Saturday, May 29, 2010

PR for Real. One man's quest to Military Press half his bodyweight. And the Mind Spot.

Let me lead with this: I have nothing against training for Pr's( personal records). In fact, it was the hallmark of my training in powerlifting for 15 years as it is a key component of the Westside Barbell method, my preferred system of systematic torture for powerlifting progress.

Every week in WSB land, we strove to get a new pr in some special exercise or variation of a competition lift. PR's for wide grip board press, close grip, 3 board, 2 board, floor press close, floor press wide, etc. etc. We knew,especially on max efforts( close to or above 100% of personal best) that one could only increase loads for one, perhaps two, weeks before progress would stall out, or, go backwards.

So we switched up the exercises on a regular( weekly basis), and, the stronger you were, the more often you had to change things to avoid stalling out. One had to discern which exercises, though, had a postitive correlation with the competitive lift you were actually trying to improve. In competition that is.

Setting a pr on your close grip two board press, which you knew meant your competition bench press would be stronger was great. EXCEPT it didn't matter UNLESS you actually went to a competition and did the lift on a platform, under the intense scrutiny of judges who were not your friends and could care less if you got the lift or not.

All competitive lifters know one thing, gym lifts don't mean shit. Sorry to burst some bubbles here but in the world of competitive athletics what really matters is what you can do in competition. Under pressure, on somebody's else's time table, in some strange gym with strange equipment, probably NOT in your own time zone and on COMMAND! Not when you feel good about it, or ready, or are perfectly warmed up, or your assessments tell you this is a good lift or a good time to push.

Suit up, show up and see what you're made of. Or not.

So when Doug Fioranelli, RKC came to Girya last year to prepare for the half bodyweight press he had along way to go and he knew it. This was the 40 kg.I worked with him on the basics of strict pressing; the loaded clean, activating the lats, pushing on the contact point of the bell, keeping the shoulder in the socket, etc. He missed it at Girya, pretty badly. Jordan worked with him as well. He trained, he listened, he implemented. Still no go.

Then onto the Level 2 in February.He felt good but he missed it again.Better than before but still a miss. Doing things on demand are just way harder than in the gym. Everyone knows this.Back to the gym but Doug just had a 32 kb bell and a 40 kg so we figured out some tricks for him to use to prepare. Jerking the 40 kg with negative presses, various set/ rep combo's with the 32kg, etc. He had three months to complete his task and get his Level 2 certification.

Nothing like goals and a deadline. And a real personal record to achieve. No where to run, no where to hide and no way to go around. You must go through. To his credit he leaned in and pushed ahead even though I could tell he was not sure at all he could do it.

He came to Girya again last month to test his press. Another miss. This is where things get tricky as this stuff can get stuck in your head and getting the negative images, fears and doubts out are as important, no MORE, important than anything you do in training. It's all in the mind, and the stronger you get, and the higher up the chain you go the more you realize this. How you think about the lift, or don't think about it can make or break you.

We were running out of time. I pulled out all my tricks and really got down to the nitty gritty with him in terms of intensity and form. All singles. No other pressing. More rest. He came back two weeks later to test again, knowing he had this day and one other or he had to retake the level two next year.

He missed the 40 kg again but this time I showed him my "Mind Spot" technique. After he had pressed the 36 kg a bunch of singles, missed the 40 kg twice , I told him I would "spot" him on it.
I stood very close as he set up.When he racked the weight I touched his forearm to let him KNOW I was right there.

He crushed it.

I didn't do anything but spot his mind.

By my being there, and relieving him of the anxiety of whether or not he would make the lift( he 'knew' if he started to miss it I would 'help') ALL of his mental strength went into making the lift. No fear, no hesitation, no anxiety, no self doubt. Just pure commitment to what he needed to be focused on the whole time anyway. Pushing ALL OUT and MAKING the lift. No pre preparing his defeat speech about why he missed it, or feeling how bad things were going to be if he didn't make it, etc. , etc., etc.

All things that NO ONE should be thinking about as they attempt a max lift. But it's hard not to.

He was amazed.Especially when I told him, which he knew, that I didn't help at all. This made a huge difference. It set the stage for his last attempt this last Tuesday. Make or break. Just about the last day in his three month Grace period.

I also loaned him my 36 kg so he could practice. This was important also. He had one more try.

Tuesday May 25 , 2010. 6 am. Doug shows up. Warms up. Misses the 36 kg on one warmup( out of front) but makes the other attempts easy. He's stalling. I tell him it's time. Now or never baby. No way out. Make it happen and make it happen now. No where to run, no where to hide.

He misses the first attempt with the 40 kg but it's a Great miss; that is, it is WAY higher than ever before, almost finished. He just lost his core tightness at the end. He is dejected. I tell him it was a great attempt and that I regularly would come back and made second or third attempts after missing them in meets ,especially if the miss was due to a technical miscue and not just raw strength.

I tell him what he needs to do. He knows he probably only has this last attempt to do it. He cleans it( now Tracy's entire swing class is watching), locks in and CRUSHES IT. Perfect. Three whites from me. I was almost as excited as if I had done it myself. A Real PR. One that only took the better part of a half a year to get and one he had to overcome MULTIPLE failures to achieve.

This is real training. This is the real deal. This is perseverance, willpower, discipline and mind control; the most importance aspect of all training but especially high level training.

Doug is now Level 2 and he will remember this for a long time. Maybe forever.He also knows now, more than ever before ,that what and how he thinks about a lift can make all the difference.

There's nothing wrong with adjusting one's training every day to make it the best you can and not get hurt but at some point, if you want to be a real athlete, you have to do it on someone else's timeline and on demand. This is what competitive athletic training prepares you to do.

It can create more anxiety than you've ever felt before but also carries with it the possibility of more joy and satisfaction than anything else as well. And you will know for real that failure means nothing. It's just a temporary setback on your way to success.

Just ask Doug.


Iron Tamer said...


Mark Reifkind said...

thanks David.

Josh Hillis said...

Really, really really awesome. Totally inspiring!

Mike Bunting said...

That is the entire reason I enjoy stromgman ideology. Well put.

Mark Reifkind said...


thanks so much for stopping by and the kind words, much appreciated.

Mark Reifkind said...

Thanks Mike,

Strong just FEELS good.At least to me.

Marc said...

Mark, That is really inspiring. As a relatively new and chronologically older RKC, that type of determination and coaching is what I'm striving for as both a coach to my clients and as inspiration and motivation for myself to achieve similar goals.

Mark Reifkind said...


thanks for stopping by and commenting. glad to provide inspiration, it really is the key to all progress.
Inspiration creates motivation and that's all one needs to move mountains, of any size :))

Doug Fioranelli said...

Thanks Mark,
Yes it feel good to complete such a difficult task (for me) but to also earn great reward. This lift taught me so much more than training and preparation, it taught me that the basics should never be neglected. Like they say at the RKC treat EVERY bell like it's heavy, which means learn to build strength through technique.

I also learned that failure is part of the game and can be a good thing if used in a positive manner; to reassess training design, technique and mental preparation.

I do have years of training experience under my belt but I am never too proud to seek the help and advice of other gifted coaches who can help guide and reassure me towards success.

Thanks Mark I could not have done it without your excellent coaching and patience.

Mark Reifkind said...

Thanks Doug for the comment and the lesson in perserverance.

well played man

Sean Schniederjan RKC said...

I got chills reading that. Incredible.

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks sean

I got chills first seeing it( true) and then when I wrote the account.

fitness-siren said...

Mark, it's amazing how the mind can control a lot of the things we do without us knowing it. I like that mind spot concept. Congrats to Doug for accomplishing a difficult task.


Joshua Hughes said...

Excellent blog post, I feel as if I just watched Doug press his PR! Thank you.

Marc Andresen said...


Congratulations to Doug and you. Thanks for your great account of a great story. I'd advise anyone undertaking your "Half-Bodyweight Press" program to also read this post.

Your points about strange gyms, other peoples timetables, and the mental gremlins involved in missing lifts cannot be emphasized enough. It takes a special person to persist and defeat such self-doubt.

Thanks for your work.
Marc A.

Madbaldscotsman said...

Doug was a team instructor at an RKC I attended. I did not pass my snatch test & sent on a video later. Boy do I know what that dark cloud feels like! What my coach had me do and reading the book "Psych" really helped me. Bravo to you and Doug! These things make us stronger in mind and body, not to mention the connection we have with others to tap into the mindset of success. This is a great community!

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