The Secret, Part I

by coachdanbell

1. Show up 2. Train hard 3. Repeat for 10 years

I have given this shorthand for success in weightlifting to many athletes, but I’m sure it comes off as flippant and oversimplified. While I will admit to a degree of the former, the latter is not the case; it may summarize, but it does not simplify.

So let’s take “The Secret” one step at a time. Today: Show Up.

I know, so simple, so easy, so obvious. Duh. You have to BE there to DO something there. Then why do so many find it so difficult to accomplish this, the first and most important step? Why aren’t they in the training hall when they are supposed to train? Your training schedule may say three, four or five days per week, but how many days do you actually train? If you look back at your training logs, I bet it’s far fewer days than you planned.

Injuries and illness are going to legitimately take out a few days each year, even with a good plan, adequate technique and attention to proper out-of-the-gym habits. Many of those days off are unavoidable, but some are not. Don’t want to squat with a cold? Really? Wrist has been a little tweaked lately? My low back is sore? Given that these are not the result of chronic or acute conditions, get your ass in the gym and suck it up. There is no such thing as an elite level athlete who is not hurting. Taking care of minor injuries—from torn calluses and sore knees to bruised collar bones and scraped shins is a daily effort, the purpose of which is to keep you training, not to rationalize skipping a session. It’s the price of admission to the upper echelons of competitive weightlifting. 

Real injuries and illness do take some days out of the training year (the flu, torn ligaments, food poisoning, broken bones, spear through the chest, cancer, gut-shot in a convenient store holdup, are acceptable excuses) but by far the most common cause of missed training is CHOICE. The athlete simply chooses something other than training. It may be a wedding, a funeral, an extra day of rest, a day in bed with their boyfriend, a weekend in Vegas, a class or final, or any number of options more attractive than the painful monotony of training. Failing to reach a goal is much more often than not a result of consistently making wrong choices.

I knew a World Champion Finish powerlifter named Sakari Selkainaho who passed on what may be the most important piece of wisdom I have ever heard when it comes to reaching a goal. After finishing second at the Worlds for three years in a row, he’d had enough with less than first place. He came to Louie Simmons’ Westside Barbell in Columbus to train with the best powerlifters in the world. He told me, “Every decision I make either gets me closer to gold or pushes me away.” Every waking moment he was aware of his choices, and in the couple months he was in Columbus training, he nearly always made the right choice. He won gold that year, and many times after.

You may want to miss training for your brother’s wedding; train first or after. It may be your favorite uncle’s funeral; train twice tomorrow or the day before. You may have a tough final for which you need to study; train at three in the morning if you must. The hottest guy in school just asked you out for this Friday night and it’s a heavy day; ask him if he can make it Saturday. Choose to train, over and over again, and you will make progress. Period.

I was a powerlifter for a while, at Westside Barbell, where I met Sakari. One day near Christmas, one of the newer lifters asked Louie how he was going to adjust the training schedule around Christmas Eve. “Is the 24th a training day?” Louie asked. “Yes.” “Then we train,” Louie said. “You can open your fucking presents after.”

Many lifters will put in years of training and have some success, reaching the state meet level or the B sessions of Nationals or the American Open. They explain away their failure to reach the podium as a lack of genetic potential or unalterable circumstance. But the truth is that most of them chose badly most of the time. Nearly all said at some point early in their lifting careers that they wanted to be great. But faced with the daily choices that lead to greatness or mediocrity, they too often chose the latter.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard athletes say they want to reach the top, that they are ceaseless hard workers, that they will do what it takes. They declare their lofty goals so often that you have them as clearly memorized as they do. So I’ll be there for them, in the training hall, ready to coach. Sadly, every now and then, I end up coaching ghosts to the sound of crickets, despite all the talk of success. You know what? The loudest, clearest declaration of your truest intent is this: SHOW UP.