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Keeping the Goal The Goal

December 29, 2011 03:25 PM

DannySawaya article thegoal
I received my first weight set at 14 years old for my birthday. I remember setting the bench press up staring at it and felt that I was becoming a man. Honestly, that is exactly how I felt. I didn’t ask for a toy that year, or a new video game system. I wanted a weight set. In my head I would have 6 pack abs and a massive chest and arms by the end of summer and just in time to start my freshman year of high school.
For over 22 years I have not stopped lifting weights. I went through the Bodybuilding phase and got super ripped and extremely weak, I mean really weak. A pseudo power lifting phase in my early 20’s (I bench pressed a lot, did my version of heavy squats, and Deadlifted with a rounded spine and never did more than 225lbs, because I didn’t know exactly what it worked), and then hit a phase of "high intensity" random acts of exercise that nearly put me in the hospital more than once.
I was left at 33 years old with a broken body, ripped abs, and feeling that I wish I could just rewind the clock. I discovered kettlebells around the same time my journey began.
I started reading up on Dan John and Pavel and started thinking I should start adding deadlifts back into my routine, except with proper form. I knew how to do them now, but was still too afraid after all of my injuries to my back. I began training and was humbled and embarrassed. I could barely pull 315lbs from the ground. For a guy that has been training for over 20 years, this should be a warm up set for me. That day was the first day that I felt I was aging and it was too late.
Fast forward over the next few years. My training gained purpose, my workouts weren’t about just killing myself and I had started to focus on strength training without the overtraining aspect. In a short time my deadlift was at 400lbs. Was it that simple? Just train with a purpose, set a goal, don’t train to failure and I could see increases in no time? I felt for the first time in years I could be on the path to being very strong, and I didn’t think being in my mid 30’s was the end for me, but rather a beginning.
This past summer when I was at RKCII, I was speaking with Dan John at length and he kept talking about the goal, being the goal, being the goal. It really is that easy. I stayed up that night thinking about all the strength goals I wanted to achieve. The one goal that I really wanted was to press the beast. I had done a clean with it at RKC2 and I couldn’t even budge it. I cleaned the 44kg as well and it wasn’t going up either. Thank goodness I only had to press the 40kg bell, which I did successfully. The funny thing was I couldn’t even do that a few months prior. Being underpowered sucks. I got back from RKCII and set some goals.
The longterm goal was the beast tamer challenge, but increasing my deadlift, weighted pull up, and Strict Press were THE goals I wanted to focus on. I read the 40-day program that is featured in the Easy Strength book by Dan and Pavel. I looked at it and I was laughing at the simplicity. The same 5 exercises nearly daily, keeping intensity and load to a moderate level and going hard on days that felt good and light on days that didn’t.
My workouts were no longer workouts or exercise sessions. They were training sessions and practice. I changed my vocabulary to: "time to practice instead of ‘workout’". Most days I did 2 sets of 5 reps, others I did heavy singles, and others I did 2,3,5. For all details get the book, it is a wealth of knowledge. I chose the following exercises. Deadlifts, Kettlebell Double Press, Front Squats, weighted pullups, Ab Wheel, and Swings/snatches(light). I tested my base strength and 40 days later here are the results........Now for a novice lifter huge increases in strength are a given and not all that shocking, but for someone that has been training for 22 years this was mind blowing.
Single Kettlebell Strict Press: 40kg(88lb) X 1
Weighted Pull up: 28kg x 1
Barbell Front Squat: 175lbs x 5,
Deadlift: 430lb x 1,
Barbell Military Press: 155x 3.
Kettlebell Strict Press: 44kg(97lbs) X 4,
Weighted Pull up: 36kg x 1,
Barbell Front Squat: 225 x 8,
Deadlift: 430 x 4,
Barbell Military Press: 155 x 9.
I am not a mathematician to discuss increased percentages in strength, but I was repping out my one rep maxes like nothing. In the beginning I would have been happy to get the 44kg bell for one rep and when I attempted it, it felt light so I kept pressing it 3 more times.
Lessons Learned
I learned some lessons on the Easy Strength program that I would like to share. The deadlift felt really light some days and really heavy on others. I was a bit stubborn and had to really back off of the deadlifts. A couple days I was pulling 385 x 5 and other days 275 felt really heavy. Since the volume will add up over time, in retrospect I should have never gone past the 325lbs while on the program. My problem sometimes is that I think I wear a cape and don’t like it when I have to go lighter. Backing off the ego is crucial.
Getting hung up on poundage is the wrong way to go on this program. I actually ended up taking out deadlifts for a week and just did heavier swings. On the same note you don’t want to be lifting weights that your grandmother is training with. I can rep out 20 strict pull ups so bodyweight pull ups for 2 sets of 5 daily would have probably too light. Finding just the right load that wasn’t going to crush me was great. Adding the 12kg-16kg kettlebell on pull ups was just right.
Viewing workouts as a practice made all the difference. I thought of myself as an athlete that needed to improve on these skills as my profession. Getting bored is not an option. Someone ask me if I was getting bored, and that thought hadn’t even entered my head till they mentioned it. The fact was I was in the zone. As Fellow RKCII Michael Perry put it, "there ain’t nothing boring about getting stronger".
This isn’t random acts of exercise or high intensity cardio. If you are a cardio/adrenaline junkie then remember this is a STRENGTH program. Don’t worry, unless you’re getting into the ring with Georges Saint Pierre next month you don’t need all that high intensity conditioning right now anyway. Do your 50 swings or snatches each workout with a moderate weight and move on. Conditioning comes back rather quickly. Remember keeping the goal the goal.
Continuing on after the 40 days. The 40 days is just a part of practicing Easy Strength. After I finished the 40-day program I used the same principles in designing a program that would still help me hit my goals. Recently I have also hit my new benchmark, pressing the beast 48kg. That 40kg press I started at as a 1rep max not long ago is now something I can rep out for 8-10 reps. I am by no means at an elite level of strength yet, but there is nothing that is really holding me back from continuing on this journey of strength.
Here is how I did it:
After finishing the 40-day routine I wanted to get a bit of an edge on pressing the beast. Being able to press the 44kg for reps and not getting the beast was a bit frustrating. I knew that in order for me to continue with the gains I achieved, I needed to continue pressing often and get stronger.
In Easy Strength Dan John Says "First, movements tend to trump muscles. I do not believe in an "arm day" or a "leg day." I think there are basic human movements that must be glided through each workout. Basically, they are push, pull, walk, squat, hinge (deadlift or swing motion)." I kept the same premise. I added a barbell press to my routine 2 days per week and decided one day a week to play with the beast. Push press, clean, or snatch it for a rep or 2. Really practice with it.
Another addition was adding numerous weighted carries to my routine. Walking with lots of weight attached to your body will make the beast not feel so heavy, I promise. Double pressing 32kg for reps is great, but walking with them in the rack really takes on a whole new world. I could only train 3x week due to schedule limitations so the loads and volume were a bit more than on the 40day, but again not training to failure and making sure that similar moves were practiced each workout was the goal.
An Example of a routine
Day 1
Barbell Shoulder Press 5 x 135lbs, 5 x 140, 5 x 145
Bent Over Rows: 48kg kettlebell x 8 reps each arm x 3 sets
Front Squats double 32kg Kettlebells, 3 sets of 5
Farmers Walks: double 44kg bells
One-arm Waiter walks 32kg bell
Rack walks double 32kg bells, each about 60-80 steps, 2 sets of each.
Swings with The Beast: 100
Day 2
Deadlift: Singles with 70% 1RM 3 sets of 5
Beast Cleans x 5 reps each arm x 2 sets (practiced engaging the lats)
Beast Push Press: Singles, 3-5 reps each arm.
Pull ups Weighted with 16kg: 2,3,5 x 2
Pistols: 2 sets 5 reps each leg with 16-24kg bell
Uneven Rack walks, Uneven Farmers Walks, Heavy Waiter Walks: 2 sets of 60-80 steps
Day 3
Barbell Shoulder Press 2 sets of 5 with 155
Bent Over Rows: 48kg x 10 reps each arm x 2 sets
Barbell Front Squats: 3 sets of 5 with 225
Slosh Ball Weighted Carry, double 24kg kettlebell Rack Lunges,
Single Arm Swings with Beast: 5right/5left x 10 sets
Each week I would try and add 5 pounds of weight to all my barbell lifts and mixed up my weighted rows, sometimes inverted TRX rows or double kettlebell rows would be added. Training the movements was key. Waiter walks were also something I tried to increase in weight. The more my body got used to a heavier load above head the more my body would be prepared to hold significant weight above head.

Danny Sawaya has been a professional in the Fitness and Nutrition field for over a decade. After earning a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona, he conducted research in the Metabolic Monitoring Lab and taught nutritional sciences at the University. He then went to a more hands on approach working with clients as trainer. He has gone on to earn the CSCS Certification and the RKC certification in Russian kettlebell training and the FMS Certification in Functional Movement.
Danny Sawaya, RKC, CSCS, CK-FMS
Owner Evolution Fitness Systems LLC