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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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.



Sense Of Awareness
By Donny Shankle

After being in the gym so many years, I’ve noticed my sense of awareness is improved. I’ve always had good peripheral vision but now it’s even more amplified.

Never turn your back on someone lifting. This is a good rule for any Weightlifting gym. You protect yourself from a possible miss falling your way.  The bar overhead is sometimes difficult for a lifter to control especially when a PR is on the bar. Bars will tip in the squat rack if unloaded improperly and platforms not cleared of discs will cause the bar to bounce out of control when the bar comes down. Always know your surroundings in a Weightlifting gym.

A pleasant surprise after always being aware in the gym is its carryover out of the gym. Your sense of awareness will become better at whatever you’re doing.


Happy Is The Man

Show a Little Stoicism
By Donny Shankle

I’ve admired the Stoic philosophy and its principles since my time in the Marine Corps. Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic is a book I brought with me to Iraq. In it Seneca (Roman philosopher and statesman) discusses the morals of a Stoic man and how life should be lived.

Seneca and his friend Lucillius exchange over 100 letters of counsel between each other which makes it very engaging. Questions are asked in letter writing between friends and this leads to conversations which often become very personal. I still have the same copy of the book I read in Iraq and carry it with me on occasion to refresh my memory of its principles.

I am not so bold as to say I am a Stoic or that I have tirelessly studied the Stoic mind. No. What follows is merely a collection of some of my favorite lines in the book and how I incorporated an ancient philosophy into my training to become a champion. These principles helped me stay single minded. I leave it up to you the degree you wish to take your single mindedness.

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

As an athlete you will spend a lot of your time alone. The night life must be kept at a minimum in order to get the proper rest to optimally perform. Unless your friends share the same dreams as you, it’s wise not to keep regular company with them. Train and go home. Spend your off time with those closest to you.  

“The simple way of life need not be a crude one.”

Enjoy the simplicity behind straightforward training. You will Snatch, Clean and Jerk and squat every time you are in the gym or do a close variation. This same principle will be applied out of the gym. You will sleep, eat nutritiously and get occasional massage and/or some other form of consistent health care. Whether or not your total improves is not hidden within some polished program. It lies within discipline and consistency.

“Men learn as they teach.”

When you are not training, take time to teach others how to lift who are interested. This not only helps to grow the sport but also makes you a better Weightlifter. As you teach you will see things you can do better in your own training. Teaching will encourage you to carry yourself more as a professional and in turn lift like one.

“Indulge the body just so far as suffices for good health. It needs to be treated somewhat strictly to prevent it from being disobedient to the spirit.”

You may have heard its muscle that moves the bar. This is not true. Your mind is what moves the bar. The mind is the engine and the body or muscles the vehicle. Take care of your body. The mind and body are one unit. If you poison your body or abuse it, the mind will also suffer as well as your spirit.

“…self-sufficient though he is, he still desires a friend, a neighbor, a companion.”

Without a positive support structure in the form of knowledgable coaches, positive relationships and encouraging friendships your progress will be limited. Your capacity in the gym will not always be enough. Make sure you surround yourself with strong people.

“Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts!”

Carry yourself always as a professional. Great Weightlifters are self assertive and confident. When other people you train with see this in you they too will emulate you. This makes the gym a place of champions. Each person will hold themselves to a greater standard and learn to feel disgust at the thought of losing. Once everyone in the gym thinks this way, personal records change at the rate of the morning sunrise. 

“No one can be held a prisoner in life.”

You are alone on the platform and at this time your capacity is put to the test. Stress, discomfort and pain do not command you. The negative does not exist unless you let it. In order to be the champion on the platform, you have to free yourself of the idea that any one of those things I mentioned slow you down. If they do exist at all it’s only to make you stronger.

“Of this one thing make sure against your dying day - that your faults die before you do.”

I am surprised when people bring up the bad in people. I like to focus on the good in men. People are fallible. Don’t let the mistakes of yesterday affect your training today. Why? Can you change what happened yesterday? Yesterday was then and today is now. As you become a better Weightlifter so also you will become a better man. The body does not look the same as you grow in strength and neither does the mind. Your faults will die as you stay focused on great accomplishment. Because that person who was will no longer be the same. He or she will be changed.

“Nature will never ask of you more than you can handle.”

Neither will your coach. The athlete and coach relationship is special. Each of you work closely with one another for a long time and a trust is developed. You cannot have this training alone. Sometimes the pull may feel slow when in fact it was fast. The feet may feel they jumped forward but in fact stayed in place. Encouragement from someone who watches you will push you out of comfort zones which are the Weightlifters death knell. You can handle more than you think and your coach is there to help you believe it.

“Be harsh with yourself at times.”

A champion Weightlifter is disciplined. If you know the lift could have been made but you failed because of a silly mistake then correct it. The Weightlifter has to be perfect in execution. Be hard on yourself then let it go.

“Assume authority yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity. Produce something from your own resources.”

Reading the science is good and study is a requirement to improve your focus. However, you are a Weightlifter. Through training and competing you will grow. Improved focus means nothing without putting it to the test. Your focus will also begin to improve more as you start contributing. This ties closely with learning through teaching.  

“Praise in him what can neither be given nor snatched away, what is peculiarly a man’s.”

Here is the central principle to the Stoic. Do not place value in the things which can be easily taken away. If what you have wasn’t fought for then it’s probably of no use to you. Your strength, mind and spirit can never be taken from you by the parasites of this world. Hold on to these and your identity will be strong.

“Man’s ideal state is realized when he has fulfilled the purpose for which he was born.”

The ideal state of man is not to be happy. Whoever said your happiness was deserved? Happiness must be pursued and even in your pursuit there is no guarantee you will achieve the virtue of joy. However, it is attainable. The natural state of man is tireless work. Through man’s work he becomes happy as long as he has great passion for the thing he does. Get in the gym and work towards being happy. It will not be given to you. Do you think you’re the only one who wants to be the best?

“Straightforwardness and simplicity are in keeping with goodness.”

It’s also in keeping with training. When you go into the gym keep it simple and straightforward. What is required of you is to Snatch and Clean and Jerk more the the next man. You can do this with a confident mind and well trained body. 

“There are times when even to live is an act of bravery.”

Life requires you to be brave as does Weightlifting and it’s the attribute of courage which is most easily misunderstood. This is trained too in the gym during each attempt. The day has already given you what you require as a human being. Be brave in your efforts if you want more. 

“…pain is a trivial sort of thing…let’s stick it out.”

The pain Weightlifting brings doesn’t last forever. The muscles will relax, the aches will subside and you will adapt. Even the callouses on your hands disappear when you stop lifting. The champion welcomes his pain because he knows it intimidates the meek. Ya it’s gonna hurt but you can choose to show it or own it.

“I’m suffering severe pain, you may say. Well does it stop you suffering it if you endure it in a womanish fashion?”

If your back hurts will the pain go away complaining about it? Don’t look to me to help you. Swallow some Ibuprofen or see a doctor and carry on. The most disgusting person in the gym is the person who bitches and moans. I remember the first time I front squatted 215 kilos. After I stood up I went down to a knee and started shaking. All my coach did was look at me. No helping hand was given. Weightlifting is chosen by you. If you don’t want it then walk. If you want something to complain about, complain about your taxes. Complain about the weather. You have just about as much control over these as your so called confessed pain.

“…there is a pleasure in having succeeded in enduring something the actual enduring of which was very far from pleasant.”

Have you never noticed when you stand on the podium in first place all of your pains go away? 

“…but virtue only comes to a character which has been thoroughly schooled and trained and brought to a pitch of perfection by unremitting practice.”

Unremitting practice will make your actions perfect. It will bring the bar in the right position. It will increase your sense of touch to the point it becomes your strongest sense. When you feel the bar against your body as it moves through space you will react without thought. This is how you become blindingly fast. Practice your ass off and become virtuous. Understand this now. There is only one way to become great at something in this world. You have to work at it. Unremittingly.

“…the growth of things is a tardy process and their undoing is a rapid matter.”

A tardy process is understood by the champion as a gradual process. If you take on more than you have trained for you welcome ruin. The great Weightlifter trains the same way he pulls. Patiently.

“…we should be anticipating not merely all that commonly happens but all that is conceivably capable of happening.”

It is common to think you want to be the best in your gym. In a small group. It is common to think you want to be a national champion. It is common to say I want to go to the Olympics. The champion is not common. He is alone in this world because he visualizes more and his actions make it real. He puts no limits on himself or what he can conceive.

“Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”

Each miss in training will teach you how not to miss again and move on. This is good because in competition you may have gone 1 for 3 in the Snatch but the competition isn’t over. Rise on the Clean and Jerk. The competition is not over until the last Clean and Jerk comes down.

“When she created us, nature endowed us with noble aspirations, and just as she gave certain animals ferocity, others timidity, others cunning, so to us she gave a spirit of exalted ambition, a spirit that takes us in search of a life of, not the greatest safety, but the greatest honor - a spirit very like the universe, which, so far as mortal footsteps may, it follows and adopts a model. It is self assertive; it feels assured of honor and respect; it is a master of all things; it is above all things; it should accordingly give in to nothing; in nothing should it see a burden calculated to bow the shoulders of a man.”

Roll your shoulders back and pull the bar. The human animal has successfully endured more struggle in his existence than any other animal. There is no burden too great. Men have literally moved mountains and gone to the moon. Take your journey one step at a time.

“It’s not because they’re hard that we lose confidence; they’re hard because we lack the confidence.”

The Weightlifter is the most confident of athletes and the universe is benevolent but only for the strong.

Weightlifting does not follow the path of least resistance. It’s all about resistance and you overcoming it. This is how you become strong and a Champion. The whole idea is to continue adding the resistance until everyone else has either fallen or been beaten by you. Weightlifting pits man against man and man against himself at the same time. Few sports do this so elegantly as Weightlifting.

In order to keep adapting to the stress and lift more weight, you have to let go of negative emotions and be tough. There is no other way. Whether you want to practice a little Stoicism is up to you. I’ve found strength and guidance in certainly more places and persons than Seneca’s letters. Whatever it is that gives you strength hold on to it. Bring it into the gym each and every day.

Do not place value in what can be taken away. This is the hallmark of Stoicism. This plus learning to abandon negative feelings and dealing with pain are the three chief ideas I take mostly away from the philosophy. Whether you follow the principles of Stoicism or some other good philosophy a Weightlifter needs a system of beliefs to meet with both success and failure. A proper philosophy in Weightlifting establishes the belief of magnificence in the self. This is a romantic idea only felt by the drug-free weightlifter because he is not an actor or an entertainer. His honest life is his love and this makes him the good man. The good man is grand.



Two Sides Of Us
By Donny Shankle 

A few weeks ago, I watched a Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is split into two halves due to a malfunction with the transponder. One is meek and indecisive, while the other is cruel, decisive and strong. The crew are stranded on a planet and cannot be beamed up until the transponder is fixed and the remaining crew on board stop Kirk from his mischief. It’s a classic good vs. evil story and shows how each side of a person's personality completes the man.

After watching, I began to think about the feelings I get when I am not productive. I sometimes become irritable and cold; and have to remind myself to stop and work. The work eventually makes me happy. My unproductive side does not become evil (I have known evil men), instead it leans towards being cruel. There is a difference between the two.

To give you an example, I enjoy going to the zoo. Friends I have gone with have expressed how cruel it is to keep such beautiful animals locked in a cage. True. It may be cruel but these animals usually are well taken care of. Evil men would have it another way. They would hunt these animals for sport or kill them to sell pieces of their bodies. It is up to good men to do what is necessary (and sometimes cruel) to stop this evil in its tracks.

Productive work for the weightlifter is making personal records in training and winning gold medals in competition. Cruel feelings or indecisive feelings may emerge when you are not accomplishing this, or you are not training consistently. Decisiveness is required to win. It is necessary to be strong. The Marine Corps teaches you to act decisively in combat in order to stay alive. Weightlifters require it to train with diligence and not skip out on training. The side of you which tells people assertively, “No I am not going out tonight because I have to train tomorrow,” is the side you need to be a champion. Without this side, you would be unproductive and a loser.

Do our emotions derive from this cruel side of us? I’m not sure. I do know aggression lies here and this emotion is a must for any weightlifter on the platform. Aggression will make you move decisive and not hesitate. It will keep the back tight and force you to move your feet. It will turn you into a fighter and keep you moving towards greater achievements. This will almost always be the deciding factor between winning and losing. The champion weightlifter knows this and the good man keeps it under control when he is not lifting.



Understanding Culture
By Donny Shankle

This is something I’ve learned from my travels. The world is full of so many different types of cultures. Some are better than others and some are difficult to understand. Some cultures are strict while other cultures are tolerant. I’ve been to places where things are very black and white and there is no grey area. Laws and customs are the way they are and no matter how silly they may seem to you it’s wise to show respect.

One of the great things about sport is no matter the culture you come from the goal is the same. Win. The sad thing is some cultures do not believe in winning honorably. Sport has rules. It is a contest among men and women to find the best within our species. If there are not rules in sport to be followed or if those rules cannot be enforced then sport ceases to be an honorable contest. It’s no longer sport and it turns into mere entertainment. I do not like the idea of competing for purely entertainment purposes. I am a sportsman and this means I follow the rules of competition to find the best. It is up to the athletes to enforce these rules. The athletes must police their own because bureaucracy can be bought off and bribed. The good man cannot be bought or bribed and the athlete must uphold this idea.

I have had teammates and friends of mine who are weightlifters tell me how it’s not their fault they cheat and use drugs to win. It’s just in their culture. It’s how they were brought up or it’s how it was explained to them. Nonsense. The rules are in black and white and spelled out in many different languages.

I’ll hear some people say how Weightlifting is a dirty sport and it pisses me off. Weightlifting is not a dirty sport. It is a beautiful sport which unfortunately is full of a lot of cheats. The sport itself is wonderful and highly challenging and no matter what culture you come from the idea of what a good man is remains the same. You are not just a showman on the platform. You are one example of the best of humankind.



Sex and Sleep
By Donny Shankle

Have sex. The benefits of a positive and loving sexual relationship improve your performance in the gym. Sex does bring an increase in strength. It keeps the testosterone high. One of the main benefits it also brings is it will help put you in deep REM sleep and weightlifters need their sleep to lift at their best. The nervous system will not adapt and strengthen if you have difficulty sleeping.

A good sexual relationship also brings a list of other benefits. It will help keep you from getting sick as well as relieve your pain and stress. Charisma and confidence are also given a boost which are essential to lift big weights. Lastly sex will help to get your mind off training. Directing your mind to something else will actually help with your consistency in the gym.


Take Action And

Show A Little Swag
By Donny Shankle

When you walk up to the bar,  roll your shoulders back and pick your head up. A snatch or clean and jerk does not begin at the pull. It begins with your approach to the bar. If your eyes are looking down and you're thinking the lift is going to be heavy then the weight has already defeated you. It’s OK to be nervous because being nervous shows you care but never let your nerves turn into fear. The bar is a dead thing in space. It has no control over you. You control yourself. Your mind commands your muscles to take action against the bar. Confidence lies in your heart which is the link between mind and body.

Look at some videos of champions lifting and you may sometimes notice their teammates, coaches, or friends whispering encouragement just prior to going out on the platform. As the weightlifter lies in wait for the loaders to get the weights on the bar, you have a guy behind him massaging his shoulders, a guy to the left saying in his ear how strong he looked in the warm-up room, and then there is another guy in front of him wiping the chalk off his singlet, or perhaps even combing his hair. This entire routine is to awaken the confidence in that weightlifter. With confidence you can do anything. If you compound this confidence with a support structure who love you then on that day you will not only clean and jerk what it necessary to win, but you will have done what is necessary to live happy. I don’t mind a blowhard so long as that person backs it up. The greatest boxers who ever lived enjoyed hype, strutting, and talking shit but they also out boxed their opponent to either victory in decision or KO’ed the man outright. Their confidence was the strength their opponents lacked.

If training has taught me anything, it’s hard work brings success. Like life, the days will keep rolling on. The gym doors will always be open and the sun will always rise again for you to return and improve upon yesterday. You have complete carte blanche when you are in the gym. Either the pages in your biography will be filled in with a negative vocabulary consisting of the words failure, timid, and yellow, or it will use positive words like intrepid, magnanimous, and proud. When you compete, take a second to look at yourself in the mirror wearing your singlet and congratulate yourself on making it this far. You are not here because of luck or from a series of serendipitous events. Look at your muscles and breathe in all of the confidence and beauty in this world. You are about to compete because you have posted the total to be where you are and your hard work made that possible. Show a little swag as you walk up to the bar with a sense of purpose and then attack.


New World

Stubborn To A Virtue
By Donny Shankle

“Thanks to God that he gave me stubbornness when I know I am right.” - John Adams  

I admit I can be stubborn at times. Heck I can be stubborn a lot of the time and I imagine most athletes are to some extent. This stubborn attitude plays a large part towards perfection. Records are not broken and gold medals are not won by push-overs. There are two types of stubbornness. The good stubborn is being stubborn to a virtue. The bad stubborn is being stubborn to a fault. 

The recurring trait you’ll see across all champions is their unwillingness to quit or give in. You can call it determination but stubborn is more personal. This is what gives it strength. It’s more individual. You don’t say the team is stubborn. You say he is stubborn or she is stubborn. Someone like Christopher Columbus for example we can call stubborn. People told him the world was flat. They said he would fall off the edge of the Earth if he sailed too far. He refused to believe such nonsense and as a result he found a new world. This is what stubborn to a virtue is.

When you are beaten then learn how not to be beaten again. When the facts are shown to you proving you’re wrong don’t continue beating a dead horse. This is the exact opposite to being stubborn to a virtue and is called being stubborn to a fault. It’s continuing to head down the same path even when “you” know you are wrong. That’s the important bit. It’s not when everyone else says you’re wrong. Nine times out of ten criticism from others is quite often a sign you are in fact right. Dealing with it like a man is what leadership is all about. Being stubborn to a fault is an internal struggle that needs to be overcome first before you can continue moving forward. It’s the negative juxtaposition between stubbornness and it’s enemy stupidity.

When the hurdler runs his race and hits the hurdles does he not try to pick up his foot a little higher and time his stride better? He is in essence not changing how he moves, but he is forcing himself to do it better. He does this in order to cross the line a split second sooner than the man next to him. That’s stubborn to a virtue. If he continued to run through the hurdles and lose then that’s being stubborn to a fault. If you’re proven to be wrong then back up and reevaluate your premises. Don’t be stupid. Stubbornness ought to push you and keep you from taking no for an answer. It should not keep you static. Therefore stubborn to a virtue can only be good. Consequently, stubborn to a fault will lead to an attitude without reason. 

My stubbornness I view as a virtue. It has always helped me in my life and only crossed into being a vice when I ceased from being stubborn and instead chose to be stupid. The degree I took my stubborn attitude has always been the same but the line between virtue and fault was thin. When I knew I was right, or I knew I could lift the weight, I believed wholeheartedly I could. It’s the stubborn to a virtue attitude which keeps you moving forward. It’s the stubborn man who makes his good dreams real. Weightlifting is one of many challenges. All I can tell you is face this challenge head on and pray your stubbornness lasts as long as the beating of your heart.



Gym Persona
By Donny Shankle

The gym is full of all types of different personalities. I’m not really a people watcher but it’s impossible not to observe people in a place you spend a lot of your time. There are the title holders who bring back gold medals who everyone else wants to beat. Sometimes you’ll come across real legends along with legends in their own minds. There are the comedians who make everyone laugh and the greenies working hard to become full-fledged champions. There are salty dogs who compete at masters competitions. We all watch them training in amazement hoping to be as durable as them when it’s our turn. Then there are the dawdlers, pretty boys, attention-seekers, flirts and a few loudmouths. I don’t know what you call them but there are those you can explain an exercise to a hundred times, but each time you see them again for training you have to explain it all over. These people are often so lovable however you can’t help but forgive them and again explain what a Snatch is.

No matter what the personality type everybody focuses on their own goals. I like the different personalities because Weightlifting needs showmen. They draw in more people who want to lift and be strong. It makes the experience in the gym something you look forward to everyday. Weightlifting is really fun even though it takes a lot of hard work winning. The weights can beat you up and the perfection required to lift a record can be irksome. No matter the personality everyone rises to the challenge when the spotlight is on them. It can be a regular madhouse in the gym at times but it’s a place where we can all be a little crazy together. Besides everyone knows when to be a little more serious once the lions arrive. As soon as everyone shows up from work and open up their gym bags all of our different personas (whether appreciated or not) put life in the gym. It gives it a breathable atmosphere we may not find at our suffocating jobs.

Certainly the worst thing you can do as a weightlifter going after a new personal record for the day or win the coveted unicorn trophy for that day’s best lifter is spiritually shut down. Now I’m not saying be something you are not when you are in the gym training or competing on the big stage. On the contrary, what I am saying is be “you", and take “you", to the Nth degree.


True Gut

Instinctive Training
By Donny Shankle

I sat down the other day and read a letter shared with me by a friend of mine. I was privileged to have the chance to read it since it was written by a great weightlifter many years ago. I speak clandestinely because I promised my friend I would not share names. The correspondence was of a delightful conversation between friends but I also noticed a few paragraphs discussing instinctive training. I am not inclined to talk about instincts because I champion man’s reason but as an athlete I understand you can’t always reason your way to success. You have to rely a little bit on true gut feelings.

I’ve managed to dislocate both of my shoulders in a matter of two years time. The first was in training and the second happened in competition. My reason tells me not to lift anymore in order to avoid injuring myself further. However, I still want to win and lift because I love the sport and competing. Whether or not someone wants to identify these feelings as instincts or enigmatic feelings which transcend reality to find a place in this world is not my concern. I simply look towards getting in the gym again and doing what it is I do best. This is not an overzealous nature. It just is because I am. I took another hard hit but in order to get back up you can’t think about the next hit. You can’t rationalize your way through the pain and haplessness. It’s like the heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth”. Instinctive training in this sense means getting your ass in the gym and working hard all over again. Whether you want to call it working hard, smart training, linear progression, or program A, B, or C doesn’t mean a damn thing. If you feel like you can make the lift then put it on the bar. If you go into the gym and you are moving good and feel strong then go for the new personal record. This applies to competition as well.

I read that letter written by a legend of Olympic weightlifting and felt proud to learn that I train the same way he trained. By going into the gym and for lack of a better way of putting it in my own words, I trained instinctively. It’s hard to put another name on this because the truth doesn’t need names. You already recognize it for what it is. It’s how the big men get big. It’s how the tough men get up. He went into the gym and if he felt strong that day he lifted as much as he could. If he didn’t feel as strong then he lifted what he could. Then the process repeated itself. I and every other champion weightlifter does the same. The intellectuals will draw up some useful information but the work you put in with your coach is what will bring you the happy end. I never tried to rationalize my way in the training. Sure I applied my reason as a weapon the same way I applied my flexibility as a weapon. I always prepared and that’s called staying in focus. My mind was there no matter what because it had to be. I exist as a man and my mind has always been with me. Yet, this reason certainly didn’t rationalize my way to putting more weight on the bar. I did that because it simply made me happy. I didn’t think about it. How boring would it be to always think through the things which feel good? Use your imagination and you’ll understand my meaning.

Don’t always think your way towards greater totals. Get in the gym and practice some instinctive training. If you want to do a triple instead of a double then do it. If you are not moving well on the snatches then lift what you can and move on to the clean and jerks. If you keep thinking all the time soon you’ll be too damn old to thrive off your vigor. Training and competing are full of its many displeasures and there certainly more numerous than its moments of joy. Although these happy times feel really damn good and they’ll keep coming if you’re compelled to never give up on them.



Courage As An Attribute
By Donny Shankle

The late coach Bill Starr laid out in his book, The Strongest Shall Survive, four physical attributes all athletes train to become great. They are strength, speed, coordination and flexibility. I add courage to the list because the body is not separate from the mind and it too must be quantifiable. You have to be courageous if you want to win. Yet the mind cannot be measured the same way as the body. It is measured during moments of pressure.

As a sportsman I admire the skills and competitiveness displayed across all sports. But as a man I see the best in ourselves who show us courage. For me the athletes who display the greatest courage while competing are the greatest athletes. Why should they not be? Are not the greatest warriors the warriors who display the greatest courage during combat? I admire them for what they do and how they do it. I love the idea anyone can achieve the same or greater if they are willing to work hard and not circumvent their challenges. 

If you want to win you have to be strong. In the jungle this will keep you from being eaten. In business it will keep you from dying bankrupt. As a weightlifter it will keep you at the top of the podium. Your mind is where your strength lies. Courage is it’s closest ally and it comes from the heart. Since the heart is a muscle, it too can be trained.



Same Routine (Part 5)
By Donny Shankle

No negativity must enter into the same routine in order for it to be effective. However, there is a certain degree of humiliation you will have to go through to improve but this is trivial. It consists of not being the strongest for a time but keep focused on your long term goal and remain a good sportsman. Do not worry about bad days or even good days. Staying committed to your training is important and it’s this life long commitment which distinguishes the best from the rest. Improvement doesn’t mean killing yourself in the gym either. It doesn’t mean being overly hard on yourself. Emotions are necessary to improving proficiency but do not expect too much too soon. Emotions without organization lead to setback because frustration causes you to doubt your capacity.

Champions learn how to use their emotions as a key to unlocking their knowledge while increasing their performance. You are practicing a skill and this will take time no matter when you decide to begin training. Being fit is different from being skilled. Your enthusiasm each day will determine your potential for excellence and later mastery. However, the process of learning and adapting doesn’t change within the same routine as long as you keep the skills necessary to win within the specific confinements. The skills must be specific and not the man. Time will bring the desired change.

Finally, my training during a period in California improved dramatically because of the added responsibility I placed on myself. During this time is when I started writing about my training and how I valued the sport. My contributions led to an increase in my professional attitude. Keep a blog, write a book, spend some time where you withdraw within yourself and this will help you discover there is more to the same routine. As you begin to withdraw within yourself you will produce exceptional work and this will motivate you to keep training. Whether this work will be recognized by your peers is another matter but this isn’t important. What matters is whether or not your retrospection emboldens your drive.

Relax in the knowledge that following the same routine is proven. Do not worry about encountering uncertainty. You can be certain if you practice over and over you will get better but on that same token it will not be enough to be the best. In order for that to take place you have to transition into the professional weightlifter and prioritize your time. The difference between expert performance and normal performance lies in your commitment. All of this recollection and contribution leads to a positive presence of mind and heightened sense of awareness to your training. The repetition over time shows you what it takes to be successful and reveals how knowledge of principles are universal. This should not be overlooked.