I remember it vividly. I hit a brick wall.
Only it wasn't an actual wall. It was my two failed attempts at pressing the Beast - a 48 kilogram (106 lbs) kettlebell. Yes, it's pretty much a person.
It occurred two weeks ago when I attended a StrongFirst Kettlebell certification. During the certification, StrongFirst offers "The Beast Tamer Challenge," which is exactly what it sounds like. The challenge is made up of the following:
-A strict, one arm military press with a 48k kettlebell.
-A dead hang, tactical-style (thumbless grip) pull-up with a 48k kettlebell.
-A single leg, pistol squat with a 48k kettlebell.
You don't receive anything for completing it. A handshake, respect, and the right to call yourself a Beast Tamer. That's it. Less than 50 men around the world have ever completed it. On the women's side, the challenge is all three movements but with a 24 kilo (53 lbs) bell. Less than 25 women have ever completed it.
I guess you could say I was shooting for the stars. Weighing in at 188 lbs, the 48k bell was 56% of my bodyweight. I would've been one of the lighter Beast Tamers to complete it. Would've.
But I did not. I got the pistol, missed the pull-up by half an inch (literally), and missed the press twice. I knew the stars needed to align in order to pull it off, but it wasn't meant to be.
However, I'd hardly describe my experience as a failure. I learned - or relearned - a few valuable lessons in my preparation for the Beast Tamer which I've outlined below. And as for why I'd write an entire blog post discussing how I failed? Because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. Plus, as a true introvert, it's kinda how I deal.
1. Patience is (Still) a Virtue.
I had become a bit too cocky. Bottoms-up pressing the 40k bell and placing in the top-20 around the world in the Tactical Strength Challenge inflated my ego. So when I signed up in late April for an event that was 3 & 1/2 months away, I assumed it was more than enough time to "Tame the Beast." I was wrong.
I decided to use my one of my most successful training plans, a variant of Easy Strength. It involves training almost daily, but with minimal loads. I had seen great success with it before but had never been on a fixed timetable. This tight schedule made me relearn one of my great lessons - strength can not be rushed.
It takes time to build confidence, technique, neural connections, and allow our bodies to heal and prepare for strength. Looking back, I realized that any significant goal I've achieved takes time. (Otherwise, was it really a significant goal? But I digress).
It's taken me 3 years to increase my deadlift from 350 to 550 lbs, and over 2 years to front squat 300. If the event had been 3-4 months down the road, I'm very confident I would've been able to complete all three. My plan was working, I'm stronger than I've ever been, and I fell just short on two of the three events. I just wasn't ready. Yet.
2. Confidence, Confidence, Confidence.
While I was cocky going into my training, I soon developed a confidence problem on my press. With a month to go, I still hadn't pressed the 48k and there's something to be said about the comfort of "been there, done that." I had pressed the 44k for a solid double, but knew that I needed a triple to really feel comfortable with the 48k. That triple never happened.
Because I never reached my own comfort level with the 44k, pressing the 48k never quite seemed possible, regardless of all my mental preparation. I didn't want to admit this to myself at the time, but it was a great lesson in how physical preparation breeds mental preparation.
On the other hand, I was extremely confident on my pistol. I had performed a pistol with the 48k a number of times - on both legs - and knew it was my strongest event. During the challenge, I only did one warm-up rep and had no doubt it'd be there.
I quickly realized that my biggest fault on the pull-up and press wasn't physical, it was mental. I need to get as comfortable on those two events as I am with the pistol, because doubt ruins lifts.
Further, confidence becomes even more important during the Beast Tamer and Iron Maiden challenge, because isn't a matter of if you can do it. It's a test of baseline strength. You only receive 20 minutes to warm up, and there's only about 90 seconds to rest in between attempts. In other words, you'll never have ideal conditions and you'll never be fresh, as StrongFirst workouts are always sprinkled in prior to the challenge.
If you have any doubt at all, it will be exposed.
3. Goals Make the Training
There are days I'd rather not train. Of course, those feelings are fleeting, but they do happen. That's when goals become so important.
As I wrote about the Tactical Strength Challenge, having important, challenging goals fundamentally changes the training process. First, it makes you accountable and ensures that you do the work. That's why it's so hard to pull me away from the gym on the weekend, despite how much my wife may want to go the beach (well, that and the fact that 10 minutes in the sun makes me burn like a match).
Second, goals increase your mental toughness during the session. Here's a great post from Joel Jamieson on how being "mentally tough" really boils down to brain chemistry and perceived rewards. Yes, that does makes us sound like lab rats, but if your goal is important enough to you, you'll stick with it.
As for my goals for the rest of the year? It's to 1) improve my beast tamer events so that I can become one next year; and 2) deadlift 570, make 25 pull-ups, and get 130 kettlebell snatches in the Tactical Strength Challenge next April.
Feel free to keep me accountable. :)