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.