Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Champions Have the Will to Succeed - By Bob Whelan

Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 10, No. 3 (November-December 1998)

A few months ago I got a phone call from Matt Brzycki, strength and conditioning coach at Princeton University. Matt wanted me to train one of his athletes of the summer. Jamie Sullivan is from suburban Maryland, right outside Washington, DC, and needed some hard training to stay in top shape for when he returns to Princeton in September. I was more than happy to accommodate Jamie.

Jamie is a member of the Princeton lacrosse team. Princeton University is the current (and three-time) NCAA national champion in lacrosse. Princeton is to lacrosse what Notre Dame and Penn State are to football. Jamie plays lacrosse year round. Success seems to follow him, as his summer league team won the championship in its league.

More than a few times, Jamie had a summer league game on the same day he had a brutal workout with me. Jamie did not want an easier workout though. I hammered him and pulled no punches. We did everything including the sandbag carry, even on game days. He was still able to play all out even after being hammered earlier in the day. Oh to be young!

A summer of preparation

Jamie focused resolutely on his main goal—to be ready and stronger for Princeton in the fall. Jamie only needs to be told things once. He listens, is polite, and works very hard. I tell him what to do, and he does it. I told him to buy motivational books and tapes, and he did it. I told him to eat a big breakfast, lunch and dinner, three snacks (e.g., a can or two of tuna, turkey or chicken per snack), 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, and drink up to a half gallon of skim milk per day. He didn’t make excuses about why he couldn’t do it. He did it.

Jamie has to be a bright kid to go to Princeton, and it shows. I gave him a copy of Brawn and a few other books to read, and he read them all in just a few days. I quizzed him on the material just to make sure he really read it, and he had! I gave him the same two-hour orientation that I give all my “regular” clients. He was extremely attentive and took notes even though I gave him several pages of handouts that covered the material. I could tell right away that Jamie would get good results because of his excellent attitude.

Jamie followed the same training program I outlined in the last issue, with one exception. In early August we started doing one-legged deadlifts on the Hammer Deadlift machine, instead of using two legs. Hammer Strength recently made a conversation piece to install on the back of the machine that allows you to place the non-lifting leg there to keep your balance. It’s even harder than the regular two-legged deadlift. In fact, some of my clients hate it even more than the Tru-Squat! The first use of the one-legged deadlift can produce glute and hamstrings soreness that lasts a week. Dr. Ken and Drew Israel got their conversion pieces a few weeks earlier, and just raved about them. They told me, “Bob, you have to get this!” They were not exaggerating. My clients don’t seem to appreciate my talking to Dr. Ken, because he’s always giving me ideas to make their workouts even harder!

Crucial details and the will to succeed

Most champions have the willingness to adhere strictly to crucial details like not partying too much, cutting down on or eliminating alcohol, getting enough sleep, maintaining a positive attitude, and especially keeping quality nutrition a top priority. This is why Jamie has gained 16 pounds of muscle and a lot of strength over the summer. He has gone from 158 pounds to 174 while keeping his bodyfat at around 12%. Jamie has the desire and will to succeed, which are the qualities that make a true champion.

The cause of failure for many people is that they don’t pay attention to vital details that can make all the difference. A huge factor in the success or failure of young college athletes is alcohol. Many of these athletes will do everything right except this part, and then wonder why they are not making the gains that they should. For these youngsters, if they are drinking and out late more than once a week, they can forget about getting good results and getting into top shape. Older trainees, and all hard gainers, can’t afford even one very late night each week if they are serious about gaining well. Young and gifted athletes can break some of the rules and get away with it. Hard gainers can’t. Alcohol abuse will ruin recovery ability, and ruin chances of getting bodyfat down. Alcohol use is the Achilles heel of many training programs, and the missing link in the success of many people. Coaches need to give this a lot more attention.

A large percentage of my current clients are athletes. A few are professional, but most are college athletes, with some in high school. They are my favorite clients to train because they are usually already hungry to improve, and have very specific goals. Non-athletes can learn from the behavior of disciplined athletes. Though non-athletes usually do not have the youth and natural talent of the athletes, they can still learn from them.

Pervis Ellison is back for a second summer of high-intensity training. He had a great first half of the season last year. He was named a captain by coach Pitino, and the Boston media was raving about his physical improvement. He seemed to be on the way to the comeback of the year when he suffered another bad injury during a basketball game. Hopefully Pervis will have better luck this year.

I also have a third Masimini as a client. The “boys” have a sister named Thande, who is 6-4 and 200 pounds! She plays professional basketball. Her two brothers escorted her in for a few workouts and encouraged me to train her real hard while they watched. She is currently playing for a team in France.

The high school athletes are especially fun to train because they are so eager to learn. They are easy to motivate and usually can be trained extremely hard right off the bat. They pay attention to the important details and don’t fluff anything off, especially with their parents paying for the training. The key thing, however, is that they have the will to succeed and are determined to get results come hell or high water. This makes my job a lot easier. Anyone can have this will to achieve, regardless of age or responsiveness to training.

The discipline to do what it takes, in and out of the gym, is what’s needed to get maximum results. There will be plateaus, sticking points and frustration, of course. It’s like that for everyone, though some people suffer more than others.

It’s the special will to succeed that separates the achievers from the underachievers. The achievers are more than willing to put out the effort that it takes to get results. Their minds are positive and they refuse to accept failure. They have positive self talk which is extremely important. When they have a disappointing set in terms of the number of reps performed, they don’t whine and say negative things about themselves, or what a bad day they are having. They just believe they will be stronger next time and go to the next machine with the “eye of the tiger” and their mental focus unchanged. They channel their anger into a better performance on the next set, and do not waste energy in a negative manner.

One of my goals as coach is to channel anger and frustration in a positive way. Anger and frustration are great sources of energy. Learning how to channel this energy positively is vital for maximizing your potential.

I can tell by the noise my clients make while they train whether or not they are using positive or negative energy. If they sound angry and vicious when they train—like a wild lion roaring—I know they are in the proper mind set. But if they make a whining, moaning sort of sound, I know they are in a negative mode. Some highly focused and motivated people train without making much noise, as noted by Dr. Ken in issue #55, but the noise they make is still the “right” type.

When someone is in negative mode, I usually immediately end the set and give him/her a lecture on the spot about how the mind must be in gear to train, or else it’s better to go home and not even bother. You need all the energy you can muster when training hard. You can’t train productively if your mind is in negative mode.

Many of my non-athlete clients don’t have this proper mental attitude right away. I stay hard on them and don’t smile or act friendly to them until they have developed the proper mental attitude. It is usually someone’s lack of positive expectations and selling themselves short at the start of training that is the biggest obstacle for me to overcome. Once they start to think properly, then at least they are giving themselves the chance to get results. If they have a negative attitude, however, they have no chance.

Age is only a number

I am 44 years old, but am told by many people that I look and act at least ten years younger. This can make things interesting. Frequently, new non-athlete clients only in their mid to late thirties come in with a negative attitude and say things like, “When I was your age I could train hard and do squats and deadlifts, but you’ve got to remember that I’m 37 years old!” I usually get a good laugh and tell them that they are “still in puberty,” or “you still need acne medicine.”

The first thing I do is change their outlook and attitude about training, or encourage them to train somewhere else. I believe that there are two types of age: chronological age that you can’t do anything about but which is only a number, and biological age that you can do something about. I keep telling the older guys that by training they are “youthing,” not aging.

Keep your expectations realistically high and don’t sell yourself short. Of course it may take a while to build up your conditioning and strength safely, but what matters most is that you make a start and believe in improvement. The mind—through having positive expectations and a positive attitude—is by far the most important factor determining training success. Pay close attention to major factors such as alcohol use, sleep and nutrition that could be your Achilles heel. It is, however, the lack of a positive attitude that is usually responsible for not paying attention to the crucial details. With the right attitude you will get all the details in good order.
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

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