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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.



The Dark Ages
By Donny Shankle

I don’t really like using the word plateau in the gym. By definition it implies a period of little or no change. You’ll hear it sometimes when you reach a point in your lifting where the personal records do not come as often as they used to. I get it but I don’t like hearing it. I much prefer telling myself or any weightlifter, “You’re going through the dark ages but don’t worry the renaissance is coming.” There seems to be something more positive in the analogy. I like history (especially United States history) and I always refer to the subject of history whenever I come across an area I don’t fully understand. A closer look at any history shows you how big changes were subsequent to little changes. There is an optimism to this way of thinking.

The first time I ever snatched 170 kilos was approximately two years after practicing the exercise under formal coaching. Naturally a lot of hard work went into reaching this number. Considering the current American record at the time for the Snatch was 172.5 kilos, it was a pretty good feat for a weightlifter with very little experience. It would take another seven years before I was able to Snatch 171 kilos. Later on I eventually snatched 173 kilos. It was due to all the missing I went through trying to achieve 171. This set a new standard and raised the idea of how much more can a drug free weightlifter actually lift? Also, my then greatest total of 366 kilos in competition was set in 2006. Like the Snatch, it would take me another six years until 2012 to set a new record total of 368 kilos. When I did break through my total increased nearly another 20 kilos. After I broke through this record, I couldn’t help but dance on the platform. The moment was even caught on camera and my dance was affectionately labeled the “Shankle shimmy”. I get asked sometimes why I danced such a silly jig after Clean and Jerking 208 kilos to give me that new total. I was simply very happy and somehow it led me to shaking my tail feather. What transpired between the years were a lot of ups and downs both in and out the gym which I disdainfully refer to as the dark ages. My efficiency during the dark ages had a lot of catching up to do with my physical strength. This showed in my inability to consistently reach these types of really heavy weights in training.

However, it was the training along the way which eventually pulled me out of the dark. The coaches I worked with and competitors I fought with pushed me to new heights. Every miss led to the possibility of eventually making the lift. I stayed convinced, re-entrenched my position, and fought on. When the training was done for the day I went home, sat in my chair, went over my records, massaged my aches and pains, said my prayers to God before sleeping, then went back to repeat the process. My renaissance at the time came at California Strength. Here is where the new standards were set and it was up to me to rise up and face them. This happened in spite of being called the world’s worst weightlifter.

I believed every miss I went through contained a lesson and it was up to me to use any failures I had confronted as a source of strength. The printing may have been small and hard to read but it was legible. This attitude along with great leadership from people like David Spitz and Coach Pendlay only helped to shine light on the grey to show me there are no such things as plateaus. In truth I never had that attitude to begin with and I was certainly not going to change no matter how dark the ages seemed. I might be a bad dancer but I’m not a pessimist.



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.



Same Routine (Part 3)
By Donny Shankle

All effort on your part must be on improving the total. This is what it means to always be in focus separate from concentrating on what you can do better or what you did right. During training tell anyone around you who wants to engage in conversation that you are training. Soon they will be able to feel your energy and be too intimidated to disturb you. The most disciplined of weightlifters come to the gym with their own chair and cup of coffee or whatever it is they like to drink and shut everything else out. If you happen to be training with a buddy who operates the same way, this is even better. The both of you will feel the disciplined attitude and energy radiating off each other. There will be an unspoken language and understanding. The focus will be on who is going to lift the winning total.

Training this way enables you to completely concentrate on the weights you are about to lift and how you will perfectly time your reactions. Champion weightlifters know how important timing is to a lift and avoid any and all distraction which may disrupt this timing. This includes getting rid of any training partners who are not as physically conditioned or mentally astute as them. It’s finding the “zone” and riding it. Keep in mind this sort of training is highly instinctive (I will cover instinctive training later in this chapter) and is more achievable for the drug free weightlifter. Since he or she has made the commitment to find out what their mind and body can lift alone, he or she has to find more meditative powers instead of chemicals to win beyond the statistical level.

Of course, practicing your weightlifting under the same routine each day may sometimes feel monotonic or physically hurt. Yet it isn’t impossible to push through this hurt or learn to appreciate this monotony. This is part of the maturation process and is called getting stronger. Once you feel the monotony is productive, you are getting stronger mentally and the body will soon follow. If it were easy everyone could do it. Honing your technique for instance can also feel the same way but you have to know when to do it in order to remain in the reactive state you are trying to achieve. This is what is important and not the boredom or aches which initially come with training in the same routine. Have you ever noticed people who claim to be in touch with nature are really in touch with their own mind? They can meditate. Remove the first “T” in meditate and what does that spell? Champions or people in touch with their surroundings can mediate their mastery to find a solution to their discomfort and boredom. The more you study the better you will be able to do this.

Besides the physical hurt will get better if you allow for adaptation to take place. Increase the stress on your body gradually. Give your muscles time to strengthen. Train daily and calculate your volume weekly. Use time constraints instead of the traditional set and rep scheme. Austerely monitor your hours of leisure. All of this helps to keep you following the same routine and uncover its hidden secrets while experiencing consistent joy. Going back to technique, another way to effectively apply the same routine is to pay attention to your warm-up sets and see their importance. More of the same routine will be spent on preparing to lift at maximum instead of actually lifting at maximum. It has to be this way because we are human and we only have so much energy before we hit exhaustion. The warm-up at lighter sets is when you practice your technique. It’s like sharpening the knife on a whetstone before cutting into the meat. Following the same routine is part of training. Yes it can sometimes be nerve racking but so is studying for a test or learning a new language. Like I stated earlier, it’s all connected.