Total Pageviews

2.12.16

Waves

Ego
By Donny Shankle

“Man does not live by bread alone.” - Mathew 4:4

Man cannot live without an ego and weightlifters cannot win without it. How many times do you see weightlifters in competition walk out of the warm-up room onto the stage with fear in their eyes? Great weightlifters are the epitome of confidence as they approach the bar. The crowd loves the ego of champions. It’s not just entertaining but it also makes them feel like anything is possible.

It’s not just your muscles which grow in the gym. Each time you go after a record attempt your ego grows. This is good. It not only has a positive effect on your performance but on everyone else. Men are needed in the gym who can exhibit this everyday. Men are needed who display authority. These are the men who make the hard decisions no one else are willing to make. The dependable men who can execute when others can’t. These are the leaders who set the standard and show others how it’s done. In the gym, as in life, everyone aspires to be like them or greater. Usually these are the lifters with the greatest amount of experience but are certainly the lifters with the greatest totals. These are the weightlifters who create an ego effect in the gym which sends out waves that push everyone else’s capacity.

The champion’s ego surges as the pressure increases. Nevertheless he loves the pressure. The catalyst to bring his trained ego forward lies within loving a challenge. Without a good challenge ego turns into conceit. It’s boring to watch and dangerous. Love therefore is the prerequisite to ego. Love keeps the ego in check. It’s people who passionately love what they do we most admire.

30.11.16

Begins With You

Exception, Not The Norm
By Donny Shankle

Citius (faster), Altius (higher), Fortius (stronger). - Olympic motto

Athletes relish the chance to compete. They love getting together with other athletes to see who is the best. This is where the word “compete” comes from. Its Latin is con petire and means “to seek together”. The whole reason men and women come together to compete is to find out who is exceptional. Who stands alone at the top as the best? Who is not merely a passing dilettante but instead a champion?

People who are the exception and not the norm have drive which is kept fueled by self-discipline. These exceptional champions are like the special forces in the military. They stand apart in small groups because they do not need to be constantly told to get up and go train or go to bed on time. They don’t need to be told to go and achieve anything. Their self-discipline is greater than normal which pushes them over the normal boundary line into the exceptional zone. Not everyone understands this attitude or values it. To value one thing above everything else in order to be exceptional requires you to be greater than the norm. Thinking this way lies within the self.

To be the exception and not the norm begins within you. For the athlete, the medium to show you are exceptional is sport. To compete with other athletes. Sport with an agreed upon set of rules that are enforced by referees or judges. It is in competition where finding who is exceptional and not the norm ends.

30.6.16

Let Go

The Bridge
By Donny Shankle

Quite often the personal record you are going after is already within your reach. You are well trained. You are strong. You are ready to lift the weight in front of you. However, something in your mind is frightening you from making it real. Or maybe you are setting this new standard as a near impossibility. The reality ends up being you never cross the threshold and make the personal record and sometimes the negative connotations of this have very real consequences.

Weightlifting is a race against gravity. For all athletes regardless of their discipline, it is also a race against time. You will not always be as strong as you are today. Make the lift happen either in training or competition. If you keep setting it up in your head as too difficult, too heavy, or impossible then it always will be. You will miss your chance to become a champion.

If you ever get the chance to visit Maui, go to Iao Valley and have a swim in its waters. Relaxing in the cool streams and having the water run over your shoulders is great recovery especially in-between training sessions.

On one occasion as I was walking to the streams to go for a swim, I watched a few of the locals jumping off the bridge which gives you access into the interior of the valley. The bridge was about 25ft. high over a 7ft. deep pool. The pool was not very wide either and was surrounded by jagged volcanic rock. These guys didn’t care. They were doing an assortment of aerial tricks before hitting the water to impress the tourists and earn themselves a little beer money for the night.

My friend James who I went with dared me to jump off the bridge. Since I’m not a fan of high places, I told him he was nuts and kept walking. Then I heard a splash. I turned around and couldn’t see him! He jumped off! I peered over the edge and saw him climbing up the rocks. He made his way all the back to me and asked me what was the problem . Was I afraid? If so, why?

He explained to me how to enter the water at an angle to avoid hitting the bottom. This would keep me from landing flat on my back. I wanted to ask him to do it again but I knew this wouldn’t be fair. It was my turn. It was my turn to have brass balls. The toughest thing in front of me was simply letting go of the ledge. I had to let go and fall. After holding onto the barrier and getting close to letting go a few times, I finally said the hell with it and took my hand off.

I didn’t enter the water as planned. As a result, I hit the bottom pretty hard. I was OK though. I was actually more than OK. I wanted to do it again. My skin felt like leather from my terrible dive after hitting the water so hard. I didn’t care though. The rush I felt was invigorating. It was exciting to overcome something which in my mind I built up as scary but in fact was simple. On my next jump, I landed perfectly at an angle and didn’t touch the bottom at all.

Afterwards, James told me that was the first time he ever jumped off. It was cool to do that together with my friend and our training session later that day was full of personal records. Why? I know why for me at least. It’s because I learned in that moment to let go and not be afraid. I could do it. I could land right. Was it dangerous? Sure. But what did that mean? It meant do it right.

As you go after the personal record let go and do it right. Draw on an experience you’ve gone through to give you courage or make you aggressive. I’m not telling you to go jump off bridges. This was an experience which worked for me. After that day, anytime I pulled a weight I knew I could complete the lift. My mind was strong. My time in Iao on that day always stayed with me. I always went under the bar with a sense of purpose because I was OK when I let go of my barriers and fell from the bridge.

I created the bridge mentality with the help of a good friend. Only champions possess this attitude. This mentality finds a way across the barriers in the gym and that is weightlifting. It’s about doing what you need to do to find a way and never ever stopping. It’s about finding a way to keep moving forward.

Think about an experience you’ve lived to help you think this way. As you keep practicing this,  you become fearless on the platform, full of ego, pride and determination. You stop thinking so much and let go. All these thoughts and questions in your mind will only keep you from improving. You’re already capable of the personal record. You’re already stronger than you think you are. It’s the place between your ears which gets in the way.

Let go and do it right.

23.6.16

The Top

Understanding Misery
By Donny Shankle

I have been asked by my teammates on more than one occasion - “Donny, how do you come into the gym and train everyday, not hurt, tired, or just lacking motivation?” I always give the same perverted answer - “Be miserable and love it!” Considering I try very hard to be a positive person, my response has always baffled me. Why was I telling my teammates and closest friends who are seeking advice something which on its surface sounded so negative? Where did this approach to training come from? I knew I was right to be thinking this way. But I wanted to know where this way of thinking came from and what the advantage was to thinking this way.

To me, I understood the concept of misery as a positive, and the word is a badge of honor. It was when I likened the word to honor, that I ominously came across these words in Steven Pressfield's book “The War of Art” and remembered my own time in the Marine Corps.

“In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There's a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.

This is invaluable for an artist.

Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because those candy-asses don't know how to be miserable.

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell. “ - Steven Pressfield

After reading this, it dawned on me that this way of thinking during training was magnified in me due to my service in the Marine Corps. Even before then, I can remember taking a special pride in adversity. This is one of the reasons I joined the Marine Corps and not another branch of service. I understood them to be the best and the hardest and I was curious to see if I could measure up.

Pressfield was talking about writing, but the great weightlifter is also an artist. He continues to perfect his discipline with hard work and patience. What makes the weightlifter or any athlete more special than any other artist is his character. This is strengthened from publicly failing and waiting for the moment to compete again. He cannot hit the backspace button if he does not like his choice of words. He cannot throw the canvas in the dumpster if he feels he could have captured the light better with a brighter combination of paint. He cannot do another take in the recording studio. When it is time for the weightlifter to show his artistic ability, which is his strength and confidence, he only has one shot before an exhilarated crowd that lasts seconds. Either he gets it right at that moment or he must wait to do it again. Unlike the writer, painter, and singer the athlete is usually on a short clock. This increases the pressure they feel and it is this drama everyone loves to watch.

If weightlifting has taught me anything it is how to interpret and endure feelings of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation. Those same words chosen by Steven Pressfield. These feelings are to be embraced and later overcome with hard work and rugged persistence. You do this with discipline and by finding happiness with yourself. Aristotle said the man of virtue is the man who finds peace with his own company and he does this by working hard.

Uncle Abadjiev would speak of being the champion. He said, “It is lonely at the top, but it is the only way to live!” When a man devotes his entire self to accomplishing a dream he must learn to endure the misery, which comes with it better than any other man. If he can do this, he will be the champion. If he can do this he will learn his misery can strengthen him by forcing himself to look within. If you can do this in the gym during training, you will be the great weightlifter when it is time to compete.

Competition is your time to prove it because you understand comfort is complacency. Complacency kills both in the combat zone and weightlifting. Those marines and other service men out in the desert fighting know they are miserable but they accept and deal with it. They do not let their misery cloud their judgment because they do not want to go home in a body bag. They turn their misery inside out and use it to stay sharp and vigilant. Do the same as a weightlifter, deal with your misery and let it make you stronger!

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Nietzsche

Be miserable and love it. Besides, your misery in the gym is not that bad especially if you love what you do. True unhappiness is not knowing what you want out of life. It is waking up each day without pain in your body or a sense of purpose in your heart. Yes, it is painful at times. I also know how frustrating it can be to get so close to a personal record only to confront what in your mind you think is exhaustion. It is not exhaustion. You are stronger than you think you are and to achieve excellence on the platform only hurts, it is not impossible.

“Don't quit! Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”. - Muhammed Ali

That is why I tell people to love their misery. It means you are continuing the fight and have not given up. There must never be an ache or pain so unbearable it causes you to lose sight of what you set out for. Find the joy in your training each day by remembering what initially brought you to the barbell. Constantly remind yourself that you are a weightlifter and yes you will feel miserable at times but this is what you chose to do. Admire that about yourself and take pride in it. Not everyone knows what they want to be, or they might but, they are not willing to get on the battlefield.

Besides, did you really think weightlifting was a leisurely activity? What Pressfield said also applies to weightlifting. “This is war baby, and war is hell.” Did you really think it would come easy?

20.6.16

Free

Addition to Acceptance
By Donny Shankle

Acceptance applies to the here and now. For the weightlifter, it’s when you take the bar in hand. The now refers to an act of volition in this moment. To either lift the weight or not. This all starts with acceptance. Tomorrow refers to change and it may be different, but that depends on how strong you are today.

I hesitate on using this word too often because many lifters will not initially understand my meaning. Acceptance as a virtue means believing in the good within yourself during this moment in time. Change as a virtue means making the good greater. There is no negative definition to this virtue for the athlete. Although it can be misinterpreted once the athlete stops finding joy in his discipline or just discipline in general.

To accept things within the moment, as they are, removes your attachment to the rest of the world. It makes you indifferent to the trivial which increases your focus. For the weightlifter this means lift the weight. Nothing else matters in this universe except lift the weight. All pain is gone. Any emotion you feel is directed towards lifting the weight. All doubt is completely removed. It is no wonder many people become addicted to being strong. It feels really good.

8.6.16

Calculate

Bold Openers
By Donny Shankle

I’m not a fan of starting the competition with a lift very near your best. The first lift sets the pace of each lift to come. You do not have to start too light but set yourself up for the completion of all of your lifts. Leave your boldness for the last lift. If you are within range to win it all on your last lift then put it on the bar. The first lift should demonstrate your professionalism.

Any amateur can go out on the platform for his first lift and get lucky. However, the professional is calculated. He knows he can make the lift he needs to win on either his first attempt, second attempt, or third attempt. The attempt is not what is on his mind. He doesn’t have to demonstrate his boldness either. The champion enters the competition to win and you get six lifts to create a total. Not one.

Some may say, “Well if you’re capable of this weight then open with it.” Absolute nonsense. Lifting this way will never intimidate your competitors. At the end of the meet, even if you did get lucky and make your bold opener, this will not leave your competitors with an intimidating impression of you. Make all of your lifts, starting small, and ending with an impression that makes sure your competitors know what’s to come in any and every competition to follow. Subdue them.

Everyone already knows your bold. You’re a weightlifter. This means you are one of the most courageous athletes there is. You are literally the embodiment of strength and confidence. Remember, competition is not entertainment alone. It is a test among good men and women to find out who is the best at one thing at one specific time. Your gambles are already made elsewhere and your challenges go much deeper than a risky first attempt.

1.6.16

Here and Now

Avoid Complacency
By Donny Shankle

Stay away from comfort zones. The best way to do this is to avoid complacency in your training. No one is ever completely satisfied with their performance and this is good. By always pushing yourself to improve both physically and mentally, you begin to accomplish extraordinary feats you may not have thought possible. Complacency will creep up on you though from time to time without you recognizing it. When it does, seek a new personal record in your attitude and extinguish it.

The saddest state of man is to wake up with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It’s the work you put in and look forward to which brings you joy. Each morning you wake up, think about your training for the day and how you will leave the gym stronger. Always doing this makes training both fun and exciting. The weight on the bar does not always have to be the challenge. Your application is the challenge or your growth as an individual. This attitude leads to becoming a professional in the gym and prepares you for competition more than adding another kilo to the bar. Training is more than the improvement of skill, it’s also about the improvement of the man. 

Complacency will also torment your mind. Your thoughts will always be in the future and not in the present. It is true champions are constantly planning and looking ahead but not at the sake of surrendering the moment. When you are on the platform always be in the moment for each attempt. The easiest way to miss is to think about your last attempt when you haven’t even made your first. Make the promise to be in the here and now when you lift each day and you will fulfill any expectations you have for yourself. Training this way will not allow complacency to find shelter in your mind.

Train diligently.