Friday, March 4, 2016

READER REQUEST: DECISIONS, CHOICES, AND THE YOUNGER ATHLETE


A reader of the blog has made a request for a blog post.  The crux of his request stems from being an 18 year old athlete and watching others in his peer group use drugs to achieve success, and the existential question that arises of “why not me too”? Here I intend to discuss the topic of the decisions that we make when we are young as well as what I would advise younger athletes/myself at that age.

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Assuming they survive this

Despite the fact that many cultures consider 18 the age of adulthood, the reality is that one is going to change substantially from the age of 18 onward.  At least, one would HOPE to change then.  If you reach the peak of your growth and maturity at 18, you most likely won’t have any friends by 21 and be dead by 23.  Life is still just getting started and everything is influx, new challenges will arise, and new developments and growths will be available.  It is because of this that making lifetime decisions at 18 becomes a less than advisable strategy.


Don’t get me wrong; some people DO have it figured out at 18.  Some people decide that they are going to develop computer software and become a CEO, retire and die having followed the plan they developed at 18.  However, what is far more likely is that you’ll change your passions and fundamentally YOURSELF constantly over the years.  I’m living proof of that; when I was 18, I wanted nothing more than to be a great fighter.  I had been doing martial arts since I was 9, got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do (yes yes, I know now how little that means), was training boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, etc, because I KNEW that I wanted to be a great fighter.

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Pictured: my most likely outcome

By the time I turned 21, I had hung up my gloves forever.  I found out that I just plain didn’t like hurting people, and that martial arts was just taking too much time away from my family.  This is when I decided I was going to pursue lifting fulltime.  I bought the makings of my home gym, read all things Westside, gained 30lbs and decided I was going to be a powerlifter.  I spent years working on my big 3, entered my first powerlifting meet at 25, knocked out 3 meets, set some national records in my federation…and then discovered strongman at 27.


And here I am now; 9 years and 3 sports later, and who knows what the future will bring.  If I evaluated myself according to my 18 year old self’s ideals, I have failed, but these days I care less about landing a triangle choke and far more about mastering the continental (and really, I’m more concerned about rehabbing my ACL, but that’s another topic).  The point being that trying to make decisions that impact your entire future at the age of 18 is a dangerous gambit, and as much as you KNOW in your heart of hearts that something is for YOU, YOU will most likely change.  Messing with your endocrine system and risking jailtime over a passion you may no longer have is just silly.

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Just a reminder; this was once a thing

To expand even further; what if I’m wrong, and this really is your passion?  If that’s true, wouldn’t that be a further argument AGAINST the need for steroids?  If you’re in this for the long haul, what is the rush?  Why speed up the results at the earliest onset of your training when you can instead spend a few years developing a solid foundation of size, strength and knowledge and then use when the time comes to really get to the next level?  These kids that are using right out the gate are no different than when some 16 year old gets their hands on a jacked up Corvette; they have all of the hardware, bells and whistles and none of the tools to actually make the most out of it.  They know how to manipulate their body chemistry to elicit desired results, but they lack the understanding of the basics of pushing themselves and dietary control to REALLY get the most out of their efforts.



If this really is your passion and you’re in this for the long haul, you’ll understand and appreciate your time in the trenches, slugging it out over the meagerest of gains, as the lessons learned there will be INFINITELY more valuable than being able to bench 400lbs before all of your friends.  This isn’t to say that I’m anti-steroid (or pro-steroid), but it’s facing reality; if you were destined to be a Phenom in the world of strength and set world records in your early 20s like George Leeman or the Lillibridges, you’d most likely know it by 18.  Those people that get on steroids early do so because they got into lifting when they were 12, had great coaches, tremendous physical gifts, and lots of hard work under their belt already.  For every one of them, there is someone like Matt Kroc, who only became known in his 30s after decades of just slugging away in the gym (I would be remiss to neglect pointing out that, though Kroc was using steroids, he was ALSO constantly shifting between steroids AND estrogen, in flux between genders, which makes his accomplishments even more insane).  Mark Felix got his start in WSM at age 33, and is still kicking ass at 49.  So even though you might see your peers at 18 taking off and blowing you away because they’re using, this is a LONG game to play.  Things have a way of sorting themselves out.

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Can you drug test someone for having the same disease as Benjamin Button?

As for what I would advise an 18 year old lifter/what I wished I did at that age.


-Learn how to cook at least 3 meals.  These meals must include a meat and a vegetable.  The meat must be purchased from the butcher section of the grocery store or a butcher; it cannot come out of a box pre-seasoned with preservatives.

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Holy crap I used to eat these

-The only supplements you should consider are protein and creatine.  You don’t need either, but they’re helpful and cheap. 


-Never worry about your 1rm.  It is a totally meaningless number.  When you lift more weights in training, you are getting stronger, period.  Knowing your 1rm does not change how strong you are.


-Did skimp on conditioning.  There is nothing cool about a “strong” guy who gets winded going up stairs.

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...ok, still kinda cool

-Be friendly to everyone, everywhere.  Being an asshole in person is just not cool, and being one online just wastes everyone’s time.


-It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks you’re right.  Just BE right.  If your training is working, you’re right.  If someone wants to disagree, let them.  Living well is the best revenge.


-Break up with your girlfriend, she’s crazy (this is just to my 18 year old self…but if it works for you, that’s cool too).


-Don’t have any idols. People are humans, and just because someone lifts a lot of weight doesn’t make them a good person. Additionally, idolizing someone means you don’t see yourself ever getting to that level.  You can respect a lifter’s accomplishments without having to put the lifter on a pedestal.


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You can want to fight how Mike Tyson fought without wanting to live like he lived

-Avoiding assistance work doesn’t make you cool: it makes you lazy.


-Realize most people are going to quit training after a few years.  It gets tough real quick. This is why so many folks are so eager to get on steroids in the first place, as they know they won’t ever stick around long enough to get results.  For the most part, you can outwait and outlast all those people that shoot by you in the early stages by just plugging away with your head down, workout after workout, year after year.  After you get that down, then evaluate and decide what is right for you.




As always, if you have any questions or topics you want addressed, feel free to let me know.

9 comments:

  1. Great article. These are mature thoughts I wish I had when I was 18.

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    1. Appreciate it man. I know 18 year old me would have never listened, but it's nice to think about.

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  2. Great article. These are mature thoughts I wish I had when I was 18.

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  5. What are your thoughts on goal setting? I know you tend to think longer term and more on specific outcomes (ACL recovery/specific competition outcomes etc.)- but how about the non competitive lifters (most of us). Thank you for your time.

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    1. I tend to go against the grain on this one. Everyone says to set reasonable goals and to focus on the very next step, and that never did anything for me. I figure everyone is trying to be reasonable, and I want to be absolutely insane. I want to deadlift 800lbs at 200lbs bodyweight without steroids. That's been a goal of mine for probably a decade. There is a good chance it will never happen, but in CHASING that goal, I pulled 650 off the floor on a bad day.


      Apparently, some people quit if they don't reach their goals, and thus setting unobtainable goals is bad for them, but for me, the whole point is to have something WAY out of reach that you kill yourself trying to get to. In most cases, if we set our expectations super high and believe in ourselves, we can accomplish WAY more than if we just shoot for mediocrity.



      All THAT having been said, seriously, compete. You are going to get SO much stronger by competing than you ever will by not. Knowing that you're going to put yourself out there for everyone to see lights a fire under you way stronger than anything else. I got immensely stronger in the 2 years I spent competing in strongman than I did in the decade leading up to it.


      Thanks for the question!

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