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Dive Master
By Donny Shankle 

During my trip to Indonesia in and around the Islands of Komodo, Labuanbajo Flores, I did some SCUBA diving and loved every minute of it. I did 11 dives over the course of 4 days. With each dive my breathing became more relaxed and got better control of my buoyancy. SCUBA diving is nowhere near as difficult as weightlifting. On the contrary it’s very easy on the body and quick to learn so long as you’re taught in the beginning by someone with knowledge and experience. Someone who can see through the shadows. Learning from a good dive instructor is essential if you want to catch as much of nature’s wonders on each dive you do.

I’m always fascinated by nature’s wonders and have an affinity for learning about all the different types of flora and fauna. Plus, the immensity of the ocean keeps a man’s ego in check. No matter how big and bad you think you are the oceans teach you quite well there’s always a bigger fish. With that being said, the water for some reason feels like a welcoming home to me. I am to my surprise very comfortable in the ocean and feel very much at ease. The relaxed feeling I get from the weightlessness in the water can’t be found anywhere else except on top of the podium after winning in competition. All of my physical aches and pains disappear. The mobility problems I have in my shoulders and hips go away because the water is supporting me. I can relax in the water and in so doing I open myself up to seeing more of the beautiful coral and creatures around me. However, for as confident as I am in the water, I understand I am a beginner and can’t yet see through the shadows. I can see what the light shows me but not what lies in the enigmatic blue only a little further away. The large animals change the light and cast shadows on the ocean floor. This puts me in danger but with a good dive master next to me I feel safe. His eyes are trained to see not only what the light shines on but also the movement within the shadows.

For example, in the waters of Manta Point there are manta rays anywhere between 3-5 meters long. I even heard there is one down there 8 meters long! On this particular dive, I was instructed to deflate my BCD (buoyancy control device) if I saw one until I touched bottom and hold on to a solid rock to anchor me to the ocean floor. While I was down at only 15 meters I could see far off into the distance manta rays but they were so small and barely visible. I kept looking around to see if I could find one close to me but there were none nearby. Or so I thought. My dive master comes over to me and deflates my BCD all the way and I sink like a rock to the bottom. No more than 20 meters down. I figured he must have seen something which I couldn’t so I held on to the nearest rock I could find and the moment I lifted my head an entire squadron of manta rays swam past me! 9 in total to be exact. They were so close I could have touched the first one which was the largest had I only stretched out my arm. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t see this on my own. Had it not been for the dive master these marvelous creatures would have maybe crashed into me or worse yet I would have never saw them at all. This was the highlight of the trip which brought me close to sea turtles, barracuda, moray eels, white tip sharks, fishes and coral of every color imaginable and even an octopus. As we surfaced my entire dive group gave each other high 5’s and laughed with excitement to see something which was so awesome.

After the dive was over and the boat was heading back home, I thought to myself how similar that experience was to watching the weightlifters in my gym. The dive master could tell the squadron of mantas were coming because he was watching out for the shadows. He wasn’t just concentrated on what the light could show him but he was also focused on any changes in the light. His eyes are accustomed to see the changes not just from in front of him but all around him the same way a good coach or experienced weightlifter can spot the initially unseen errors in the athletes form, timing and approach. As I sipped my tea and felt the waves roll under the boat watching the sunset I smiled. What a heck of an experience. Not only did I see something wonderful but I also learned a lesson and compared it with my own discipline. I love seeing weightlifting in everything. It’s my passion if you couldn’t tell already.

The beginner first learns the principles to later become a champion through excellent instruction and practice. Things like moving your feet or keeping the bar close are the fundamentals which the light easily makes visible. With enough practice and as your body becomes stronger these fundamentals become second nature to you. There are other things however lying below, in the deep recesses of your mind which you must also uncover if you want to win. These are the shadows which only a master’s experienced eye can see and help you mature. Things like attitude, timing your change of direction, your discipline off the platform, rehearsing visualization or improving the strength of your will.

Once you are good at spotting what the light easily shows and you find your secure anchor it’s then time to summon the shadows from within. Perfecting these too until you are your own master. This is a buoyant and weightless feeling. When you compete you will be totally relaxed and highly confident in your ability. It will feel like coming up to the surface for air after seeing something below so beautiful.



Strong Is Happy
By Donny Shankle

I have this light olive green t-shirt which Eleiko sent me with the phrase “Strong Is Happy” written across the front. It’s definitely one of my favorite shirts for its simple message. It feels good to be strong and in turn it makes you happy. Granted the kind of strength a weightlifter needs to develop to become a champion has a lot of unpleasantness tied to it. However, an unpleasant pursuit doesn’t necessarily bring you to an unpleasant destination. On the contrary some of the most important things in life which bring us great happiness may have its genesis in confusion, struggle and heartache. But what are the other things which bring happiness to man? I cannot completely answer that question. All men find their happiness in different places but there are a few ideas which we do share to be happy.

Happiness is found in freedom. Particularly in political freedom. Men cannot be happy in bondage or pinned under the thumb of cruel dictators. The importance of freedom and it’s connection to happiness is even written in the preamble to our nation’s declaring of independence. This document is a beacon to the world explaining the rights of all men. Man has a right to be free it says and in his freedom to pursue his own happiness. This can be achieved through finding a hobby or participating in a sport such as weightlifting. It can be found in traveling or watching films. It's what you enjoy during your leisure.

Finding happiness in leisure which freedom brings can also be found in simply relaxing on the beach alone and away from everything and everyone. To rest the back of your head against your hands and just feel the sun on your face. It doesn’t matter how this leisure is found as long as you are free to feel happiness while doing it. This freedom to use your leisure as you see fit whether in the gym, library, church or atop Mount Everest cannot be found in a corrupt world where your only purpose is to be a servant till death.

Happiness is found in work. I know what you’re probably thinking. But Donny you just said happiness is found in being free and using your leisure which freedom brings. I did but in order to have leisure you also have to have work. There is nothing more sad than waking up and having nothing to do and nowhere to go. There is nothing so contemptible as to never have a sense of purpose. It’s a feeling of low, low, low existence and not living. There are two reasons why happiness is found in work. The first is work develops friendships. You meet other people who are also working towards the same goal. It’s shared interests endemic only to our species. Weightlifters are strong and happy because we’re around others who are strong and happy. Don’t believe me? Try going into the gym and lifting alone everyday and never getting the chance to show others all the hard work you have put in. Never getting the chance to compete and win.

The second reason man finds happiness in work is because it puts him in action. Work puts man in motion to create. In geniuses, work puts these special men in motion to create unthinkable achievements. Work allows our happiness to be put proudly on display for others to see. When these two are put together, the friendships made and the action which work ignites, you then have the finding of great civilization. No nation on earth was ever great which was idle and lazy. No nation on earth was ever great which couldn’t acquire friendship and allies. The inactive man is a dead man. The still man is a lost soul afraid of his own shadow. The man in motion is constantly on the move to explore, to seek adventure, to fall in love and to acquire knowledge. His desire to know everything is insatiable. It is righteous he should feel this way for he took and ate from the tree of knowledge. The man of action is the good man and the man of idleness is in the wrong. By working together man finally sees the happiness in other men full on as well as his unhappiness. Through work we find we are not so different from one another.

Happiness can be found in God. There is no more lousier a lot on this beautiful green and blue Earth than the lot of men who do not believe in God. I say this with utmost certainty. People who do not believe in God are not only miserable to be around but they are sensitive to criticism and also dangerous. The idea of a God fearing man is lost to them and as a result they do not fear their odious actions. This is atrocious and detrimental to the happiness of you so stay away from them. However, if you have been blessed to speak to others and change their wayward hearts then do so. This is something which only you can discover through prayer and talking with God.

A belief in the Almighty is righteous and proper for all men. His creation is all around us to bring us peace and happiness. God has given us all we need to be happy if only we can be happy through him. Everything from the heavens above in their infinite expanse into the unknown, to the curious mysteries of the deep and all in-between are gifted to all men or this world. What a joyous time to live! Joy is the highest form of achievement man can feel by his own hands. In that sense strong is not really happy but strong is joy, because you worked hard towards being strong. Whatever brings you closer to joy brings the love of God closer to you and your love closer to Him. Once you know His love you can completely and perfectly love others. Including yourself.

I’ve covered a myriad of topics in this chapter all with the intention to better identify and understand strength or the idea of being strong. Such topics included having a strong work ethic, understanding misery, and sharing the stoic lessons I bring to each training session. I have touched upon the psychology of why its important to have a gym persona. I went into detail about the differences between controlled and violent power along with what the difference is between focus and concentration and why it’s important to understand there differences. Of all the chapters in this book it was this chapter which certainly took me the longest to complete. This was because I wanted to talk with other people around the world who are either weightlifters, coach weightlifters or who simply enjoy being strong. Any comment made in passing or discussed till late hours in the night were put to my memory.

We began by saying to be strong was the absence of mediocrity. The absence of mediocrity and topics within that message I have shared with you still has a sublime succinctness to it so perhaps there is no need to go on any further. For weightlifting’s purpose I can definitely say there is no such thing as a mediocre champion. It’s an oxymoron to say otherwise. Then again maybe all this time I’ve put more thought into the meaning of strength than is necessary. Perhaps the concept of strength or being strong can’t be singularly identified because it’s happiness is shared by so many in so many different ways. Essentially, I’m saying to be strong is common to all men in some special way known only to their heart.

Focus on becoming stronger everyday and avoid getting caught up with novelty. It has all been laid out before. Do not seek a revelation which has already been revealed. To be the strongest weightlifter you have to keep lifting everyday with the same passion you had on day one. This leads to mastery and in order to get there you must own every ounce of skill involved in what you are doing. Once you can do this you will approach the task in front of you without fear and have a powerful understanding of not only weightlifting but nearly everything. You will understand the important reasons men need to be free, to find productive work, to love God. You will know what is means to then be strong.



Active Rest
By Donny Shankle

Instead of taking an entire day off from the gym it is better to move around and do something. A weightlifters training is typically year round and advanced weightlifters are putting in multiple training sessions a day. With all of this training the body becomes very well adapted to the demand being placed on it and having a complete day off can leave you feeling very stiff and ungainly for your next training session. Getting in the gym and doing some very light lifts or even just bar work will keep this stiffness from happening.

Warming up before training you will notice takes longer for some lifters on Monday mornings than any other day during the week. If you are in this category it is probably because you are not doing enough activity on Sunday. The entire training day can sometimes be affected from too much lounging and rest to the point where performance is poor. To keep this from happening either get in the gym on Sunday or do something else if you prefer to keep your mind out of the gym for at least a day. If you are lifting for a team a great idea for your active rest day is to do something together as a team. A few activities I have always enjoyed are playing basketball at the park, setting up the volleyball net at the beach, or going for a swim at the beach or nearest pool. Each of these activities are great for your footwork, cardiovascular fitness, and can even increase your vertical which transfers well to the platform. If you train alone you can still go for a scenic walk, swim a few laps in the pool, or get out on the track and practice some 10 meter sprints which will keep the idea of moving fast fresh in your mind.

Your active rest day should be fun and if you are going to the gym to put in some light lifts it needs to be quick. I know it is tough for athletes to do this, but save any competitiveness you have for the platform. Your rest day is about training your mind more than anything else, and its important training for when you taper for a competition. The week of competition you should only be putting in two workouts that involve lifting your openers (light morning training does not count). The rest of that time is spent staying away from the gym so the weightlifter can't wait to get back on the bar. You should feel like a fixated dog being held by the collar waiting to be let go. Your active rest days prepare you for this and are the main reason why I believe its essential to have them.


Wild It Right

The Animals
By Donny Shankle

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.” - Charles Darwin

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” - Psalm 24:1

Did you know that naked mole rats are the longest lived rodents with a life span exceeding 30 years? Scientists are even trying to discover why they’re resistant to cancer. Chameleons to me are one of natures most amazing creatures. These lizards have 360 degree vision which enable them to look in two opposite directions at once. A useful skill when you’re trying to stay alive. There’s also a lizard which lives in Central and South America which is so light and fast he can run on water earning him the name Jesus lizard. Owls are another favorite animal of mine. Did you know their flight is virtually silent? The have special feathers which break up air turbulence making them a stealthy predator. Many other smaller birds are snatched away in the night not knowing what took them before being swallowed whole.

I love watching nature shows and the ones narrated by David Attenborough are my favorite. Just a few weekends ago I was captivated by the new Blue Planet 2 series from the BBC. In that one I learned about sneaky cuttlefish males who disguise themselves as females, to bypass the watchful eyes and tentacles of the larger males, to get the female cuttlefish to mate. The giant Pacific octopus mother will not eat for 6 months as she protects her eggs and literally goes to her death ensuring they have the safest start possible.

The detail cameras are able to capture these days baffles me. And how do these camera men get so close to what their filming? I mean there is no environment they can’t go it seems. From the deep abyss to the skies above. They capture squids fighting it out in the deep and falcons striking down sparrows in mid-flight. Adding to my excitement, I have the surround sound which if you don’t have it already and you like watching nature shows like me then I highly recommend you get it. I watched a wasp eating tadpoles and it felt like it was in the room with me. The vibrations its wings created sent a shiver down my spine.

Animals fascinate me and I’m pretty sure in a former life I must have been a naturalist. During one of my recent travels, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Galapagos. There are so many different types of wildlife there like the blue footed booby with feet colored blue (hence the name) for mating purposes. The bluer the feet the better chance you have with the ladies. The giant tortoises are such surreal and beautiful creatures with a rough history. The Galapagos used to be a way station for sailors who collected their meat during circumnavigation. Noisy and smelly sea lions are everywhere. It’s like they think they own the place. I saw one relaxing at the water taxi station taking up the entire bench for himself. Then there is the iguanas, the sally light foot crabs, the penguins and the cute finches. What a great trip it was so see all these animals up close and personal and in actual nature. I’ll never forget my little breakfast buddy. A small common house finch who ate a piece of biscuit straight from the palm of my hand. It took a few attempts at first of him eating from my fingertips but eventually he hopped his way right into the palm of my hand and had breakfast with me. It was my last day on the Islands and of course I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear.

There are no second chances in the wild. Mother nature is cruel but her ways are necessary. The birds and the fish, the reptiles and the amphibians and the mammals all have to get it right the first time. There is no second chance for the gazelle who is running from the lion. She can either cut left or right and try and trip up her chaser or she can run straight and try to tire the lion enough that it’ll look elsewhere. The desire to live is strong in every creature. The baby penguins who jump into the sea for the first time need to swim with agility and speed from the onset. If not then their lives are short and they become food. That amazes me. The fact that in the wild you have no second chances. You gotta get it right. You have to get it right the first time. You have to get it right every time.

Eat, reproduce and don’t die. That’s the life of the animals and only the fittest survive. Not much different for a weightlifter who wants to be champion right? You gotta eat and you need to reproduce your best efforts in training on a consistent basis as much as your mental and physical capacity can endure. Lastly you need to not quit. Like the great white shark which a friend of mine once said so poetically to me, “You need to keep moving forward to survive.” Keep moving forward simply means be better than yesterday. Along the way you’ll stumble and feel pain but do the animals complain? Are they not taken care of by God if they remain strong and concentrate on always getting it right the first time? Men are no less and no more than all the rest of incredible creation. We too have to get it right if we want to survive. We too have to get it right if we want to keep moving forward. Else we keep making the same mistakes and remain stagnant and idle waiting for the night owl to snatch us away. We too have to show a love for the best in ourselves and a want to be part of the wild and the free.

Keep focusing on getting it right and use your individual strengths like all the rest of creation to live. Our idiosyncrasies in time end up cleverly (like the cuttlefish) adding to our identity and our spirit in the gym with time and energy remains as steadfast as the lion.



Avoidance Of The Hard
By Donny Shankle

When I was a little boy I had this toy made up of two horseshoes connected by a chain with a metal ring around the center. The idea behind it was getting the metal ring separated from the center. I would fiddle with it for hours in the beginning trying to get the ring free but for all my determination I couldn’t figure it out. Out of frustration I asked my father how to do it and he showed me. The problem was he did it so fast that I was still dumbfounded. Even after watching him, I still couldn’t figure it out. One night as I was twisting and turning the chain the ring came free but even then I didn’t know what I did to get it free. I thought I was cool though and showed it to my father and he told me to put the ring back on and do it again. He wanted to judge whether or not I really did learn or got lucky. I was cornered and had to confess I still didn’t know how to get the ring off. Eventually, with enough practice and thinking I could get the ring free with the same speed and understanding my father did. As hard as it was at first, I soon understood the toy’s simplicity.

To say a thing or task is simple is to say it’s simple because you have had the practice to uncover its mystery. In reality the simple is hard. In order to say you understand something requires great study and practice. Is a thing really simple? Even observing someone easily perform the toy's challenge, I still couldn’t see how simple it was to remove the ring. My eyes couldn’t keep up long enough for my brain to understand. It was not going to do me any good to practice with a different or simpler toy. Even if shown slowly how to remove the ring, I may or may not still understand. I do know once my hands figured out how to move the horseshoes in a certain way the ring always came free. It was my practice and single minded persistence which overcame my many failed attempts.

Before you begin to think you’re in waters which are to deep to tread ask yourself whether or not you have put in the practice. Have you trained a thing which is hard to make it look simple? Champions face head on what is hard and unravel its mystery through practice. To say a thing is simple is an immense ordeal especially when that thing will require many years of practice. A sport like weightlifting is approached no differently from how I went about playing with that toy. You can watch and have others show you what to do but will that really work? Will you understand how to snatch and clean and jerk unless you practice for yourself? No you will not and you will certainly never lift enough weight to call yourself a champion.

Do not avoid what is hard. Tackling tasks which are difficult is one way to strengthen your overall capability. Each new hard endeavor you commit yourself to and succeed at accomplishing will make you a stronger and wiser person. It’s OK to fail at the hard so long as you do not remain idle and commit to understanding why you did fail. Don’t avoid the hard. The Earth is full of plenty of destruction but its also full of even more abundance. The weightlifter who works to make what is hard look simple goes through years of abundance and destruction albeit of course on a much smaller scale compared to the planet. One of the great abundant moments for weightlifters is finding a solidarity amongst other weightlifters who are all pushing each other to new personal records and gold medals.

There are people who know how hard a task they set for themselves is going to be and they get on with it and there are those who are afraid of it. Those who are afraid either give up entirely or they distract themselves from even beginning the commitment necessary to doing it. Maybe they give it a try and get a taste of what’s needed and convince themselves they are not good enough. They avoid what is hard maybe because they have no belief in what they can do. Or they overly complicate things in order to find any excuse from facing the test head on. There lies another challenge which is way more important than being a champion weightlifter. The challenge of not being that person who unnecessarily over complicates things.

Perhaps that toy as a boy sparked an interest in accomplishing harder tasks later in life. I like to think so. Don’t be afraid of the difficulty that lies within pushing your body and mind in the gym. Along with the introspection necessary to improve you discover what willpower is and how powerful it can be. Imposing your will in practice is what makes you figure out the frustrating toy or climb the podium to the top in competition. I applaud those who face the hard challenges and it’s one of the reasons I love being around weightlifters. The stress is easy to see. The challenge is not disguised. It’s get up and try to lift the bar again or go find yourself and easier toy.


In The Fall

Do Your Chores 
Part 1
By Donny Shankle

This is mainly for the young weightlifter but if you're older you may also get some use out of it. I truly believe the person who can speak about their passion with an analogy seen in every aspect of life is a voice to be heard. Learn to see your discipline in every dimension and far reaching scale. Even when you are not training on the platform this does not mean you cease practicing becoming the champion.

Much of what you can learn to become a great weightlifter as a young boy or girl starts off the platform. It starts around the house listening to mom and dad when they give you chores to do. When I was a boy my father used to get on me whenever he thought I was being lazy or wasting time. Both my father and mother taught me to take pride in my chores and helping my family. Self-discipline is the most important value to have for any young athlete and attention to detail in your chores will help you in your training as you get older. When you become an adult this self-discipline will become self-reliance. What you gain from your chores will transpose not only into being a successful weightlifter but also establishes character traits you will take with you in life.

Below is a list of 10 chores you are  probably already familiar with but may have not found their benefits in regards to your performance as a developing weightlifter. Let me explain how certain chores can teach you everything from balance, ambidexterity, patience, etc. All attributes which will help you one day to become champion.

1 - Washing & Waxing the Car – Ambidexterity

As a weightlifter it is very good to have complete coordination on both sides of your body. Washing and waxing the car is great for teaching the young weightlifter how to use both of their hands and arms with precision and strength. Also, this chore is great for injury prevention because it washes away strength imbalances. Often times the dominant side of the body will apply the greater amount of force. This chore teaches the young weightlifter how to deliberately use both sides of their body evenly. A much needed attribute when lifting maximum weights overhead.

Without fail every Saturday morning my father would get me out of bed to wash and wax the cars. The chore took me about 4 hours to complete since we had 3 cars so I made sure to get up early. Washing alone teaches the weightlifter about attention to detail. To put your focus on hard to reach areas first (e.g. right under the tire well). This will come in handy in your training as it will teach you to always train your weak points first. For instance, if you tend to stand up with your cleans strong but struggle with the jerk, you may need to prioritize rack jerks.

When waxing, apply the wax with your dominant hand and after waiting for the wax to dry, buff it off with your opposite hand. When taking the wax off you are going to need to apply some elbow grease  and this will help develop the strength in your weaker arm. The temptation to switch arms will be there but resist it. Over time you will get faster and work with your weaker hand just as well as your dominant hand. 

When you are finished you should feel a since of accomplishment and pride as you look at the cars shining brightly in the sunlight. The same hard work you apply here will carry over in training but instead of looking upon brightly shining cars you will be standing in front the mirror looking at your brightly shining gold medals. 

2 - Cleaning the gutters – Balance

For the young weightlifter learning to use the stabilizer muscles in the legs and having to use your feet consciously will help you on the platform to hold on in order to save a lift. Bill Starr related this to imagining using your feet like eagles talons and gripping the platform.

Gutter cleaning is a great way to learn the athletic attribute of balance. Have someone initially look out for you in the beginning in case you fall but soon the muscles in your calves and ankles will develop the needed strength to stay on the ladder even when you are reaching into hard to get places. Soon you will be moving the ladder around and easily stepping up and down with no problems.

This chore is also a great way to get away and meditate on the great things you will do as a weightlifting champion one day. I love to do this even today and just get away from it all. After I clean out all the gutters, I will sometimes just sit up on top the ladder and wait for the sun to go down.

When I was a boy my yard had lots of trees in it which my brother and I used to climb all the time. Climbing is also the best way for a young person to develop upper body and grip strength. Those same trees we climbed, however, always made for much hard work to be done in the fall.

3 - Mowing the lawn – Grip/Pulling power

There is a special way I like to cut grass which I learned from cutting ditches growing up in the bayou state. There are not many ditches out here in California but you can use the same principle. Instead of pulling that lever which makes the mower move automatically, try cutting your lawn by pulling the mower along instead of pushing. Use a hook grip as you do this and practice relaxing your arms and relying on your hook grip to hold on.

Getting your entire yard cut this way will, over time, develop many muscles along your posterior chain and teach you how to pull on the bar keeping your arms relaxed. As a bonus, any shakes you may get on the platform, you can just tell yourself it isn't you shaking but instead it is that damn lawnmower cutting away.

I had huge ditches in front of my yard growing up. You had to start at the top and drop down with the mower bending at the waist holding on so you could then pull it back up and hit the next patch. My back used to ache in school the next day but I am convinced it made me stronger. Cutting ditches or low areas this way is a perfect beginning for leaning how to finish your pull especially when the grass is long and you have to pull that much harder.

4 - Making your bed - Sleep

It's  no secret that a well made bed is inviting to get into at night. As a weightlifter getting proper rest is essential for you to train hard and stay ahead of your competition. The young weightlifter who takes the time to make their bed in the morning will sleep easier at night and be stronger for it.

I started putting greater care in this detail when I was in the service. After a day of being in classes, shooting on the range, and learning close quarter take downs, it was always nice to get back to the rack and squeeze into the snug sheets even though it was only for a few minutes most times.

Making your bed tight will also help teach you to take pride in your appearance when you are on stage in your singlet. The crowd not only loves a champion but a good looking champion as well. The weightlifter who pays attention to smoothing out the folds in their bed will also pay attention to chiseling out the muscles of their body and wiping away chalk from their singlet.

Be the competitor who is in such fantastic shape that your enemies on competition day are already intimidated by you before you have even touched the bar. Be the professional whos appearance is always neat and clean.


Sub Ex # 86 & 87

By Donny Shankle

Carrying is a great exercise. It strengthens so many muscles at one time especially your upper back, legs, abs and grip. I’ve carried everything from tires, pallets, logs, hay bales, kegs, stones, huge sacks of rice, oxygen tanks, sandbags and pretty much anything I saw wondering if I could pick that up and walk with it. I still may hold the Camp Pendleton base record for the stone carry. While competing in an annual strongest warrior competition, I easily carried the 300 plus pound stone we were using three times as far as any other competitor. Many of the marines couldn’t even get the stone off the starting line. The muscles burn during carrying and the lungs have difficulty breathing because the heavy weight is sitting on your chest. You have to work so hard and there is no technique or cheating your way through it. To describe this exercise, I’ll use the sandbag. It’s safe to use and easy to adjust the weight. There are two ways to implement the carry in your training. The first is carrying for speed and the second is distance.

Carrying for speed is a great way to improve your conditioning and coordination. It is a very cardiovascularly demanding exercise. When you carry for speed, assign A and B points to bring your sandbags to and from. One sandbag can be used or turn the exercise into a loading race or relay by using multiple sandbags. Because you are moving fast with a heavy object, your concentration on coordination increases versus carrying for distance. Any improvement in the general physical prepared coordination of the weightlifter will improve his coordination on snatching and clean and jerking.

Carrying very heavy sandbags for distance is a great exercise to trigger a hormonal response. The body is under constant tension for longer periods compared to carrying for speed. The abdominals and diaphragm work harder. The very heavy sandbag must be carried out in front of the athlete because shouldering the sandbag is too difficult. If you can shoulder the sandbag during a distance carry then it it is not heavy enough. Add more weight. The muscles and connective tissues from the top of your spine down to your ankles work very hard to get through a heavy distance carry. The longer you hold on the more everything has to work. Not only will you trigger a hormonal response which will produce stronger muscles but your work capacity will tremendously improve. As a 105k class weightlifter, my conditioning and capacity to work in the gym was better than lighter weight classes. One of the reasons I attribute to this was probably due to all the carrying I did as an exercise in my youth which I continued later in life.

Reps: N/A
Sets: 5-10
Advanced Way: Try carrying for distance uphill but be sure the incline is not so steep to be dangerous. To increase the difficulty during speed carries go to the beach and carry in the sand.
Duration: 15-25 minutes is enough time to practice either for speed or distance.
Placement In Training: After you have practiced your lifts for the day or alone on active rest days.

Hammer Swinging
By Donny Shankle

Swinging the hammer is a great exercise to develop strength and dexterity primarily in your wrists. The entire arm however benefits from the exercise as well as your abdominals and in particular the intercostals and obliques. The shoulder rotation from swinging the hammer is very beneficial to the health and flexibility of the shoulders. Anyone who has ever worked with a sledge hammer can attest to the kind of hand and arm strength you develop.

The lift begins with your hands taking a grip on the bar, sending a signal through the rest of your body that it’s time to lift. You need to have strong hands and wrists. Wrist strength is often overlooked by many weightlifters. This is usually because weightlifters wrap their wrists and then pay no attention to them. If the wrists are weak however on any overhead exercise a chain reaction will take place leading to the elbow relaxing and then the shoulder. This chain reaction will cause you to miss the lift or give the judges a questionable lockout. Wrapping your wrists is good but so is having strong wrists.

There are three primary exercises I do with the hammer. There are also so many fun variations you can practice to not only improve your hand and arm strength but also your hand eye coordination. The three I practice are the pendulum swing, double and single handed behind the back swing, and bringing the hammer down on a tire like I’m chopping wood, or how I like to think of it, working on the railroad like big John Henry.

To perform the pendulum swing hold the hammer at its base and let it fall behind your back with your elbows up by your ears. Gradually begin swinging the hammer from side to side like an old grandfather clock and let your shoulders and back stretch. For the double handed behind the back swing start by holding the hammer at its base with your elbows tucked close to your sides. The hammer should be in front of you with your eyes looking at the top of the hammer. From here bring your elbows up while at the same time letting the hammer fall to either side and then let it swing behind you until its back to the starting position. The single handed swing behind the back is performed the exact same way but with one hand holding onto the hammer at its base. For bringing the hammer down find a tire and get angry. Bring the hammer down as hard as you can like you’re slamming down slam balls.

Reps: 3-10
Sets: 3-5
Advanced Way: N/A
Duration: 10-15 minutes
Placement In Training: As a warming exercise to stretch the back and shoulders before training. Bringing the hammer down should be done at the end of training as an abdominal exercise.