I have to start this article with a personal story. We’ll talk about me, and then we’ll talk about you.
Earlier this year, I was preparing for a big powerlifting meet. I had a 16-week training cycle set up, and I was killing it. I was getting stronger, feeling dynamite, and clearly heading towards a monster performance. One of the main reasons I was kicking ass was the training approach I was using. Each week, I would either do heavy squat/light deadlift, or light squat/heavy deadlift. So it looked like this:
Week 1- Heavy SQ/Light DL
Week 2- Light SQ/Heavy DL
Week 3- Heavy SQ/Light DL
Week 4- Light SQ/Heavy DL
And so forth…
I had used this method successfully many times in the past. It gave me just the right combination of hard work and recovery, so I kept getting stronger and didn’t get injured because I was never going overboard with the weekly amount of total loading I was handling.
About halfway through my 16-week cycle, I had a heavy squat workout that pushed me hard (515x3). So obviously, I was supposed to go light in the deadlift that week, right? Wrong. Two days after that heavy squat day, I decided to pull heavy deadlifts. Why? Because I was jacked up on excitement, feeling great, and thought I was invincible. Instead of following a plan that worked, I just tossed out every shred of common sense and let my raging lifting boner do the thinking for me.
As I started warming up my deadlifts, my back was definitely feeling the tightness from those big squats two days earlier, but I figured, “Screw it, I’ll be okay.” So my heavy DL set that day was supposed to be 475x5. As I was about halfway up with the first rep…you guessed it.
SNAPO!!!! A nice hot blast of pain shot right up through the middle of my back. I strained everything from my spinal erectors to my traps. Pretty nasty strain too. To make a long story short, it took weeks to recover from and, once I finally got healthy again, I had to do a very slow buildup from light weights to moderate ones, and I wasn’t able to get it all back in time to compete in the meet. I had to pull out.
There’s an obvious lesson here. Sometimes we get injured, and we deserve it. We make decisions in training that are incredibly stupid because we’re hard-headed and impulsive, and we pay the price. When we look back after it’s over, we say to ourselves, “Damn… NO WONDER I got hurt!”
Ever done this? Anyone? Anyone?
And let me give you some context that makes the whole situation even worse. This story of mine just happened this year. I’m 45 years old, I have 30 years and over 100 meets of competitive lifting experience (PL and OL combined), and I’ve also been a coach for 25 of those years. See the point I’m trying to make? NONE of us are immune to foolish decisions, no matter how experienced we are. Even if you’re a veteran athlete/coach with a highly developed understanding of how to train and approach weightlifting, it’s still possible to revert back to thinking like a dumb teenage ramjet with absolutely zero judgment skills if you’re not careful.
I think some people have personalities that get carried away too easy, and they wind up taking risks that have danger lurking around the corner because of it. I also think weightlifting attracts these personalities.
And here’s where the conversation gets even more tricky. Being a headstrong risk taker is going to give you some positive results in your life. It’ll usually help you more than it’ll hurt you. Trust me, I’d much rather be a walking firecracker than a limp noodle. Most of the really successful people I’ve met in my life have been firecrackers, in one way or another. They’re ballsy and not afraid to roll the dice, and that’s one of the main reasons they wind up accomplishing a lot.
However, we all know there’s a follow-up component to this conversation. Risk taking and ballsy behavior have to be blended with intelligence. There has to be an ability to always look at the whole picture, instead of only looking three feet in front of your face. I suppose we could call this the difference between calculated risk and foolish risk. All those firecrackers I talked about who do amazing things? They’re not just daring. They’re also smart, and cautious when they need to be.
Needless to say, we’re talking about trying to walk the finest line imaginable. We want to push to the absolute edge of the limits of safety…without going too far and falling off the cliff. When you live your life like this, mistakes are possible. It’s part of the game. Stepping back away from the edge of the cliff will keep you safe, and sometimes this is the right move. But you can’t go too far with caution, either. I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs didn’t develop Apple by always shying away from risky situations.
Here’s a little mental homework exercise for you. It’ll should give you an idea of how good you are at this. If you really want to have fun, apply this to both your weightlifting and your regular life:
- Which situations have involved the biggest risk?
- How did those situations work out?
- How many times have you pulled back and used caution instead of taking a gamble?
- Have those moments of caution paid off, or did they rob you of golden opportunities?
I got hurt because I took a risk. It was a foolish risk that I didn’t need to take. If I would have pulled back and used more caution at that moment, I probably would have stayed healthy and I would have gotten the chance to compete at the meet. Why did I make this mistake? Hunger to train hard, desire to lift heavy weights, excitement, etc. Those qualities are all good weapons for a weightlifter, but you can’t shoot them in all directions like a maniac. You need accuracy.
It’s a struggle, and it always will be if you’re a hard charger. Even old war horses like me still make the occasional blunder. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens. Learn from it, and use it to be smarter next time.