There are two schools of thought when it comes to being the best: one theory says that aiming for the top is hard, tedious and difficult since everyone wants to be up there. Another theory says that it’s easy, since there is less competition at the top because most are trying so hard to be mediocre instead.
Once you achieve something at a high level, the truth is that both those statements are true.
The work involved is tough as shit, so you better have some dedication. But once you’re there, the snowball effect works in your favor and you keep getting better.
Below is a recap of my journey about how I overcame a lower back injury, and managed to pull a national record back in 2012.
P.S – If you want to know more about my deadlift technique, check out my Free training program called Badass Strength. It will show you my secrets that will help add 30-50 lbs to your deadlift in about 3 weeks!
2 Months Out: The Back Pain
As someone who happens to coach not just lifting, but gymnastics as well, it’s kind of my job to make sure that when people are trying to do inversions, they don’t fall on their face. And I do my job well. So when one of my athletes went to do a back tuck (backflip) and decided to bail in the middle of the inversion, I had to jump in, grab her by the waist and chuck her over my shoulder.
Don’t worry, she landed on her ass safe and sound, but while trying to save her life, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back. As if someone took an ice pick and stabbed me for my good deed of the day.
Boy, was I ever was pissed. Not at her obviously, athletes make mistakes all the time, but simply due to the fact that I can easily manage to lift hundreds of pounds without problems, yet somehow, a little girl barely topping 100 lbs soaking wet threw out my back.
1.8 Months Out: The Diagnosis & Treatment
A few days later I called over my buddy Kris (a sports and rehab specialist), and after he did his assessment at his house, the conclusion was everything I didn’t want it to be: my back was fucked. The pain wasn’t only due to muscular problems but he was relatively sure that something was off in the lumbar region.
So I decided to seek the help of a local physiotherapist who also happened to be a chiropractor.
1.5 Months Out: The Rehab
Sure enough, the chiro told me that the two of my lumbar vertebrae were jammed together on an angle (I believe it was my L4/L5). Fucking fantastic.
So I scheduled three spinal decompression/re-alignment sessions to see how things would go. Each session involved the use of a machine that would use electric pulses to loosen out my back, then he would work his chiro magic by twisting and tweaking the shit outta my back and making me do a few odd movements.
There were satisfying cracks that took place and by the end of each session I felt as loose and limp as a chinese noodle.
Oh and he told me not to deadlift for a month, which was advice I of course, fully ignored. I signed up for a competition, and I was determined to pull over 3x bodyweight no matter what (my max at this point was around 365 lbs so I had 40 odd lbs to go).
I did however work with Kris to make sure my re-adjusted spine wouldn’t get all jammed up again. The “keep your spine pain free” regimen we came up with went as follows:
- 3 sets of 10 Reverse Hyper Extensions
- 2 sets of 10 Straight leg weighted shrugs on a dip station (this was to decompress the spine)
- 2 sets of 10 Bird Dogs
- 2 sets of 10 Super Mans
This little routine would basically sandwich my deadlift workouts, and Kris also did some stretching/active releases twice a week. The idea was that these movements would keep my spine decompressed and would strengthen the muscles around it to prevent it from going back into the “jammed state”.
It worked well. Really well, in fact. It was as if the injury never happened and I was home free. But of course, life is never that easy and always has other plans, as you shall soon see.
1 Month Out: Hitting A New Max
Training was going well, and the inclusion of a belt was helping by keeping my L4/L5 from making out with each other. I made sure to do a “mock meet” in the gym least once before I actually competed. This means going into a similar mind set, similar warm up times, visualizing the judge’s commands etc.
Long story short, I pulled a new max of 385lbs off the floor like a homeless person that came across a $10 bill. Three minutes later I decided to go for the 400lbs – after all, if you pull something in training, it’s that much easier to pull it in competition since you’ve already done it. The mental advantage is huge.
Well, 400lbs hovered off the floor, but that’s about it. It got stuck half way and after trying for what seemed like an eternity, I dropped that shit like a bad habit. I now had the opposite problem then when I first started – my weakness used to be my drive off the floor, and the lockout used to be my strong point. So after doing a month of deficit pulls, it became a strength.
And now the lockout was what needed work. Granted, I didn’t work it as much as I should have; lesson learnt.
A quick chat with Jordan Syatt (A 3x bodyweight deadlifter himself) told me that I should focus on doing some serious hip thrusts to get that humping power and work on strengthening my lats, which are needed to pull the bar in for the lockout. Heavy lat pull downs and hip thrusts were the suggestions but since I despise sitting down, I did heavy ass wide grip pullups instead.
My good friend Dr.Bojan Kostevski also discussed his training methods which were adding monster numbers to his guinea pig… I mean, his brother. Talking to these two men was a wise decision, since the results paid off.
But before a person can truly rise, they first have to fall…
2 Weeks Out: Time For A Break, Have A KitKat
I ditched heavy training for a couple days and did some gymnastics instead. I threw double back flips and a whole bunch of other tricks that would not be advised to someone right before a competition. Giving a fuck however, is not something I do well (but I’m working on it).
This was well needed, as I believe you need to have some fun in the process. Also, this was the day I started my diet to drop the five-ish pounds I’d need to make weight on may the 11th. The comp was to be held on May 12th – my birthday!
1 Week Out: The Pain Returns
I remember it being a routine day at the gym. I did my “rehab workout”, followed by a quick warm up and decided I had to pull heavy numbers on my deficit so when competition rolls around, 400lbs wouldn’t be a problem (rack pulls were also going well). I was using a 4-5 inch deficit so the bar was literally starting from my ankles.
Trust me, if you can lift heavy shit from your ankles, you can lift it from shin height in your sleep. I don’t train to be the best, I train to be the best on the worst possible day.
But somehow, a puny 355 lbs deficit pull wrecked savagery on my lower back. The lift went up handsomely, but as I went for the lockout, a sharp pain came rushing in followed by an immediate drop of the bar. It shook the floor like an earthquake. Luckily, the trainers at the commercial gym I train at know me quite well by now, so I wasn’t bitched at. But the dirty looks I get were standard; usually by guys twice my size who can’t lift half as much and thus, probably hate life.
So it was Kris again to the rescue.
After some killer stretching and digging his fingers into my back, quads, glutes and plenty of other muscles that hurt like hell, I was good to go in two days! His work was also mixed in with long sessions of heating pads and stretching on my own.
Two days after this incident, after Kris worked his magic, I pulled 450lbs on the trap bar deadlift. This took my confidence, and put it on cloud nine surround by the finest escorts the world had to offer. Basically, I felt pretty damn good about the comp.
Day Before: Weigh Ins
On Thursday, I was about a pound over so decided to cut eating (“fasting”), and focus on high volume, light weight workouts coupled with interval cardio. Sweat buckets I did, and the morning of the weight in day, I was about 1.5 lbs under. Perfect excuse to pig out, so I went on a date where I stuffed my face in front of a beautiful lady.
After that, it was off to the weigh-ins. Boy what a shit show that was; Dudes were almost passing out, and chicks were being moved up in weight classes from being much, much heavier than they intended. Seriously, people need to learn how to drop weight for crying out loud.
Personally, I weighed in like 0.6lbs over. But that’s because I was too lazy to remove my shirt and jeans. After getting practically naked, the scaled showed me at 1 lbs under (129 lbs), and that was good enough for me. I ran over to the nearest pharmacy and bought 3 WunderBars, a big bottle of Pedialyte, beef jerky, and picked up two cheese burgers on the way back home. Yolo.
Judgement Day: Pulling The Record
First of all, I had no clue this would be a record. I had no idea what the previous record was and nor did I give a rat’s ass.
Being my first competition, I wanted to go for FUN and achieve a personal goal of pulling around 400 lbs, which would officially make me a member of the 3x club.
Now, if you’ve gone through my Badass Strength program, you know the golden rule of strength training: If you can lift a light weight quickly, you can lift a heavy weight slowly. I saw way too many dorks “warming up” like this was a bodybuilding show, and they needed a pump. Ridiculous.
There were dudes doing 5×5 and other unnecessary nonsense. Unsurprisingly, these happened to be the same cupcakes who missed their first attempts (which should almost never happen).
So here’s how my warm up went:
- 160lbs x 2
- 230lbs x 1
- 280lbs x 1
- Dynamic vertical jumps 2 sets of 4
- 10 super mans and 15 bird dogs
I probably also made the record for the shortest warm up ever.
See the problem is, people think they need to go balls out on all three attempts. Not so – you first lift attempt SHOULD BE PART OF YOUR WARM UP. It sets the tone for the next two which are your real and challenging attempts. My first lift was 330lbs – a weight I could pull hung over, half asleep with half a leg. Sure enough it went up. Second lift, was 360bs – challenging, but nothing I couldn’t manage.
This also got the crowd talking as I frankly remembering a chick say to her boyfriend, “where the fuck did he come from?”
That’s how you know you’re doing things right.
Now here’s the important bit – after the 2nd lift, I was standing by the judges trying to pick my final attempt. When asked, I obviously blurted out 400lbs. But since everything was in kilograms, I had to pick either 397 lbs (180 kg) or 402.3 (182.5 kg).
I knew I’d make 397, but would go home with a feeling of slight regret because you can round it up all you want, 400lbs is still 400lbs. So I chose the latter – I figured I’d rather fail at the weight I came for, then get the weight I didn’t.
Well, I nailed the beast. It wasn’t the prettiest lift in the world, but your max effort pulls never are. But damn did it feel good.
First of all, I want to give some props to the following people: Jordan Syatt, Dr.Bojan Kostevski, Kris R, Jon Goodman, JC Deen, Rog Law, Dick Talens, My Clients, and everyone else for the encouragement and their help. I always say, surround yourself by those that lift heavy ass shit, and the burden of success becomes light weight. I’m living proof of this statement.
Remember, you can do anything you set your mind to, if you’re willing to put in the work.
Badasses don’t take shortcuts; they just drive faster cars.