Sometimes my blog is simply my diary. This is one of those articles. I don’t expect anyone to read this because I am writing it for my little dude, Jett.
One day Jett will be big and strong and I wanted him to know what I did with mind-control, controlling adrenaline release, and weightlifting when I was growing up.
An article I saw today (Figure 0) reminded me that I have been wanting to write this story for a while. Although I could have added a lot of additional information, I have attempted to keep this concise. Even with this goal in mind, I had to go back to the beginning of the story in the mid-1970’s to explain what happened.
The topic for this story is not data visualization. This story is about how I combined a deep breathing technique with a peculiar form of mental visualization to determine my physical limits. I bet you didn’t expect that from me, now did you?
For me, 1976 was a great year. That was the year we celebrated our bicentennial and it was the time of my coming of age, so to speak. I was 13 that year and I think a little testosterone began streaming throughout my body.
By the end of that year, I discovered push-ups and I went to work – going up and down, up and down many hundreds of thousands of times over many years. I loved doing push-ups and routinely did 1,000 or more of these per day. So by the end of the year, I was beginning to see very small changes in my skinny little frame. Not big changes, but little ones.
On the night of Dec 30, 1976, I did a lot of push-ups before taking a long car road trip. The next day, I rode with my sister’s family from Chicago down to Florida, which probably took 18 hours to do. When I awoke the next day at the hotel, my chest was sore but my chest and shoulder muscles were seemingly bigger than ever before! Wow, I thought, push-ups do make a difference.
This was the fist time that I realized how exercise can change and sculpt your body. This finding propelled me into a 20-year study of human performance, and this is the topic of this story.
Power Lifting 101
During the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, I was a student of weightlifting. I studied body builders, power lifters and olympic-lifters. I trained about 5 days a week doing all types of exercises.
In my freshman year of high school (1977-78), I was pretty skinny. Figure 1 proves this point. I was blessed with long arms, but no muscles to cover those bones.
Over the next 12 years, I trained consistently. I gained a lot of weight and added some muscle mass (Figure 2) by the time I hit 18 to 20 years old.
In 1981, I went to train for a couple of days at the meccas of bodybuilding in Venice, CA. While at Golds Gym and World Gym (Figure 2), I saw some of the best bodybuilders of that era, including the Barbarians (Figure 3 – David and Peter Paul), the twin brothers who were unbelievably powerful, but were also fairly crazy.
On the day I was training at one of those gyms, they were there too, screaming and stinking more than any humans should be allowed to do. They trained in jeans, flannel shirts and boots. Those guys were nuts, but I wasn’t about to tell them that!
I read books, experimented with training techniques, ate massive quantities of food, and pushed myself to exhaustion for hundreds of workouts. When I would eat, my mom would look under the table to see if I was stashing the food somewhere. She didn’t think it was possible for someone to eat that much.
I even wrote a high-school research paper about a relatively unknown bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I famously made my first analytics prediction. I predicted fame and fortune for Arnold. I still have the draft of that paper and when I find it, I’m going to add it to this article! (Update: The Article Now Exists!)
While doing the research paper, I attended the libraries of several Chicago area universities and colleges in hopes of finding information about Arnold. I found a total of about 8 articles. Can you imagine that – looking through the Dewey Decimal filing system and only finding 8 articles about him? Yes, I was on the leading edge. I had THE Vision of Arnold before most people even knew who he was.
I studied the film Pumping Iron. I mean I really studied it. I implemented the training techniques. Little did he know it, but Arnold Schwarzenegger would become my weightlifting coach. He was responsible for me pushing myself to the limits many times, including helping me to determine my physical limits.
Based on these studies and training sessions, I competed in power lifting competitions while in high school. I wanted to see how strong I could get. I essentially trained to build strength for many years thereafter.
In power-lifting competitions, the goal is to lift as much weight as you can in the dead lift, the squat, and the bench press. The problem for me was always related to my physiology.
I am an ectomorph, which means it is hard for me to grow big muscles. I have long limbs and naturally sinewy muscles. Twenty inch arms for me were never going to happen, no matter how much I trained. Additionally, flexibility was not one of my natural gifts, so this made doing squats more difficult.
Generally ectomorphs do not win power lifting competitions. I didn’t let that bother me because I was too stubborn and I knew that I couldn’t do anything about my limb length. Even though I am six foot tall with a wingspan of someone 6 foot 5 inches, the extra arm length really hurt me in the bench press but may have helped in the dead lift.
Through many years of training, I was able to increase my bench press to 300 pounds by the time I was a senior in high school. I was able to be competitive in the competitions with a squat of 500 and a dead lift of 550 at that time (1980-1981).
Well, this was also the time when performance enhancing drugs were becoming available to people. I always knew when I was competing against someone on the juice because the gains they were making were simply not possible from competition to competition. Their facial acne was also a big sign of their steroid usage. For this reason, I quit competitions as I left high school and began the pursuit of my life-long dream.
The Life-Long Dream
My life-long dream was to be able to bench press 400 pounds, with strict form that would be considered a qualifying lift in a competition. For whatever reason, this goal seemed like a good one to me. With a body weight of about 200 pounds, bench pressing twice my weight seemed plausible.
As I continued training into my early and mid 20’s, I developed a technique that allowed me to reach higher bench press performance over the course of several years.
Once I left college, I did my weight training by myself. As I worked my way up to bench presses of 350 pounds or higher, I did so without a spotter. The technique I used gave me the confidence to perform the lifts without fear of failure. Only once did I fail with a bench press of over 300 pounds.
Let me tell you that it only happened once because it hurt like hell to roll 315 pounds down my chest, over my ribs and groin and then onto my thighs. Once, and only once did I let that happen. After that, I developed a technique to ensure a successful lift every time.
The Breathing and Mental Visualization Approach I Developed
The technique I developed for reliably lifting heavy weights involved two things: physical preparation coupled with mental visualization.
For performing bench presses, the physical preparation was simple. While lying on the bench beneath the weights, I would take about 20 deep breaths in succession until I felt my heart rate change as adrenaline was released throughout my body. I knew this was happening when I felt my heartbeat in the lower part of my neck, just below the adam’s apple.
The adrenaline release only occurred after I introduced a lot of oxygen into my body and I felt the flight or fight fear kick-in. Essentially, I gobbled up air until adrenaline was released. Once that occurred, I was physically ready for the lift.
The second part of the method involved mental visualization. Before I tell you what that was, I have to ask for your understanding in this matter. Please don’t judge me as a crazy guy!
I guess my mental visualization was a form of meditation. Right before I initiated the lift, I floated up to the ceiling level and saw the following scene beneath me. I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger standing on one side of the bench press and Linda Hamilton standing on the other side, like spotters would be doing. The weights were replaced by two giant globes of the earth!
I know that sounds crazy, but that is how this unfolded time and time again. I believe that the globe part of the visualization was something I adapted from either Arnold or Lew Ferrigno.
While I did the lift, Arnold would be screaming at me telling me that I could do the repetitions. I can still hear him saying in his heavy Austrian accent: “You Can Do It!”. Linda usually didn’t say anything, but I knew that I couldn’t let her down by not completing the lift.
I suppose that this visualization methodology developed sometime around 1984, which is when the The Terminator was released. At this time, I was 21 and beginning to develop more power. This technique stayed with me for many years because I knew that it allowed me to do things that were beyond my normal capability.
Approaching the Lifetime Goal
By the time I hit 25 in 1988, I was approaching a 400 pound bench press. In preparation for the lift, I was performing heavy repetitions. I would do warm-up sets of 135, 225, 275, 315 and then go heavier. One day, I easily did 3 repetitions with 365 pounds, with no spotter. Based on that power output and the ease of that set, I knew that a 400 pound lift was in range.
When I completed the set of 3 at 365 pounds, I felt fine. What I didn’t know, however, is what I had just done to my body. I did not sense that I had injured myself at all. The adrenaline masked any pain I might have had from the injury.
The next morning, I awoke to some pretty serious pain in my left pectoral muscle. The pain was so intense that I could not even do a single push-up. In fact, moving my left arm was nearly impossible. It took me a full six months to recover from this unspecified injury. I still don’t know if it was a strain or a muscle tear.
About 1 year later, at age 26, I had rebuilt my power to the same level it was the year before. I did the same set of 3 at 365 pounds and suffered the same injury as the year before. Once again, there was a 6 month recovery period.
It was during this time I determined that I must have hit my physical limits in the bench press. The combination of heavy weight and long limbs were simply too much for my muscles, tendons, or ligaments to bear. For the second time in a year, either the muscles, tendons or ligaments were injured during those lifts. Once I realized this, I stopped the pursuit of the 400 pound bench press.
I now believe that my mental focus and adrenaline release were so strong, that I was able to push through my physical limits without ever realizing I was injuring myself. My mental focus was so intense that I did not feel any pain during or after the weightlifting session. In each case, it was only the next day did I realize the severity of my injury.
Other than writing this story for Jett, why else did I want to write this story? Here is another reason why.
The Incredible Wim Hof
A month or two ago, I learned about Wim Hof (Figure 4) on my favorite podcast. Once I saw his incredible accomplishments, this weightlifting article immediately formed in my head. It never occurred to me that the techniques I used during weightlifting so many years ago could be expanded to achieve things far greater than what I was using it for.
I now think that the abilities I developed to willingly release adrenaline and to perform a type of meditation while powerlifting may be related to the Wim Hof method. I see some similarities.
Wim has learned to control his body using certain techniques to achieve goals that were previously deemed impossible. This man is truly amazing, insightful, engaging and worth following. His exploits are legendary.
Wim Hof is simply super-human. Wim climbed nearly to the top of Mt Everest without oxygen, while wearing only shorts! I encourage you to listen to the podcast, watch the documentary and read the article using the links I provided to learn more about him.
In addition to writing this story for Jett, another reason I wanted to document this personal history is simple. I have decided to explore Wim’s methods. I want to learn how to control my body in ways similar to what Wim can do.
I believe in his methods because I may have discovered and practiced a part of his methodology, at least 10 years before he discovered the techniques he now teaches.
Stay tuned for more about this later…