3 Lessons from the Tactical Strength Challenge

Last weekend I tested my mettle in the Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC).  Composed of a max deadlift, max strict bodyweight pullups, and as many kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes as possible, it's fun for people that can move some weight.  But utterly nightmarish for my inner introvert.

Nonetheless, I hit personal records in all three events (click Men's Open and scroll to #21) and you can't ask for more than that!  But more valuable than how I performed are the lessons I took from my training and the event.  Even better, my three takeaways below have already made me a better physical preparation coach.

And in an effort to "practice what I preach," I've committed to becoming a Beast Tamer in August and improving for the next TSC event in October.  

I hope you enjoy them!

1) Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.

I live in a fitness bubble.  First world problem, for sure.  

Working at an elite facility makes me forget the horrors of commercial gyms - terribly performed squats and deadlifts, bicep curls in a squat rack, and whatever this might be.  The other side of that coin is I'm often training myself in a near empty gym - ideal for singing along to country songs, but not ideal for progress.

By signing up for the TSC I knew I'd have a few firsts:  1) it'd be my first competition, 2) my first time deadlifting heavy (500+ lbs) outside of The Training Room, 3) first time being critiqued on my kettlebell snatch form.  And now that I write all of that, I'm still surprised I went through with it!

I decided it was all a calculated risk.  At best I'd do well and make a few new friends.  At worst I'd do terribly and collapse into myself like a dying star (just kidding).  I'm lucky I did so well and finished with a deadlift and pull-up number I wouldn't believed was possible a few years ago.  

But most important of all, I really learned about myself.

2) Be Accountable.

I'll admit that trying to deadlift 3x your bodyweight, never missing a workout for 3 years, and training to become a Beast Tamer has a way of inflating your ego.  It's not that I started taking things for granted, but I had tricked myself into thinking that I was only intrinsically motivated. I had forgotten a universal truth: having something to train for, makes you train harder.

While the only person I was really competing with was myself, I didn't want to lay an egg either.  After all, anyone could look me up on the ol' interwebz and see how I did.  I have a reputation to uphold!

For good measure, I looked up previous TSC results and made 20 pull-ups and 120 snatches my goals.  Ambitious?  Yes.  But I think that's the point of goals.

I may have fallen just short on both, but accountability and keeping my foot on the gas will only help me exceed them in October.

3) Mental Preparation Always Wins.

Throwing a baseball for 13 years has left its mark on me.  For one, I can watch any baseball game on TV and be perfectly content - much to my wife's dismay.  But I also learned how the mental side of performance is just as important as the physical.  And it's why I'm constantly trying improve my mental approach.

And yes, I was listening to "Glory Days" as I wrote this last part. 

 Contemplating the meaning of life....with 545 pounds in my hands.

Contemplating the meaning of life....with 545 pounds in my hands.

If you're looking to improve this area as well, I highly recommend Psych by Judd Biasotto. Its main lessons are effective, albeit a little cheesy: 1) the power of visualization, 2) positive self talk, and 3) complete relaxation.

Leading up to the TSC, I visualized and did countless "mental reps" on deadlifts.  I tried to imagine everyone cheering me on - pre, mid, and post deadlift - while thinking about what music would be playing, what the floor would feel like, and what I'd be feeling.  I even imagined myself walking into a gym, signing waiver forms, and doing my warm ups so I'd know what to expect.  When I started to doubt whether I could hit my heaviest deadlift during the week leading up to it, I'd immediately start telling myself how good I was at deadlifting.

If these tactics seem silly, it's because they definitely feel that way too. But for those that witnessed my grueling, 12 second long deadlift, it was obvious that mental will and preparation were chiefly responsible.