10 Rules of the Insanely Strong


by Matt Kroc T-Nation

Here’s what you need to know…

  • You must be a little insane to get the top of the strength game.
  • You must be able to overcome fear, self-doubt, physical pain, and push yourself to places you’ve never gone before.
  • View injuries as bumps on your road to success and never as dead-ends.
  • Do what others are not willing to do. Including “crazy” things.
  • Your diet must be planned and consistent every day. Eat like it’s your job.

There are no reasons for not getting stronger, only excuses. Injuries, your career, lack of money, poor genetics, and no time are all excuses.

Successfully achieving your strength goals may be one of most rewarding things in your life.

1. You must be willing to train through pain and discomfort.
Make no mistake, getting insanely strong will require you to become physically and mentally strong. Getting under big weights can be daunting and grueling. If your mental game is prone to folding like a cheap lawn chair, it’ll be much harder to reach your strength goals.

You must be able to overcome fear, self-doubt, physical pain, and push yourself to places you’ve never gone before. It’s your mental game that will determine your ability to negotiate these obstacles successfully.

One week prior to the 2007 WPO Championships at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, I tore my left distal triceps tendon while taking some heavy singles in the bench press. Angry, black and blue bruises soon appeared on my upper arm confirming the damage I’d done. However, it wasn’t a complete tear and in my mind I knew there was no way I was pulling out this close to the biggest meet of the year.

The way I looked at it, I was benching at the meet as planned and the tendon would either hold or it wouldn’t, and regardless, I was probably eventually looking at surgical repair anyway.

As it worked out there was some additional tearing and subsequent bruising but the tendon held together well enough to allow me to complete all three bench attempts and I ended up hitting a PR bench and PR total.

2. You must constantly strive for progress in your training.
Every day you set foot in the gym, your goal should be in some way, shape, or form to surpass your previous best. It may not happen every day, but that shouldn’t deter you from constantly striving to achieve it.

Even if it’s as simple as getting one more rep on your last set of an exercise, that still represents progress and that’s what matters most. It’s the small successes day-to-day that lead to big results over time.

3. You must eat like it’s your job.
You must consume the right food and enough of it to reach your goals. The further you progress, the more important this becomes.

Eating is an often-overlooked key component to achieving all of your strength dreams. The easiest and most proven method to add pounds to your lifts and especially your bench and squat is to add quality body weight. You want a bigger bench? Start putting as much effort into your diet as you do the gym.

A lot of people complain that they just can’t gain weight. Fortunately, simple physics teaches us that if you consistently consume more calories than you burn, your body weight will increase regardless of how fast your metabolism is or how much you already weigh.

And let me emphasize the consistently part. This means day in and day out. Most people who argue that they already do eat a lot don’t really understand what that means. Pigging out a few times a week or even once a day doesn’t equate to a proper hypertrophy-inducing diet. Your diet must be planned and consistent every day – from your first meal to your last – in order to progress quickly and efficiently.

When I was in the Marines I was constantly infuriated by my inability to add significant amounts of body weight. This was due to all of the physical activity that was required and being forced to eat a limited diet (the only food available when on duty was in our chow hall). I’d add quality body weight over the winter months, just to watch it be stripped away when the weather warmed up and our outdoor activity increased.

I remember one winter where I’d finally broken the 200-pound barrier and succeeded in pushing my bodyweight all the way up to 211 pounds (which I thought was huge at the time), only to watch it slip back down to the mid 190’s by the end of the summer. I was finally fed up and promised myself that the next time I went home on leave, I’d come back in three months weighing at least 225 pounds.

I had a limited ability to choose how much I could eat and even less concerning what I could eat. My finances were very limited and the only place I had to store food was a small mini-fridge in my barracks room. I considered my options and resorted to drinking vast quantities of skim milk in order to gain weight. I drank three gallons of skim milk every day.

At the time I was working in our security operations center and was locked in a small room watching all of the security cameras and alarms. I was alone and not allowed to leave the room on either of my two four-hour shifts each day. I’d drink one gallon on each of my shifts and then another one during the rest of the day to total three gallons per day.

To complicate matters more, there wasn’t a bathroom in the security center so I would have to chug the gallon of milk and suffer until I finished it so I could urinate back into it the empty jug.

I only share this to demonstrate the point that I wouldn’t let anything stop me and one way or another I’ve always been able to figure out a way to do what was necessary to achieve my goals regardless of the obstacles involved.

So, how well did my plan work? I weighed in at 225 pounds on the nose one day before I flew home. I gained 30 pounds in a three-month period.

4. You must be willing to train around and/or through injuries.
The stronger you get and the heavier the weights you handle, the more likely you are to become injured. The guys at the top accept this as part of the process of becoming one of the strongest. It isn’t whether or not you get injured but, rather, how you deal with it when you do that ultimately determines how far you will go.

If you want to reach the top of the strength game or even if you just want to break your own personal records, it’s important to remember that the risk of injury increases proportionately to the amount of weight you’re lifting. This is because your muscles have more potential for growth and adaptation than your tendons, ligaments, and joints do.

Handling heavier weights also requires improved technique. You may be able to get away with terrible form while squatting or deadlifting light weights, but when you’re handling much greater weights the risk of injury substantially increases.

Often what determines which people reach the top and which fall by the wayside is the ability to successfully come back from injury. You must be able to view injuries simply as bumps on your road to success and never as dead-ends. I can guarantee you that no matter what injury you can think of, I personally know someone who’s overcome it.

There’s a powerlifter that ruptured both patella tendons and was told by doctors that his squatting days were over and he’d be lucky if he just learned to walk normally again. This man came back to squat over 1,100 pounds. I know another guy that has a steel rod in his spine and was also told by doctors he’d never squat again. He came back to squat more than he ever had, breaking the 900-pound barrier.

Successfully negotiating injury is more mental than physical. You can never doubt your own ability to come back stronger. It’s never if you can come back from injury but rather simply how long it will take you. The fact that you’ll recover must be a foregone conclusion.

In 2008 I tore my right quad badly while squatting 545×10 raw. It sounded like a pair of blue jeans being ripped in half. Here’s the video for those of you that aren’t squeamish.

I couldn’t even walk on it initially and people on the internet forums were talking about how my powerlifting career was over. I’ll never forget how one anonymous keyboard warrior even went as far as to say, “Stick a fork in him, cause he’s done!”

However, I never doubted my ability to come back. Those comments only fueled my resolve to come back better than ever. I started with bodyweight squats using a countertop to support myself. At first my arms were doing more work than my legs. But soon I was able to squat without using my arms for support and then I was back in the weight room several weeks after the injury.

I started with an empty bar and slowly worked my way back up each week. The quad tear happened in January of 2008 and in July at the UPA Pro Am, I squatted a PR 1014 pounds.

5. You must be willing to do what others are not.
It’s quite simple, really. Do what everyone else does and you’ll be just like everyone else. Therefore, if you want to do extraordinary things, you must be willing to force yourself to do things others cannot. This may mean pushing yourself to places in training beyond what the average athlete is capable of. Or it may mean sacrificing things in life in order to prioritize your lifting goals.

Obviously this isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re one of the few that have a hunger to reach a level few others have, you must accept the fact that in order for your dreams to be realized, you’ll have to push harder, suffer more, and make greater sacrifices than the people you wish to separate yourself from.

Over the years I’ve done lots of crazy things to ensure I could get my training in. In the Marines I threatened the guards on duty to allow me access to the gym in the middle of the night. I lifted in the dark with the lights off and even got caught once by the sergeant of the guard.

In college I’d pry open doors, climb through windows, and do whatever else was necessary to get access to our private gym after hours.

But it was training prior to the USAPL Nationals in 2002 that posed the most obstacles for me. Nationals were in July and in the several months before the meet I graduated from pharmacy school, took my national pharmacy boards and law exams, purchased my first home, moved across the state, started training in a new gym with no consistent training partners, started a new career as a pharmacist, and, oh yeah, my wife and I had our third child.

Now I’ve heard others use any one of these reasons as an excuse to pull out of a meet but once I decide to do something I don’t let anything stop me. I had to go to great lengths to make sure I trained at a level sufficient to ensure success and don’t think for a minute that I slacked off in the other areas of my life.

I was among the very first grads to pass my boards and become licensed, I excelled at my new job and I’ve always been a very involved father and devoted husband. I simply made a lot of sacrifices in other areas of my life to keep my family, career, and lifting as priorities.

It was never easy for me but always more than worth it. And if you’re wondering how the USAPL Nationals went for me that year, I went 9 for 9 under some of the strictest judging around, hitting PRs in the squat, bench, and total.

Success is always possible. You just have to be willing to do what’s necessary.

6. You must realize that numbers mean nothing.
Recognize that many others have lifted more weight than you and that it can be done. No weight is impossible to lift, even a weight that no one’s ever lifted.

We see this in athletics all the time, the supposedly unbreakable barrier that once broken by a single athlete is soon surpassed by others. The four-minute mile, the 500-pound clean and jerk, and the 1000-pound deadlift are all good examples of this.

These barriers stood for many years but as soon as one person surpassed them, it showed us that it was indeed possible and others soon followed. This clearly demonstrates that these barriers were more psychological than physiological in nature.

By the same token, how many of us have been stuck at barriers that are represented by numbers that seem significant to us? Maybe it’s the 315-pound bench, the 500-pound squat, or the training partner that you can’t outlift, no matter how hard you try.

These are all examples of being limited by our mind and not our body. We need to recognize this, understand it, and develop strategies to overcome these mental roadblocks.

A few things you can try are to train with athletes that are at a level beyond your current capabilities, attend competitions where you watch the very best compete, and in short, recognize that these are mental barriers and not physical ones.

You must truly accept the simple fact that nothing is impossible. Always strive to be the one that breaks a new barrier not the one that follows later.

7. You must learn to focus on the numbers that are just ahead of your current capabilities. The distant ones will soon be closer.
This goes back to small incremental achievements adding up to significant progress over time. We all want everything today, but that isn’t how the world works and the bigger your goals are, the more this axiom applies.

Patience and consistent hard work day-in and day-out over long periods of time are what get the job done. It’s winning those daily battles over and over again that ultimately lead to victory in the end.

8. You must be passionate.
Getting ridiculously strong requires working extremely hard for years and enduring vast amounts of pain. If you don’t go to bed thinking about getting stronger and wake up thinking about getting stronger, then you may want to pursue a different endeavor.

Like any lofty goal in life, wanting to achieve an elite level of strength requires so much effort, discipline, patience, and sacrifice that unless it’s something you truly find rewarding, enjoy deeply, and are passionate about, the sacrifices required will likely be too great.

Obtaining a freakish level of strength can’t be successfully accomplished with a halfhearted effort. You must either give 100% every day or accept that this is something beyond your capabilities.

But if the pursuit of strength is something you’re deeply passionate about, successfully working toward and achieving your strength goals may be one of most rewarding things in your life.

9. You must realize that there are no reasons for not getting stronger, only excuses.
Injuries, your career (or lack thereof), lack of money, poor genetics, no time, etc., are all excuses. Accept this and you’ll instantly be much closer to accomplishing your goals.

This is related to accepting full responsibility for everything that happens or fails to happen to you in life. And while this may not be literally true in every case, adopting this philosophy empowers you to take control. It can’t be overstated how important this is to obtaining success, not only in the gym, but in all areas of your life.

10. You must be at least a little insane.
Getting freakishly strong isn’t something the general public – or often even those closest to you – understands. It’s not going to make you filthy rich or obtain great fame.

In all likelihood, you’ll suffer multiple injuries, be stereotyped as uneducated and unintelligent, be mocked and ridiculed, and sacrifice vast amounts of your time and energy pursuing something only you and the serious lifting community really respect and understand.

But if you’re like me and are at least a little insane (and I mean that in the best way possible), you may just embark upon a journey that will be extremely satisfying, strengthen not only your body but also your mind, and teach you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.

I’ve done a lot of things over the years that most people would consider insane, but what I’m about to share with you is probably one of the most extreme examples. Now, let me preface this by saying that this definitely wasn’t a smart thing to do, especially if you care about your health.

Likewise, this is something that I completely advise against and if this ever happens again, I’d probably take a different course of action. I’m hesitant to even share this story, but I think it’s important.

I’m fully aware that most of you won’t understand this type of behavior at all and will likely think it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever read, but a few of you will get it and you’ll understand why I do the things that I do.

Lastly, I’m certainly not going to present this as an example of positive behavior. It’s simply a situation I faced and my reaction to it was indicative of my personality and attitude towards things of this nature.

The Story
I was training legs in college. I’d just finished squatting and was repping out on leg extensions. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure building in the back of my skull and then I felt a sudden “pop” inside my head, followed by a sensation I can only describe as cold water being poured over my brain.

A few seconds later, I experienced the worst pressure and pain of my life. The pain was maddening and so extreme I couldn’t even think straight. I got up and gave my training partners a vague description of what had just happened and said I was done for the day. Once home I briefly considered my options and then… I went to work.

I returned to the gym a day or two later for my next scheduled training session. The pain had stopped and I completed my scheduled training while being conscious of not doing anything to make the pain come back.

I fully realized exactly what I’d done, though. I’d strained so hard that I’d burst a blood vessel inside my skull and caused intracranial hemorrhaging. Why didn’t I go to straight to the hospital? To be honest, it’s difficult for me to explain that to people.

The simple answer is that I felt that I wasn’t going to die and that going to the hospital would be of little benefit to me.

The complicated answer is that, in some regards, like a lot of hugely successful lifters or athletes, I’m a little insane. While I’m an intelligent and rational person, I don’t think about many things the way most people do. I view situations like this without much emotion and don’t find them to be distressing like most people would.

Throughout my life I’ve often pushed things dangerously close to the edge, and while I greatly value life and have no wish to end it any sooner than necessary, I don’t fear things the way most people do.

I don’t have a voice in my head telling me to stop or that ever says no. It only urges me forward. As the saying goes, I never feel more alive than when I’m close to death.

I thrive on pushing myself to my limits and sometimes beyond them. I’m the type of person that allows nothing to deter me from what I set out to do, regardless of the consequences.

Close to the Edge

I don’t know how to quit and to retreat is never an option. I can only go forward. I know of no other way to live.

To succumb and admit defeat in any way is a fate worse than death. The times I have quit or didn’t give everything to an effort haunt me. I often think about those times, even though they mostly happened over 25 years ago.

And while this has caused me to take unnecessary risks many times in my life, it’s also the same mentality that’s allowed me to accomplish all of my most important goals.

Most of you probably believe no goal is worth the ultimate price, but to me, and people like me, a life without pushing close to that edge really isn’t life at all.

Source: http://www.t-nation.com/training/10-…nsanely-strong


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