Saturday, June 6, 2015


The title to this post is a trainwreck, but it is for a purpose.  I’ve already touched on the topic of “bad day strength”, but this is going to go even further.  This isn’t about making the most out of a bad day, but instead understanding the value of training oneself when they are in sub-optimal conditions so that, when the optimal conditions are present, one is even better.

This is an idea that I feel many trainees get confused.  So often we see trainees deride training gear like belts, straps, wraps, sleeves, etc, under the argument that “what are you going to do when it comes time to lift something and you don’t have your gear?”  What is comical about these trainees is that they are the same ones that are ADAMENT about the need for an extensive warming up process before every lifting session.  Foam rolling, mobility work, activation exercises, a pre-workout supplement consumed beforehand, meditation, etc etc.  I think I can make due without the straps should the need arise, but can these people lift ANYTHING without all that crap?

Image result for Zombieland limber up
I...I suppose that's an option

We are witnessing the fundamental issue at hand here: people will only lift AFTER they have configured themselves optimally.  I’ve already written in the past about the issues involved in striving with being optimal, but here the primary concern is the fact that there are too many factors that can go wrong, and when they inevitably do go wrong, one’s performance suffers.  So often we see trainees and competitors that talked about lackluster performance for a variety of reasons.  Meals were missed, equipment was different, pre-workout timing was off, warm-up was rushed, the list goes on and on.  Yes, we can easily call these excuses, but they are also still factors, and they are factors WITHIN our control.

How do we control these factors?  By training when things aren’t ideal.  Train first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with a rushed warm up in the cold with bad equipment.  Do this for months, get stronger in THESE conditions, and watch how much you progress once you start improving the external variables.  If you train while you are uncomfortable, you will perform very well when you are comfortable, but if you train only when you are comfortable, you will perform poorly when you are uncomfortable.

 Image result for hell week navy seals flutter kicks
I bet you these guys kick ASS at flutter kicks when someone ISN'T spraying them with a hose

This is why I am vocal against psyching up during training: the negatives far outweigh the positives.  If you can only train while psyched up, you have to make sure during each training session that you are performing with the same level of emotional arousal in order to accurately measure progress, and then you also need to replicate this in competition.  If you train WITHOUT psyching up and are able to get stronger under this condition, it simply means that you will be able to perform even better when you DO psyche yourself up.

I speak from personal experience in this regard, both as a competitor and a spectator.  So many times at strongman competitions I see competitors that are having a bad day.  They’re missing numbers they hit in training, gassing early, not recovering, etc.  When asked for reasons, it’s pretty predictable: they normally train in the afternoon with 3 meals in them, but this competition started in the morning.  They normally sleep in until 0900, but had to get up at 0700 to weigh in.  Normally there is music playing in the gym, but they didn’t have that at the contest.  Normally they can spend 30 minutes warming up for an implement, but they didn’t get a chance because the platform was crowded. 

 Image result for quickie
There isn't always time for foreplay

Meanwhile, I tend to amaze myself with how great I feel in competitions.  The majority of my training is performed at 0500, and at most I’ll have 2 pop tarts in my system all I do for a warm-up is performing the first movement of the day starting with the bar and throwing on 45lb plates until I reach my working weight (and even then it’s about 1-3 reps per warm-up set).  My equipment is also pretty cheap or homemade, music isn’t loud because I don’t want to wake-up the neighborhood, rest times are short because I only have an hour to train, etc.  When I show up to a contest after leisurely sleeping in until 0700, getting a few meals in me before the first event, having time to warm-up (which I still don’t really use) and just relax before things start, I feel incredible.  Having a whole hour between events to recover?  That’s madness!

I am not advocating covering your equipment in grease to improve your grip strength or wearing a tank top made of poison ivy to improve your focus, I am simply advocating for training in less than ideal conditions.  When on your worst day under the worse conditions you can match your competitors on their best day, once it comes time for the competition, you will blow everyone away.  The closer you can bridge the gap between you at your worst and you at the best, the more consistent and superior your performance will be.


  1. For someone who has a choice, it can be a struggle to weigh the benefits of training in less-than-ideal conditions and developing the type of hardiness that will benefit you vs immediate reward from having an optimal session. Like, I've come home from work and was tired and hungry and planned to train the next day when I have more time, but then I inevitably feel like a wuss when trying to relax so I end up going to train that evening. I'm usually not at my best but it feels good to have gotten something done when I don't feel like it. Great article.

    1. Thanks man. You're absolutely spot on too. It's very easy to take advantage of over abundant luxury rather than to choose adversity. Sometimes, it's nice when life makes the choice for us. One of the things I miss about being in a warmer climate is that I no longer have the chance to train in a below freezing garage on a regular basis, haha.

  2. I recently started learning the classical guitar and one of my lessons reminded me of this post. My instructor does this thing he calls bull baiting - in which he yells obscenities and obnoxious comments at me while I perform a piece of music. He says students who are able to perform well under such conditions are able to perform better under a perfect condition (silent audience, etc). Unfortunately, at most performances, there will be people coughing and sneezing in the audience, as well as traffic noise, etc.

    Not surprisingly, he has observed that students who have been trained to ignore bull baiting perform better than those who have not.

    1. Hah, what an excellent crossover example, and too true. So many people are masters in a perfect environment and crumble as soon as reality comes in. It's like the famous Mike Tyson quote-"Everyone has a plan until they get punched."

      Thanks for sharing!