An ancient Norse warrior who worked himself into a frenzy before battle.
Do you understand what I’m getting at? It’s aggression, pure 100% focused effort. You can use the “perfect” routine, sleep eight hours a night, eat great, concentrate, visualize, feel the movement, and do everything “right,” but get minimal results unless you experience what at my gym we call “the white moment.” You ‘II never come close to reaching your potential without it, no matter how perfect you do everything else.
Ken Leistner calls it “going balls to the wall.” Brooks Kubik describes it as “approaching it as though it were a life or death situation.” Mike Thompson describes it as “committing homicide on a loaded barbell.” Bob Whelan describes it as “going all out as if you have a gun to your head.” Other HARDGAINER authors have also mentioned the importance of giving it your all. At my gym, what we call the white moment is the time immediately before you approach the barbell. A time when the mind is filled with white-hot aggression, with pure rage, ready to attack the barbell to get that new max or that extra rep.
Dr. Ken has mentioned, and I agree, that most properly-designed weight-training programs (like those in HARDGAINER) fail or fail prematurely not because of the program, or because you’ve “plateaued,” but simply because you’re not trying hard enough! I’ve prevented many training cycles from coming to a close by simply demanding more effort.
We are not machines. You can’t continually put your one pound on the bar every week and expect to get your reps by just going through the motions, with no spirit, without a burning desire to excel. You have to be fired up with emotion. You have to want it worse than anything. I’m not saying you have to bounce around the gym yelling, and pounding your head against the bar till it bleeds. Although I’ve seen this work for some, I feel it wastes too much energy, and you could get seriously hurt. Everybody is different. Personally, my white moment looks outwardly calm, but if you look into my eyes you’ll see a tiger ready to attack. It doesn’t matter how you get that internal rage going, as long as you don’t hurt yourself, waste too much energy, or lose focus on good technique.
While a focused rage is a must to achieve one’s ultimate goals, a wild rage will destroy you. Like a fire out of control burns all the trees of the forest and not just a select few, unfocused aggression destroys the body (through poor form, resulting in injuries) instead of building it. Your aggression must be focused like a laser beam. A laser is a focused concentration of light that can cut through anything.
Staying aggressive is not only important when you’re moving your biggest weights. It’s important every time you train. YOU MUST NOT GET COMPLACENT! You must monitor yourself so that you never fall into complacency. Over the past ten years of personally training hundreds of athletes, I have recognized that there are several times when you become vulnerable to the dreaded disease called complacency.
Early part of a training cycle
During the very early stage of anew training cycle, when the weights are at 80% or so of your previous best, it doesn’t take 100% effort to move the weights and get your prescribed reps. I’ve seen trainees “cruise”. their way through this early phase of a training cycle, not giving it their all. They get to about 90% of their previous best and then fail to get the target reps. They wonder what happened. Well what happened was that they trained their minds and bodies to operate at less than 100%. Being aggressive is a learned skill. It must be practiced if you are to get good at it.
When you are beginning a new training cycle it’s critical that you don’t let down mentally. Since the weights are light you may feel you don’t have to push or pull as hard as possible. This spells training disaster.
Let me further illustrate my point. If it requires you to give 100% effort to press 200 lbs with relative ease, at 95% effort it will be extremely difficult, but at 90% effort it won’t go. This is just an example. I don’t know at exactly what percentage it will get tough, but I do know that anything less than 100% will make it harder than it should be. What you should do is approach the bar as if you’re going to exceed your previous max, and rip the bar apart with 100% effort. You should concentrate and get psyched up for the set. Now the weight will feel like it’s only 85% or whatever of your best, as it should early on in a cycle. Don’t misunderstand me though-you are not to throw the weight, or get out of control with it.
Just push or pull as hard as you can while maintaining perfect form. You want to dominate the rep, not just complete it.
Before continuing, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not an advocate of or tolerant of sloppy form, ever!
When “cleaning up” your technique
This is another time when I see a “let down” in effort. For instance, let’s say you read one of Brooks Kubik’s fine articles on improving your bench press technique. You ‘re ready to apply a one-second pause at your chest because you realize that you’ve been bouncing the bar off your chest. (The bruises on your chest, the pain in your shoulders, plus the lack of pec improvement made you decide.) After the pause on your chest, make sure you push the bar as hard as possible. Drive it with maximum force! Just because you’re improving your technique, and initially using reduced weights, is no reason to let down in the effort department. But be sure to brake the speed of the rep near completion. Don’t keep accelerating so that you slam into the lockout.
Concentration on perfect form without concentration on giving 100% effort will fail to bring the results that improved technique should deliver. Aggression, 100% effort, is a constant-it always has to be there.
After breaking a long-sought-after goal
So you finally did it: 300 x 5 in the bench press. You’ve been training for six years and you finally made it. Next week, the 301 x 5 feels unbelievably hard. You just don’t feel motivated. Then the excuses set in. You say to yourself, “Well, maybe I’ve reached the end of the cycle. I hit the 300, now it’s time for a rest.” Wrong, wrong, WRONG! If you’re not experiencing any of the symptoms of overtraining (see my article in issue #37), then you need to keep pushing to derive all this cycle has to offer. You have to drain it dry. What you need to do is to set a new goal, immediately. Start thinking about getting 315 lbs-three big plates on each end of an Olympic bar. If you don’t set the new goals right away, complacency will get you, I promise.
The new weight trainee
Some trainees crash through the front door of the gym with so much fire they could burn the place down. But many more come through the door with barely a glimmer of pilot light burning. But that’s okay because if there is a trickle of a flame you can create a tremendous blaze. I often hear, “I’m just not an aggressive person.”
My response to that is, “Yes you are. You just don’t know it yet.” Just as a good coach puts his charges on a good program, and teaches them how to eat right, I feel he also needs to teach them how to give 100%. “Getting up” for training is a learned skill (behavior) just as is learning the proper way to squat. Just as it takes most beginners time to learn to squat, it also takes time to learn to get aggressive, to give 100%. You have to practice it every time you lift. What I do is constantly remind them (sometimes calmly, other times by getting in their faces) to get aggressive, to try hard. That effort is one of the most essential parts of good technique!
One way I teach aggression is to shock them into it. I have them think of something that really riles them. That’s right, I want them to get mad-REAL MAD. The set that was once hard to complete is now completed with ease. Now I know this may sound pretty radical to some, but it has never failed to get the response I’m after. Once they experience this (not the “getting mad” part, but the aggression that was the result of getting “mad”) there is a complete understanding of the importance of “getting up” and giving it all they’ve got.
Most of the time though, I don’t have to get this radical. All I have to do is get them to follow one of the basic principles that is constantly promoted in HARDGAINER: Start the trainee out slow by handling weights within his capabilities, and then add a small dose of iron to the bar each workout. As he sees the bar “grow” it fuels his desire, which in turn makes him want to put out more effort. His motivation then grows from within, instead of relying on me, or anyone else to provide it. He gains confidence that he can get bigger and stronger. What was once a “pilot light” has grown into a small but strong flame. This “spirit flame” will grow stronger each year and he will want to put out more and more effort.
I believe effort is the product of desire. If you want something bad enough you’ll put forth every possible effort to get it.
I want to leave you with a quote from a man I consider one of the greatest coaches of all time. Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the World Champion Green Bay Packers football teams, had this to say about effort:
I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious.
Enough talking. Enough analyzing your program. Go and get your butt into the gym; and when you sink your fingers onto the metal, commit yourself to trying as hard as humanly possible on every rep of every set you perform. Learn a lesson from the Berserker, and get fully prepared for your next battle.