I’m privileged to live very close to my good friend Coach Joe Kenn – and I love talking with him every time his schedule allows.
He’s an absolute giant in the strength and conditioning world, and every time we get together I could talk to him for hours.
So we thought we’d do something different and have a live podcast while we still had the chance to get together (before his football season gets geared back up). Coach Kenn gives so much amazing value in this podcast about all aspects of training – and particularly the lessons he’s learned training his sons. I guarantee this is one you’ll love to listen to.
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Sometimes it takes an “athletic identity crisis” to show us who wee truly are.
And that’s exactly what happened with Sheridan Lintz. After a trek through Nepal, her knees were in crippling pain.
It made her question who she was as a lifter. And it let to her digging deep and finding out what really matters in life.
Now she takes those skills and works with an organization training the next generation of entrepreneurs. As you know, that’s something we’re excited about because we want to help our young men and women reach their dreams.
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I returned last night from one of the most incredible trips of my entire life.
Phil, the CEO of Stronger Experts, and I have been talking about a trip to Jamaica from the very moment I joined the platform. For all of you who don’t know what Stronger Experts is, I will give you a brief explanation. Phil gathered some of the world’s top experts in the areas of weightlifting, powerlifting, strength and conditioning, speed training, nutrition, injury prevention, and rehab. The platform is a one-stop shop for young and aspiring coaches to learn from the best in the business.
One of the coaches on the platform is Coach Jae Edwards. Jae is a big part of the reason why I joined this platform. He works with some of the top sprinters in Jamaica – including Yohan Blake. I’ve been fascinated by the Jamaican sprinters for quite some time now. I have been dying to understand their training and their mindset. Phil gave all of us that chance.
I was able to arrange for Doug Larson and Anders Varner, my friends from Barbell Shrugged, to come along to document the journey. This guaranteed we would come away with some moments that would encourage and inspire all of you. It also allowed me to co-host one of the most amazing podcasts of my life with Yohan Blake, which brings me to the point of this story.
No Other Option
Yohan explained to us life growing up on the island. Yes, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. However, life on the island for the locals can be one of the hardest existences in the world. Yohan grew up in a one-room house with seven siblings and his parents. Food was hard to come by, which made athletic endeavors much harder for him than the athletes here in the United States.
He didn’t even start out as a sprinter. When he was 16 years old, he was playing cricket and decided to try his hand at sprinting. Luckily he was really good right out of the gate. It’s actually hard to imagine how good he would be if he had started earlier like most of the children in Jamaica – talking to the other track coaches, they start them between four to six years old.
Once Yohan realized he had a gift, he knew he had found a way to change the lives of his entire family. He worked harder than everyone else on the island, to the point Usain Bolt gave him the nickname Beast. He still trains with the same tenacity, and is currently the world’s fastest man after winning the world championships. Yohan also holds the second-fastest time ever recorded for the 100-meter dash – 9.69 seconds. After talking to him over the last few days, there is no way I would vote against him. If you want to hear the entire story, just wait for the episode of Barbell Shrugged to drop.
Here’s my point in telling you this story. Yohan approached sprinting with no other alternative. There was no fall-back plan and no other options. Back at home there was only a one-room house and several disappointed family members awaiting him if he failed. He told us about praying multiple times God would grant him speed. He told us about his mother telling him he was their only hope.
As an athlete growing up in America, I can’t imagine having that kind of pressure on me. He felt the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, and he didn’t let the weight crush him. It’s that pressure that made him unbeatable. Yes they have good coaching in Jamaica, but so do we in America. It’s the fact they don’t have any other option that drives them to succeed at such high levels.
The problem with options
In America, our athletes have so many options. If their sport doesn’t work out, then they will go on with their lives. Heck, most of them realize they will be more financially stable when their sport is over. That really makes it tough for them when training gets hard, and training gets hard for everyone no matter the sport. ‘Options’ are the very reason why athletes fail more often than not in America. Let me explain a little more.
Every year, I have an athlete who reaches out to me about wanting to be an Olympian. I often wonder how they get to that goal. I mean did they watch some old Cal Strength videos, or did they stumble upon some old videos of Pyrros Dimas? Who knows? Yet here they are reaching out to me, saying the exact same things as so many before them. It used to be, if they had a little bit of talent, I would get all excited and have them visit the gym. After my trip to Jamaica, I have a new plan for all the people who reach out to me.
Now I am going to rant a bit, so get ready. Athletes tell me all the time they are willing to do anything to become the best, but their actions don’t match their mouths. Don’t tell me you want to be the best, and then proceed to go out drinking and partying every week. You’re lying to me and to yourself. Don’t tell me you will do whatever it takes, and then quit when training gets hard. If you really want to be the best, keep reading.
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If you really want to be one of the best athletes in the world, you are going to have to give up all partying. You are going to have to take responsibility for your own nutrition. You are going to need ten hours of sleep every night. Recovery is your responsibility. You will need to find the best chiropractor, physical therapist, and massage therapist. You will need to buy Marc Pro for the inflammation. If you aren’t getting something in practice, you will need to do whatever it takes to understand the deficiency. Maybe you need some extra practice. Maybe you need two-a-days until you get it. Maybe you need to do a little extra homework.
You will need to practice harder and smarter than every other person on this planet. Things are going to get hard, really hard. That’s a promise. You are going to regress at times. You are going to plateau at times. Some of that is a planned response by your coach, and some is a dark place where all athletes will venture. It’s in the darkness where you will experience pain and sadness. Your body will hurt like you are a 50-year-old crippled person. You will get depressed. You will think it’s never going to happen. All of these things I promise are going to happen.
It’s in this darkness you will come face to face with the true you. This can be the loneliest place in the world because you are going to be faced with questions some of you don’t really want to answer:
Am I really good enough to be at the top of my chosen sport?
Am I really willing to do what it takes to make it in my chosen sport?
Is my sport worth pushing through this terrible pain?
Am I tough enough to push through this plateau?
Making that decision
For some of you, it’s simply a reality check. You might not be cut out to be the best, and that’s okay. Some of you will learn to simply enjoy the sport. However, for all of you who really have what it takes, you will be faced with the hardest decision of your life. If you quit now, you will probably quit when things get tough for the rest of your life. Nothing great in life ever comes easy, and that’s why athletes who make it to the very top are so darn special. They are special in the same way amazing entrepreneurs are special or incredible inventors.
The rest of this article is especially to the athletes who are about to reach out to me in the future. I want you to contemplate this article and the question above. I know it seems sexy when you see my athletes wearing Team USA on their chests. I know it seems cool traveling around the world lifting weights against the best athletes in the world. However that’s less than 1% of what really goes on. Are you ready for the work that’s really required? Are you willing to stay at home while others go out partying? Are you willing to take control of your nutrition and recovery?
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Here’s the thing. I am no longer willing to coach someone who isn’t willing to match their action with their goals and talents. I have too many great athletes who are willing to put in the work and time. I don’t have the time for trouble cases who aren’t willing to accept the help and coaching. The Jamaicans are willing to do whatever it takes. Are you? I mean are you really?
Yohan Blake didn’t have a choice. That makes it a bit easier to stay focused. For the rest of us who have choices, we must be disciplined. You have to want to succeed more than anything else in the entire world. If there is something else you would rather be doing, then go do that and forget about sport.
I know this article isn’t my normal science based ‘how to’ article, but it’s the truth all of you need to hear. Don’t tell me you were already thinking like this because I watch too many of you come and go. Be honest with yourself! It’s okay to play a sport for fun. However, when you tell a coach like me you want to be the best in the world, then I expect the best work ethic and discipline in the world. If I don’t get just that, you can find another coach.
Last week I was in Guatemala with Team USA at the Pan American Championships. Instead of hanging out and doing the normal chit-chat with coaches and athletes, I decided to take advantage of having so many champions in one place. I wanted to find out if there were any obviously similar characteristics between the most successful athletes. I interviewed and quizzed the coaches and a few of the athletes who I am most familiar with. The results were quite eye-opening to me, and they might be to you as well.
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Plus I will give some insight from coaches of a few other athletes and some insight regarding athletes outside of weightlifting.
A common bond?
I’ve been curious for a long time to see if there was a common bond between successful athletes, and I think I have found it. The common trait, which I will reveal later in this article, is something we can all work on. However, it might require a few of you to get out of your comfort zone. My hope is that all of you will read this with an open mind because I think there is something a lot of you can learn and apply. Now let’s learn about these amazing athletes.
Her coach is one of my best friends, Spencer Arnold. His programming is a combination of velocity-based training, linear periodization, medium intensity (rarely going even close to maximal), and a lot of accessory work to strengthen the body with a holistic approach. He’s also known as a sort of data-driven coach, collecting as many data points as possible to predict future outcomes.
Jourdan is a calm, yet confident athlete. Her teammates joke that she is dead inside because of her never changing facial expressions. She likes a calculated approach, which she explained in a story. When she was younger, she bombed out of two big meets in a row – the youth Pan Americans and the American Open. From that point on, she vowed to never let it happen again. Her confidence comes from a feeling of preparation along with steady improvements, versus big jumps from meet to meet.
This approach has her constantly hitting personal records from meet to meet in the range of one to four kilograms, which over time adds up to massive improvements. She only goes for maximal lifts during competition, so it appears she is never truly at maximum. This leaves her knowing she is good for more. I think this approach will prove to be good for her especially when she is required to go all-out when it counts. I believe she will approach every lift with the confidence she can make it.
I got to really hang out with Boady’s father, Dallas, in Guatemala at the 2019 IWF Senior Pan American Championships – just a few days before writing this article. Dallas is also Boady’s coach, so he filled me in on their program. They train four days per week, about four hours each session. There are percentages laid out in each of the snatch and clean and jerk, but the percentages are there to ensure enough volume is being performed to get better at the lifts. There is an element of the Bulgarian Method or Max Effort Method because Boady has a green light at all times to push the percentages to as close to 100% and above as possible. It’s actually encouraged to push past the programmed percentages.
They stick to the main lifts of snatch and clean and jerk, and mainly from the floor. They will use variations only if there is a movement flaw or weakness that is standing out. They are very much sport specific to the sport of weightlifting.
Boady’s biggest quality that sticks out is his confidence and mindset. He doesn’t look at other Canadians. He compares himself to other weightlifters from around the world, which is exactly what other athletes should be doing. If your ceiling is other athletes in your country, you definitely will never get past those numbers. Boady actually seeks out some of these lifters, and then he travels to train with them. For example he traveled to Qatar to train with Meso Hassona. This allows him to learn, and it puts him in the same room with one of the best weightlifters in the world. Most great athletes will rise to the level of performance of those they are around. Boady has done just that. His expectations are that of a 182kg/400lb snatch. Most good weightlifters in America or Canada think about 160kg or 170kg as the big number. That mentality keeps them from ever excelling on the platform.
I talked to Kate and her coach Josh the morning of her massive performance at the Senior Pan American Championships. She totaled an American Record of 245kg, which is mind-blowing. Her coach told me they definitely go heavy the last few weeks before competition. It appears he programs with a type of linear periodization along with an element of the conjugate method. They use a lot of boxes and blocks for maximum effort work leading to the full movements, and without a doubt it appears to be working. Her 110kg snatch and 245kg total is the highest in American history.
What impresses me the most about Kate is her ability to perform on the platform. I’ve personally watched her miss a 90kg snatch three times in warm ups – and then she went three for three in that same meet, hitting an all-time PR. Her face literally transforms when she walks onto the platform. She goes from a nervous girl to a fearless killer. If you are going to beat her, you are going to need to go six for six and straight up out-lift her. If you’re hoping she misses, you are probably going to lose.
I’m Wes’s number one fan because of his attitude. I am also besties with his coach, Dave Spitz. Dave is probably the most popular weightlifting coach in the entire world along with the most well known gym in the world, California Strength. It’s easy to identify Russian and Bulgarian influences in the Cal Strength program. Wes rarely maxes out the lifts during the majority of his training. However, during the last few weeks of his training program, they will spend a solid block of four or more weeks going up near Wes’s maximum and sometimes above. I’d definitely say they use the conjugate method, using different variations to target maximum effort. They will use a lot of block jerks, cleans/snatches from blocks, and some clean-only variations.
The advantage Wes has is he has been a high-level athlete his entire life. He played running back at a Division I University, and he made a close run at the NFL. He is used to winning – and that’s exactly what he did last week, snatching 176kg and clean and jerking 223kg for an American record total of 399kg. Wow! Wes approaches the bar with a calm yet focused demeanor much like a star quarterback approaches the Super Bowl. I believe this approach will lead him to an Olympic medal someday soon.
The Athlete’s Advantage
As you can see, the only similarity between these athletes is confidence and attitude. Each of these coaches works with other athletes who are nowhere near the level of these athletes. These coaches also work with athletes who sometimes bomb out, go three for six, or worse. A solid program is absolutely crucial for the success of an athlete. However, if the athlete doesn’t have a good mindset, it’s not going to matter. It won’t matter if the athlete has the most potential of any athlete in the world. It won’t matter if the program is the most scientifically based program in the world. It won’t matter if the athlete is the most technically proficient athlete in the world. If the athlete isn’t confident and focused, they will inevitably fail miserably.
It baffles me when athletes spend so much time on mobility, nutrition, technique, and recovery – yet they spend zero time trying to work on their mental performance. This article clearly shows the importance of a solid sports psych program. There is too much literature out there, and too many great sports psych doctors out there for athletes not to be taking advantage of the information.
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This doesn’t just pertain to weightlifters. This goes for all athletes. Why was Michael Jordan the best basketball player? Yes, he was skilled, but his mindset was head and shoulders above the other player. Why does Tom Brady dominate? All you have to do is watch how the man carries himself, and I am not even a fan. However, you have to recognize greatness when it’s right before your eyes.
I hope this article opens the eyes of many of you. There are a lot of great athletes in America who have everything except a solid mindset. I can’t express the importance of a solid sport’s psych program enough. If you aren’t working with someone, you can read our book Performance Zone to get a solid base. However, every athlete should strive each and every day to improve their mental game much like they work on the other elements of their game. I recommend closing this article and immediately taking action on this one element which will take you even closer to becoming a master of the mundane tasks that losers will always avoid.
Jason Khalipa is obviously well known as an amazing CrossFit athlete.
He’s also the owner of a successful gym (and has great business advice to give), and he’s the author of a new book that will get you focused and moving forward in business, fitness, and in life. It’s called As Many Reps as Possible.
So listen in to this one for a different look at Jason. Of course we talk about CrossFit programming (I mean, you know I’m going to go there), but we really spend a lot of time talking about the realities of business and life.
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I don’t know what it is – but their athletes are unprecedented. With such a small population, they’re putting up some of the greatest athletes on the planet.
So Phil Tremblay joins us today to talk a little about what makes Jamaica special, what we’re doing to help coach the natural athletes there…and we also talk a ton about speed training, velocity based training, and making gains in the off season.