The following is an excerpt from my upcoming "Strong Start: Building Your Fitness Foundation" guide. It's serving as the introduction to the guide, and covers the premise of why you should bother to build yourself a foundation to begin with.
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Why Be Strong?
When I was training and competing in powerlifting with Team Super Training, one of the first lessons they taught me was about finishing lifts.
I was a young lifter—both in age and in experience. Y’know the Socratic paradox, “the only thing I know is that I know nothing?” At 19, that wasn’t me. I was invincible and I was going to claim all of the world records in the 165 pound weight class…or so I thought.
I thought I knew some shit back then. In reality, I just didn’t realize how much I didn’t know. The more I reflect on that time, the more clearly I can see how true that was. How many of us can look back on our past selves and not picardfacepalm.jpg?
Back then, my favorite of the powerlifts was the deadlift.
I loved the simplicity of it—pick it up, put it down.
I loved how it felt—like EVERYTHING in my entire body was firing at full capacity and my face was going to explode.
And, most of all, I loved that it allowed me to move the most amount of weight possible.
At 19 years old, 5’5” and 165lbs…there is an enormous room for ego; perhaps even more-so than for average and above-averaged sized folks.
I had “developed” a certain “technique” for picking heavy weights up off of the ground.
If you're not familiar with the “millennial mindset," imagine getting the internet around the age of 8. Just as you were getting the hang of the Dewey decimal system to do research for your book reports, you now had access to the World Wide Web where you could access whatever information you wanted in a fraction of the time.
Pair that with our survival instincts to pursue pleasure (in my case—more weight on the bar); avoid pain (less weight on the bar); a dash of nihilism (I had a religious upbringing, but denounced theology around age 5 and never replaced it with anything meaningful); and maybe just a splash of ADHD.
One of the results of all of that is a kid who wants to lift ALL OF THE WEIGHT, yesterday. No patience, no attention to the long-term process…all I could see was what I wanted to see.
Enter the Deadlift
If you're not familiar with heavy barbell deadlifts, there’s a bit more to them than “pick it up, put it down.”
There’s a whole set-up process that the lifter must go through—a mental and physical checklist of cues, muscles to engage, and “extra noise" to quiet down before actually picking it up (assuming you want to do it well and keep progressing).
But I couldn't be bothered to pay attention to any of that. I just wanted to pick the weight up and prove myself. I had trained myself to think that the way I had been doing things was the best way to be doing things.
“How you start is how you finish,”
my teammates/coaches would tell me, in some form or another, on more occasions than I can recount. They told me often because I was either too stupid or too stubborn to really get what they meant.
Back then, I would literally just pick it up and put it down. Grip n' rip, baby!
No attention to the set-up, no attention to the process, no attention to anything except my hype game and whether I made the lift.
My first 500 pound deadlift happened with a rounded back. It FLEW off of the ground with such speed that I knew, as long as I could hold on to the bar, I could lock it out.
Once the bar got to my knees, it felt like I was pulling through quicksand. Stubborn as I was (and with all of my teammates and coaches watching me take my first crack at 500), I held on and kept pulling.
Eventually I locked it out and put it back down.
In that moment, I was proud of myself. I had accomplished something that not long before, I didn’t dream was possible. This was a major milestone on my way to pulling world record weights…or so I thought.
For the rest of my time at Super Training, I don’t think I ever pulled 500lbs off of the ground in competition (which is ultimately what a powerlifter trains for--competition).
I came close…479, 481, 484…but never 500 again.
I hit a wall.
I found my limit.
I’d gone about as far as the “technique” that I “developed” would allow me to get.
My lack of a foundation (taking the time to develop the proper technique in setting up for the lift and maintaining position throughout the movement, rather than hastily rushing the process) had taken all that it could take.
Our bodies will only tolerate so much of our shenanigans before it starts to put us in check for the sake of self-preservation.
If I had kept hammering away at the heavy weights without ever realizing that I needed to start from scratch and build up my foundation, I’m sure that I would have screwed my back and body up a lot more than I actually ended up doing.
I’ve still had my share of injuries—from partially dislocating my shoulder while benching without a spotter and continuing the training session anyway (smaaaaart), to throwing out my back while squatting and using muscle relaxers and my grandfather’s cane to get out of bed for a week—all stemming in some form from my stubborn pig-headedness and desire to continue training beyond my body’s ability to keep pace with what I was asking of it.
Building Your Foundation
It wasn’t until I matured as a lifter and as a person that I started developing the body awareness and the “foundations of fitness” that I have now.
I’ve come to realize that the quicker progress is made, the faster it fades—so I take my time with building new habits and training for new skills.
Rather than freaking out about how much progress I’m not making, I focus on the small daily practices that become the habits that enhance my life.
I’ve learned that how we do some things is how we do all of the things, and that every area of our lives spill over into every other area of our lives.
What we do matters.
What we do now matters.
"Do what is meaningful...
We can make the time to set up our foundation—slow and meticulous as it may be; or we can cut corners, skip steps, and rush the process like a 19-year old millennial with an ego complex and ADHD.
One of these paths will yield incredible results over a lifetime and the accomplishment of feats that you never dreamed were possible for you.
...not what is expedient."
The other, while far more tempting, leads to short-term gain and long-term pain.
Take it from someone who has been there, and who wishes he would have taken it from many other folks who have been there as well—there is no need to rush this process.
Treat your fitness as if it were something that you were going to be doing for a lifetime.
That’s how long you’re here for.
Perhaps the most dramatic (and important) realization for me has been this: it doesn’t have to suck.
Fitness, whatever stage of it you’re in, can actually be enjoyable. I’d actually argue that it should be enjoyable. Because if it’s enjoyable and personally fulfilling, we’re more likely to stick with it.
We can engrain consistency in our healthy habits simply by enjoying what the heck we’re doing; and as you’ll see in the following chapters, there are plenty of ways to improve your overall fitness without hating it.
As you practice, if you find yourself wanting to skip ahead and just “get to the meal plans and advanced burpee variations already,” remember—how you start is how you finish.
Make the time to build your foundation deep and strong. If you do it well, everything that follows will come easier and last longer.
Give yourself the gift.