Category Archives for "Motivation"

The One Common Trait in Winners

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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Here are the athletes/coaches I talked to:

  • Jourdan Delacruz and her coach Spencer Arnold
  • Boady Santavy and his coach/father Dallas
  • Kate Nye and her coach Josh
  • Wes Kitts and his coach, the Godfather Dave Spitz

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.

Jourdan Delacruz

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.

Boady Santavy

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.

Kate Nye

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.

Wes Kitts

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 on the AMRAP Mentality – The Barbell Life 251

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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LISTEN IN TO TODAY’S PODCAST AS WE TALK ABOUT:

  • His advice to those wanting to own a gym
  • Has CrossFit gone too far?
  • His daughter’s illness and how it changed his life
  • The reality of owning a gym
  • Programming for CrossFit
  • and more…

Project Stronger Jamaica with Phil Tremblay – The Barbell Life 250

There’s something special about Jamaica.

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.

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LISTEN IN TO TODAY’S PODCAST AS WE TALK ABOUT:

  • What makes the Jamaican mountains special for producing Olympians
  • How to still make gains in the off season
  • The movements and principles that are key to speed training
  • When to only train partial movements
  • Why the best Jamaican high school sprinters DON’T become Olympians
  • and more…

Failure Leads to Victory

We all love to win. No one loves to win more than me!

If you know me, you probably would agree. Some would say that I have an unhealthy desire to win, and that might be true. However, I have learned to have a healthy relationship with failure. Does that mean I enjoy losing? Not even close! Does it mean that I don’t get upset when I lose or one of my athletes loses? Absolutely not! That’s a normal reaction.

What does developing a healthy relationship with losing look like? That’s the question.

I am not saying that you should be indifferent. I hate the phrase, “you win some, you lose some.” When you work hard for a goal, commit to it, and execute a plan, you should go into whatever endeavor expecting victory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t work hard to lose.

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What is victory?

Before we go on, I want to define ‘victory’ because it’s different for everyone. Let’s look at a few examples. If you’re a strength athlete, some of us are looking to qualify for a national-level event. Some of us are trying to make the top ten, medal, or win the competition. Yet again some of us are trying to make an international team, win a medal at worlds, or even win the Olympics. Heck, maybe you are just trying to make all your planned lifts at your first meet.

What if you are a traditional sport athlete, such as a football player, wrestler, or softball player? A victory to you might look like the following:

  • Making you high school team
  • Earning a starting position
  • Earning all-conference
  • Earning all-state
  • Earning a scholarship
  • Playing Pro

You get it. The same can be said for teams. A victory to each team can be defined slightly different. This same outlook on victory can be applied to all aspects of life:

  • Family
  • Business
  • Friendships
  • Spiritually

The point I want to make is we are all working hard toward our own idea of victory.

The question is, “what happens when we lose?” It’s taken me a lifetime to figure this one out, and sometimes I still get it wrong. However, I can shed some light on the subject for all of you still struggling to deal with the losses that life will occasionally throw at you.

Case Study 1: Powerlifting Nationals 2004

In powerlifting, I rarely lost. One of the hardest ones to face was flying all the way out to California to earn my first ever bomb out. Here’s the saddest part of this tragic tale. I bombed out opening up at 930 pounds, when I could have easily won opening up at 850 pounds. It was my ego that drove me that day. No one could talk sense into my closed-off brain. My brain was too filled with testosterone to do the smart thing. So how did I respond?

Part of my response was wise, and part of it was immature and silly. I stormed to my hotel room like a furious bull and started formulating my plan for the next competition. I didn’t talk to another human for over a week, which was the silly part of all of this.

I’ve since learned to win with humility and lose with composure. You never know who is looking up to you. That might not mean much to some of you, but it means everything to me. If we aren’t inspiring others in our physical endeavors, then what are we doing? Who cares if we win the Olympics or world championships if we aren’t trying to encourage others? Winning is meaningless without substance – at least in my eyes.

So I flew home, and I started working toward the next big competition – which was the WPO Semi-Finals (the professional powerlifting organization of the time). I squatted deeper, better, and more often than ever. I worked on every known weakness. I improved on my recovery, especially in the nutrition and sleep department. I left no stone unturned.

The result was the all-time world record total of 2410 pounds in the 100-kilogram / 220-pound weight class. That was also the pound-for-pound best total of the time worldwide. I had turned my failure into success, increasing my total by 110 pounds during that time period. A lot of things changed in my life forever due to that victory, but really it was all due to a semi-good response to failure.

Case Study 2: Weightlifting Nationals 2017

In 2017, our Mash Team was stacked on the men’s and women’s side. We were the clear pick for winning both. That was until everything that could go wrong actually went wrong. Let me throw out a few:

  • Six people either bombed out or got hurt
  • One missed their weigh-in
  • Several under performed

It was a nightmare! I admit that for a split second I contemplated quitting as a weightlifting coach. It was truly a defining moment in my career. Obviously, I didn’t quit. But I did make several changes.

After looking back over the competition, there were quite a few bright moments in an otherwise dismal weekend. We won some individual national championships, and we left the competition with three men on the senior world team. However, there were some real changes that needed to take place:

  • Culture
  • Team Focus
  • Details

Our culture had taken a turn for the worse. My desire to win a team championship had clouded my judgment as to whom I would allow on our team. Coach Sean Waxman, my friend and mentor, pointed this out to me in his direct New York City style. Several of those team members are no longer with us, and now the culture is so much better. We are no longer a bunch of rebels running crazy. Our athletes listen to their coaches, and slowly all of them are becoming masters of the mundane. They are also kind to one another, and they are competitive yet supportive of one another.

The other big change we made was deciding not to take part in the team competitions anymore. I am not saying they are bad goals. It’s simply that our goal as a team is to help each individual reach the absolute pinnacle of their capabilities. The team competition simply adds extra stress to an already stressful competition. I want to do what’s right by the athlete not what’s right by the team.

At the end of the day, the team that sends the most athletes on international teams is the team that is actually winning. If I win a national championship and send no one to the world championships, I have failed. Now I am not trying to pass my ideology of to all of you as some law. It’s simply the way that I see it, and it’s the view of my team.

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The decision has led us on a streak of success. For example we average 4:6 at the Junior National Championships and Senior Pan American Championships Qualifier – and zero bomb outs. I am not saying we never bomb out, but they are few and far between now. Normally, if something like that happens now, it’s because we are being ultra aggressive and trying to make Team USA.

There’s one other benefit this new philosophy has given us. We make a much higher percentage of those aggressive attempts. All you have to do is look at the American Open Series 3 held in Las Vegas at the end of 2018. We absolutely crushed it. Hunter Elam came out of nowhere to earn a spot on the World Team by opening up at a lifetime PR clean and jerk of 121 kilograms and nailing it. We were aggressive all weekend just like that, and the entire team hit some sort of personal record. We also left the competition with four locked on the Senior World Team, two locked on the Youth World Team, and multiple American records. That’s victory to me, y’all. If the entire team goes 2:6 with this result, I am ok with it. 6:6 with no one on Team USA and/or no one breaking an American record is not a victory. You can keep your little wristband. But once again, this is just our mindset. I’m not saying everyone should think like us. Heck, life is a lot easier not thinking like this.

We’ve also learned to communicate better, and now Coach Crystal handles most of the details like what time weigh-ins are for each individual. Overall the tragedy of 2017 has been a major blessing. Our team is winning more than ever, enjoying each other more than ever, and having a better time slinging weights. That terrible competition helped us define ourselves as a team, and we are all better for it.

And now…

Recently at the Vegas Invitational/University Nationals/Youth World Championships, we had a 90% success rate with a couple of hiccups. We didn’t even flinch at the hiccups. We simply addressed the issues and moved on. It’s a necessary lesson all of us have to learn in life.

What’s the moral of the story? You don’t have to like losing. You shouldn’t like losing, or be indifferent to it. However if you want to be someone who wins most of the time, you have to be able to learn from losing. Otherwise, you’ll be the one who continues to lose again and again. I refuse to be that person, and I don’t want that for any of you no matter how big or small your goals are.

The Strength Coach’s Guide to Understanding Pain

About the Author: Eric Bowman is a Registered Physiotherapist in Ontario, Canada who works in the areas of orthopedic physical therapy and exercise for people with chronic diseases. He’s also intermittently involved with the University of Waterloo Kinesiology program and the Western University Physical Therapy program. He also competes as a powerlifter in the Canadian Powerlifting Union and has completed the CPU Coaching Workshop and Seminar.

Disclaimer: This is a combination of an article I wrote in 2015 for EliteFTS, an article I wrote on my own site in 2017, and my own updated views and concepts.

If you are involved with the Powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or CrossFit communities – either as an athlete or coach – you and/or your clients have likely had to deal with pain at some point in your career. Competing at a higher level comes with a high risk of developing pain due to the highly repetitive nature of strength sports, the volume and intensity of weights lifted, and the higher body weights required to be successful at some (but not all) strength sports.

Unfortunately, many strength coaches and athletes fail to understand the complex nature of pain. If you scroll down social media it’s not uncommon to see fellow lifters asking their comrades “I have pain – what should I do?” Subsequent recommendations can range all the way from ice and heat to soft tissue to inversion tables to snake oils to completely stopping lifting. It’s concerning to watch as a physiotherapist as these recommendations are made with minimal to zero knowledge of the individual’s pain presentation, medical history, psychosocial status, baseline functional capacity, and goals. As such these recommendations can range from effective to ineffective or even harmful.

Over the decades, and especially in the last seven years, the popularity and awareness of pain science has risen – even to the point where it got discussed on Joe Rogan’s podcast recently. In this article I share what the strength coach and strength athlete should know about pain. As a disclaimer this is not intended to be specific medical advice but rather general education and information.

Pain does not always indicate tissue damage

The old Descartes’ model of pain stated that an injury caused a signal to go up to the brain that caused pain. This in many ways is still how people view pain.

However – a large body of research shows many individuals with no signs or symptoms (within scientific literature this is referred to as “asymptomatic”) have abnormal imaging findings in their knees, hips, back and shoulders. For example:

  • 85% of adults without knee pain have knee arthritis on X-Ray
  • 35% of adults without shoulder pain have full or partial thickness rotator cuff tears on MRI
  • Even 40% of professional baseball players have rotator cuff tears yet have no pain while playing!!!
  • Approximately 20-40% of adults aged 20-40 show some form of disc herniation on CT or MRI but walk around without pain

Now to be fair

  • Some research does show a correlation between X-ray findings and symptoms in knee osteoarthritis – although this research is very conflicting
  • Some research shows patellar and achilles tendon changes on imaging can predict future tendinopathy
  • Some research shows some MRI findings are more common in people with back pain than in people without back pain

This means tissue injury can still be relevant but it certainly isn’t the sole predictor of pain. Pain is an output of the nervous system in response to threat and can be influenced by many factors (see below).

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Posture, structure, and biomechanics are relevant and important but don’t solely explain pain

We know from the scientific literature certain biomechanical movement variables can be risk factors and/or mechanisms of certain injuries, such as

Biomechanics are also important when under high loads – when certain movements, postures, and/or loads are painful – and when the body hasn’t been given sufficient opportunity to adapt to the load that’s been placed on it.

The things you have to keep in mind when looking at biomechanics are …

We know now pain can be modulated by various biological and psychosocial factors.

Biological factors can include

  • Tissue injury and tissue stress (see above)
  • Lack of sleep
  • Neurological factors such as decreased or increased pain modulation by the nervous system, or changes in the nervous system can make it more sensitive to inputs

Psychosocial factors can include

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear avoidance (avoidance of activity due to fear of pain or injury)
  • Kinesiophobia (fear of movement not fear of Kinesiologists 😊 )
  • Passive coping strategies
  • Poor social support
  • PTSD

Psychosocial factors don’t mean “the pain is in your head” but they are big risk factors for chronic pain. The theory is they make the nervous system more sensitive and increase activity of areas of the nervous system that are also involved in pain.

The wording you use with your clients can make a big impact on their recovery

Going hand-in-hand with the above points – the way your clients feel about themselves and their pain (if applicable) can have a big impact on

  • Whether or not they experience pain and
  • How well they manage and/or recover from pain

When professionals use negative wording with their clients it can create a “nocebo” effect. Nocebo, the opposite of placebo, is when the expectation of harm causes pain even though nothing physical has happened.

Some examples of nocebo-like wording can include

  • “You have the knees of a 70 year old”
  • “You’re in pain because of poor posture”
  • “Your (insert muscle here) isn’t firing”
  • “Your movement is dysfunctional”
  • … and so on

The key takeaway here is to use positive wording as much as possible with your clients to get the desired training/rehab effect while avoiding nocebos.

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* Fully Customized Programming

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* The Best Coaching in the World

So to summarize this article

  • Tissue injury may be relevant to pain in some cases but pain doesn’t always mean injury
  • Pain is a lot more complex than biomechanics and is more related to a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors
  • Use positive wording with your clients to empower them and avoid creating nocebos

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the complex experience that is pain. If you are interested in further reading I recommend the book Explain Pain by Lorimer Moseley and David Butler. As always – thanks for reading.

Tony Gentilcore – The Barbell Life 244

I finally had the chance to sit down and talk with Tony Gentilcore.

It seems we know so many of the same people, so it was great to pick his brain and hear about his many years as a strength coach.

In particular, Tony really had some great insights on business – not only his current business model (which had me taking notes) but also lessons he’s learned from his past with Eric Cressey.

If you’re someone who is interested in growing a platform, growing a gym, or growing a coaching practice – this one will be worth a listen.

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LISTEN IN TO TODAY’S PODCAST AS WE TALK ABOUT:

  • Having Eric Cressey as a roommate (and what he learned)
  • Why growing a business is sometimes the worst thing
  • How he’s working now based on his plan for the future
  • Why he started a gym even though he said he never wanted to
  • How a good workout should make you feel like Mario
  • and more…