takes to stay in the iron game. Multiple those to 10 or 15 years of sacrifices and setbacks and you see that every elder of strongman deserves respect! When I came to realize the sacrifice and dedication it took me I instantly had more respect for my elders. By taking advice from my elders I have avoided many mistakes and possibly gained some respect myself as a lifter coming up the ranks.
4. You train like you are a better athlete than you are
The best explanation of this habit is the male ego. We all want to be better than we are (or once were). That’s why everyone in high school ran a 4.1 40 yard dash and weighed 250lbs at 8% bodyfat. So like any boy I had this problem. You start to think you are “special” because everyone has told you that. You aren’t!
In applying this to training, it was common for me to train like top powerlifters and strongmen. Maxing too often, not doing enough volume, and eating more calories than I needed because I thought I was one of the big boys. In reality I didn’t deserve that ice cream; I only pulled 2 singles on deadlift. In hindsight I should have taken a step back, said to myself “I don’t have the base of strength to train like an elite lifter”. I now realize there is nothing wrong with labeling yourself lower on the totem pole as novice or intermediate. Better to be novice in training methodology, and compete advanced, than train advanced, and compete like a novice.
5. You think training methods are set in stone
Like anything people find a method that works and they assume that the others don’t. One of the biggest examples is Westside. If Westside works for you, great! But just because it works for you right now does not mean it will always work, work for other people, or be the best decision long term. While this is focused towards younger more naïve lifters I have made this mistake at all levels of my development. Now I am not saying to revert back to the first habit of trying something new but when a program or method runs its course you need to find another method. As you develop as an athlete weaknesses with change, goals will change, recovery ability from a typical workout will be less, etc. With all of these variables you have to recognize the importance of change. I think Brandon Lilly says it best when he mentioned that his method of the Cube is the best he has found thus far. But when it stops being the best method he will change his methods.
6. You get caught up in the “optimal”
For me this was a huge issue. Back when I attempted to be a bodybuilder (more like fat builder) I read all these articles of needing protein or you’d become catabolic. So of course I had a pre-workout shake, intra-workout shake, and post –workout shake. My meals around training had to be timed perfectly as well. I needed to wait an hour after eating to take my NO-Xplode! Then I needed to be in the gym 30 minutes later or it was all a bust. Well, this rarely ever happened. For awhile I was mad I could never get it to work out. But soon enough I realized that training to make everything perfect just makes you miserable. In training things aren’t going to be perfect. You will mess up programming and diet. You will miss sleep, go too long without eating, and maybe not have carbs hit your system exactly 45 seconds post training. Getting used to dealing with these issues and mentally blocking them out might be one of the best things a young lifter can develop. Control what you can, don’t worry about the rest, and just lift.
7. You think people care how good you are on a lift
I think this point had been thoroughly made by many of the top lifters but I will go ahead and reiterate. As a younger lifter I thought that there was a certain level that, when I reached it, I would be noticed. That people would talk about me. So even after a national championship, records, competition wins, etc. the praise was never enough. Most people around me, even to this day, still ask me if I workout. At no point in this sport will you “make it”. At no point will everyone all of a sudden be shocked by your achievements in this sport. Even now as a professional I realize I am far from what could be thought as “making it”. I think that once you find joy in the grind of training and self improvement then you have made it. And this is something I still strive for, so don’t worry.
8. You rather be a YouTube hero than a good lifter
(I should probably premise this by saying that making a training log or promoting yourself as an athlete is completely different.)
What I am referring to are the channels of lifters with a thousand awesome gym lifts but no ability to replicate that in competition. To make things worse, lying about weights, reps, and just generally trying to justify everything is common. As a younger lifter I posted many more training videos than I do now. I think one of the reasons I stopped is I am a big believer in making it count when it counts. While it might be fun to hit maxes in the gym day in and day out with friends it’s even more fun (in my opinion) to have those numbers count for something. Add to that the joy of competing and pushing yourself it just makes sense to save it for the big show. If you want to keep posting YouTube videos that is perfectly fine, I can’t tell you not to. What I will say is try to use actual competition and not key strokes and YouTube links to help prove your worth. So far this has been much more rewarding. In addition, it is more positive to get along with competitors (at an actual competition) than fight on the internet over whether or not something would pass in competition.
9. You insincerely set goals that are too broad
“I want to get my pro card”. I don’t know how many times I might have said that in strongman but thank goodness I got it or else I could have been a perfect example of this category. I hear lofty goals like this all the time. Young people are more likely to say things like this as we don’t always think before we talk. Now with a little more experience I think the better way to go is keep your goals vague to people and save the specifics for yourself. It has been my experience that many people could care less about your goals and will mock them when given the chance. So protect them. As far as limiting broad goals, try to pick objective measurements. The good (or bad) thing about strongman is there are so many. (Weight, reps, distance, time, etc.) Using competition outcomes as a goal can often lead to negative views of performance as competitors vary by region and show level. Finally, make sure these goals don’t do damage, such as Fred Hatfield said, “Goals often prescribe performance limits”. Don’t make a 700 pound deadlift your 4 minute mile. Anything is possible, even if you have to be the first to do it.
10. You think you are entitled to something
Last, but not least, the most obvious. Growing up as part of this younger generation I have been and will probably continue to feel too entitled. In strongman this doesn’t work anymore than anywhere else. Judges don’t owe you a quick downcall, promoters don’t owe you a fast show, and sponsors don’t owe you any money, no matter how great your lifts. The bottom line is you are going to have to wake up every day hungry to show your worth and take what you think you deserve. This is probably the hardest habit to work on and again, one I still struggle with.
Andrew Clayton is a recen