Saturday, February 11, 2012

What’s Your Obsession? - By Brian Cass

Originally posted on on August 26, 2007

I have not shared this with Max Bob yet (well, at least not until he read this article), but one of my personal goals is to add at least 100 pounds to my 20-rep squat over the next six months or so. Truth be told, I’ve become obsessed with getting my squat poundage up to competitive standards.

At WST we usually squat on a "machine" (there’s a picture of the machine on Bob’s website somewhere... (a super re-enforced Pendulum type). Don’t let the machine fool you. WST-style squats are the most exhausting, grueling, and humbling exercise I’ve ever performed. (Also- we do 2 SETS of 20!) Yet – and I cannot begin to explain why – I love them. The squat machine is simultaneously feared and revered. I love “letting it go” and “killing” a serious set of squats. There are few things that get the testosterone pumping through my veins like a death march on the squat machine. I always end up on the ground wheezing madly after a strenuous set, but the great sense of accomplishment makes it all worth it. Perhaps that’s it – perhaps the mere challenge of the machine attracts me to it. I don’t fully know. All I know is that I’ve become completely obsessed with progressing on this single exercise – almost to the exclusion of the other lifts.

And here’s the thing ….. I’m 100% confident that I’ll reach my target. There’s positively no doubt in my mind. However, getting there from here will require a great deal of hard work and mental doggedness. The more I train with Bob, the more I realize that a proper attitude is the key to success – particularly when wrestling with the squat machine. Come determined to succeed and I often will. Show up with a laissez-faire attitude and a head filled with doubt and I might as well go home. Simply put, if I’m not “in the mood” I seldom nail my lifts. If I show up with resolve – with something to prove, if you will – great things nearly always happen. Bringing my “A game” and “being here now” (as Bob espouses) are paramount to success.

One day a few months ago, I approached the squat machine and recall looking at the weigh and commenting to myself (perhaps I even murmured it aloud) “you’ve got to be kidding me, Bob.” It’s no surprise that I was only able to get a few reps before surrendering. I learned the hard way that day that positive thinking is absolutely critical for getting through a tough set. Driving yourself to finish the last couple of reps when all you want to do is pack up, go home, and never come back takes fortitude and concentrated focus. There’s no two ways about it.

Nowadays I approach my workouts with an entirely different mindset. I’ve definitely seen the light on the need for proper mental preparation. When I show up at WST today, I’m no longer satisfied to merely complete a tough set – I come prepared to CRUSH the set! Anything less won’t do. I focus on being on the offensive, trying to kill the weights before they kill me.

All this revelation has lead me to “study up” on the mental training techniques of the experts. I just finished reading Peak Performance (one of Bob’s recommended readings) and I’ve begun to apply some of the strategies outlined in the book. I’ve been spending a lot of my time away from the gym focused on mental visualization techniques. As such, I find myself rehearsing my 20-rep squats several times a day, most often in the car as I’m driving to and from the Metro station each day (just about the only quiet time I’m afforded). On WST training days, I have to walk approximately ten minutes from the Metro station to Bob’s dungeon. I spend most of this walk mentally rehearsing my squats (oddly enough, even on non-squatting days).

All of this appears to be working. This past weekend I was using a record weight (for me that is) on the squat machine yet it actually felt light – unexpectedly light, absurdly light even. As a result I completely crushed the set - killed it in fact - and I swear I heard the machine beg for mercy! I almost completed all 20 reps in a continuous rep fashion, when normally I’m gasping for air long before I’m halfway through. Have you ever had one of those workouts where you felt like Superman? Well it was one of those days. I damn near died when the set was over and I was categorically useless for the rest of the workout – I’d be misleading you if I suggested otherwise – but during the set I was so focused that it felt like my body was on autopilot. I was a force to be reckoned with. I really surprised myself. Needless to say, the experience was extremely motivating!

All of this has only amplified my obsession to improve on the lift. I find myself redoubling my mental training efforts. To steal Dave Wright’s expression, I’ve become a “man on a mission.” Some would say I’ve taken my obsession too far. For example, at WST I usually precede a heavy set by psyching myself up and screaming “YES!” immediately before attacking the iron. The other day I caught myself yelling “YES!” while sitting in traffic. Strange, huh?

This all might be a little strange, sure. I’m a 38 year old husband and father of two beautiful little children with a demanding job and remarkably little free time, and if I’m being honest I spend far too much time focused on this little weightlifting hobby of mine. After all, I should be playing with the kids and spending quality time with my wife instead of writing articles for Natural Strength, right? From this perspective, sure, obsessing over something like 20-rep squats seems like energy a tad bit misplaced. I tell you what though – I’ve never felt more energized and I cannot recall having this much fun or feeling this much personal satisfaction in a long while. Nor have I ever had such a healthy hobby. I feel like I’ve subtracted 20 years off my age. Weight training is the best stress reliever I’ve found, and in the final analysis all the energy I pour into training repays me double by allowing me to be a better father, husband, and co-worker. With all these benefits, I can live with a little “strangeness” in my life.

Have I taken my obsession too far? Am I crazy? Probably. However, six months from now when I’ve added 100 pounds to my squat and hopefully gained a considerable amount of muscle in the process, I’m not sure there will be too many individuals equally crazy enough to challenge my sanity face-to-face …… if you know what I mean. ? ?

To all those diehard lifters out there, what’s your obsession?

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