On The Weight Cut.

May 16, 2016

Last year at Nationals, the first under my new Occam banner, I competed as a Super-heavyweight.  This year, I competed as a 94.  As you can imagine, I’ve had to field a lot of questions about my opinion on weight cuts, weight classes and my own personal experience.

So I guess I should start at the beginning.  I weighed 275lbs by the time I was 17.  Yes, I lifted weights and I played football and by most standards I could’ve been considered “athletic” but I was still morbidly obese.  By my 18th birthday, I trimmed down to 215.  I found wrestling and I graduated high school weighing 205lbs.

That was around 11 years ago.  For the majority of my weightlifting career since then, I’ve maintained around 235lbs and competed as a 105kg lifter.  That was the case until around 2011 when I decided to purposely put on weight to see how strong I could get.  By 2013, I weighed 126kg/286lbs.  I could squat 285kg but my lifts didn’t improve as much as you would think.  As it turns out, I was too fat to move athletically.  I cleaned up my diet and sat around 265lbs as a comfortable super.

Work and life became stressful and for the first time in my life, I lost my appetite.  I would come home from work and genuinely would not be able to eat dinner.  So I decided to run with it and cleaned up my diet even more. Around this time, I got hooked up with Forklifter, a meal prep company.  So it was definitely way easier to stay clean and healthy during the week.

It wasn’t until I opened up Occam Athletics, my own business that I decided I would be better off as both an athlete and businessman being leaner and healthier.  So I really tightened up my diet and competed as a 105 by fall of last year.  The American Open was my first national meet back as a 105.

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Peak fatness VS. Peak skinniness.  One of these physiques will do fine in the fitness industry and one will not.   

This month, I hit a 320 total as a 94.  My best ever total is 333 as a 105 so I’m not too far off.  The only real difference I can feel is my squat strength.  Realistically, it terms of being the most powerful lifter I can be, I’d be a 105.  But I’m closing the gap as a 94 and at this weight I get to buy pants off the rack.

As far as actual CUTTING methods, I tell people to never cut more than 3-5%.  I cut around 8% at the PWA Championships (my first meet as a 94) and around 5% at Nationals.  But I’ve been competing in weight class sports for 1/2 my life.

Would I recommend it? No.  And if you want further discussion about my methods, I can certainly write a post about it.  But I still maintain that you should never try and lose more than 3-5%.

And furthermore, you shouldn’t even be worried about weight class until you, yourself could potentially either a) qualify for nationals or b) medal at nationals.  Unless you are one of these two people, you have not earned the right to be concerned about cutting weight.  Your one and only job is to get stronger and healthier. (i’m of course not talking about international caliber lifters).

So there you have it.  My thoughts on losing weight for weightlifting.  I’m of course coming towards the end of the road as a National caliber lifter, so my strategy is going to be different from the guy brand new to the national scene.  If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask in the comments section.

 

Sense of Urgency.

October 13, 2015

“Yeah, more graves to dig, goodbye there’s no need to cry
‘Cause we all die”

-The RZArector (The RZA)

The Gravediggaz. A fairly unknown project from 1994 featuring most notably Prince Paul and The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.  Their first release, “6 Feet Deep” is notable because it’s b-movie, spooky shtick coined the sub-genre “Horror-core.”

I have a message for you.

Death comes for all of us.  It’s only a question of when and unfortunately we don’t get to pick.  Sure, we can plan.  Workout.  Take our vitamins.  But it suffices to say that there is only so much under our control.

I had a moment this week where it was very possible that my time had come.  Relax, mom.  I know you read my blog and I’m fine.  It was a minor incident that was 100% not my fault.

You know what I felt when I looked death in the face? “If this is my time, at least I died at a time in my life where I was 100% dedicated to pursuing my passion and helping others chase dreams of their own.”  No, not all those words went though my head in that split second.  But if you crumpled all those words into a feeling, that’s what I felt.

When I looked death in the face, my only regret was that my work would be left unfinished.

And then just like that I was fine.  I drove to a familiar bar, drank a shot of expensive whiskey, smoked a cigarette (no, mom.  I don’t smoke.) and then I called it a night; after all, I had work the next day.

I suppose the point in letting you all know about this is that the incident left me with a sense of urgency.  Time on this world is short.  If you want to make your mark on it, do it now.

Feel good or BE good.

September 28, 2015

One thing that I can objectively say is helping all my lifters across the board is the mandatory prep and corrective exercises I now include within our training schedule. I’m not going to list any of my favorite exercises because I feel like they deserve their own blog post.  But as a general rule of thumb, uncovering your weaknesses and including work to correct them VS. doing what feels good or what feels most rewarding is one of the main differences between training for sport and training like a bro.  Right now the team is transitioning from building a healthy foundation towards building absolute strength.

Those 4x6 squat feels.

Those 4×6 squat feels.

Maxing out feels good.  Snatches feel good.  Bro-ing out and working hard feels good.  having a system in place that at least has the foresight to look from now to a few months from now does NOT necessarily feel good.

Right now we’re on track to peak at the American Open.  I should be taking a good sized group with me and the whole gang is stoked that it’s taking place right in our backyard.

Trust the process.

-Ben

Essay: Social Media.

July 25, 2015

The modern day weightlifter is accused of being increasingly narcissistic as the number of social media outlets increases.  This is a matter of opinion and it’s not my intent to argue against this other than by saying that weightlifters have been boasting about their accomplishments since people started picking heavy things up off the ground.  It’s just that their legacy needed to be passed on through a far less efficient oral tradition instead of “hash tagging” 15 second snippets of themselves and then electronically uploading these snippets to the internet.  Hey, I get it.  I’m with it.  I’m hip.  That’s why I put the young people on the team in charge of our Occam Athletics instagram account.  But as far as I’m concerned, I’m always going to default to ways of communicating that provide a little bit more insight and effort.  I’m of the opinion that a 3 minute long youtube video set to music or a blog post serve as a more complete snapshot in time.

A snapshot in time.

A snapshot in time.

I look back on these memories and they help me look towards the future; help me find what I’m looking for.  Hard work is not special.  Dedication isn’t special.  Anyone who’s been halfway decent at something that they care about is going to work just as hard or harder than you.  Figuring out one’s purpose, on the other hand, IS special.

On your way to becoming a decent weightlifter, you’re going to develop a strong sense of self.  It simply comes with the territory.  You’ll need it.  Along the way you’re going to meet people that will try and tear you down; bring you down to their level.  For every one person that’s tried to reach out and touch the sky there are several more unremarkable individuals who will desperately grab at his heels.  Your sense of purpose and self will be the only thing that will protect you.

The team is settling down nicely in our new turf.  It feels like a fresh start.  I anticipate that we’ll be in our own space (Occam’s Lair) within a couple weeks or so.  Once that happens, we’ll be unstoppable.

Trust the process.

-Ben

Answering the Call.

July 19, 2015

Something that has affected me over the course of several years and something that I’ll refer back to often is Bill Moyers’ interview series with Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth.”  Campbell discusses his thoughts on what he calls “the mono-myth” and the transformative process of the “hero’s journey.”  This is a concept that in his mind is not limited to mythology, storytelling or religion but all facets of life.  I’ll occasionally thumb through some of his writings or re-watch pieces of the interview when considering my own transformative process.

Lately this has resonated with me:

joseph_campbell

“The achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it’s really a manifestation of his character. It’s amusing the way in which the landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one that he gets … The adventure evoked a quality of his character that he didn’t know he possessed.”

(The Power of Myth, Episode 1).

10 years ago I decided I wanted to be strong.  It was all consuming.  Though I didn’t have a clear idea why, it has taken me though a constantly changing landscape.  It took me several years before I realized that maybe my end goal wasn’t just physical strength.  If it was, my actions would’ve taken me down a different path.  The more I worked I realized that my actions are also firmly rooted in the community that I create.

“Occam’s Lair” is the fun little name we’ve given our new home.  Right now, we’ve got 4 temporary platforms set up on the main floor of Capital Strength and Performance.  We’ve got  a growing collection of (nice) barbells, plates and squat racks.  But once the lair is cleared and we move in, I’m going to pour every dime I have into turning it into our perfect little weightlifting dungeon.  I’m sure that it will serve as the final landscape of my high level weightlifting career.  But it will be the very beginning of something new; The next step of my journey.  It took me most of my 20’s, but I finally feel like I’m growing into the person that I was meant to be.

Trust the process.

-Ben

A complete portrait of strength at least by my standards, includes mastery of one’s own bodyweight.  Even at 286lbs I was still able to bang out a few muscle ups and do various tricks on the pull-up bar.  Now at 228lbs, my options once again are more numerous.  In 2005, I decided I wasn’t into any sort of bodybuilding anymore because it “did not serve a purpose.” I decided that instead I would supplement my Olympic lifts with bodyweight training and wrestling. It made for a pretty decent physique and let me be on my high horse when bros at frat parties would ask me how much I bench.

“BENCH? HAHAHAHA! OH, SUCH PEASANTRY. YOU SIMPLETON.”

I eventually grew out of that phase.  Although to this day, I rarely if ever bench press. I first mastered the muscle up in 2005 because my friend from high school said that DMX did them for upper body strength.  Yup, you read that right.  I actually had no idea what the blossoming company, Crossfit was at the time.  No.  I started doing muscle ups because I wanted to prove to myself that I was as good as fucking DMX, the rapper.  Standards.

But that’s actually not where my interest in bodyweight training started.  I can actually pin point the exact moment in my childhood that I first realized that mastery of one’s bodyweight is a skill that I never wanted to be without.

I was in 5th or 6th grade.  I was with my family on a trip to Monterey for Summer vacation.  My brothers were still pretty young at the time so my parents decided that we would visit the “Denis the Menace Park” pretty close to Cannery Row.  This was a basically a park with a legit play area for kids instead of a standard play structure.  Me being all mature at 12 or 13 years old had no interest in this.  Luckily for me, a skate park opened up just across from the park.  The only skate park I had ever visited before that was in Davis and that one was so small, it was surely meant for “posers.”  I wasn’t all that good.  I mean, at 5’6 I looked like I was about as wide as I was tall.  With the baggy shorts only leaving my “cankles” exposed and an oversized plaid shirt, I was basically a grunged out pirate ship while at full speed on my deck.  But still I was able to bust out a few tricks and shredded to my heart’s delight for two or three hours at the park up until my dad walked up to the chainlink fence letting me know it was time to go.

He told me to throw my board over and hop the fence.  Simple enough.  I tried 6 or 7 pathetic efforts.  Each time I would fall back to the ground weighed down by my pop-tart rich diet and shame.  Each time I felt the eyes of other boarders stopping to watch as the fat kid couldn’t hop a chain link fence.  Pitiful.  What was worse is the look on my dad’s face when he realized his kid probably couldn’t escape a burning building if he had to;  A one story building. Having enough, I let my dad know I was just going to take the long way around.

It was a long walk.

“Ey, Dawg. You should be ashamed of yourself.” I was, DMX. I was.

That moment probably affected me more than it should have.  By the time I was 18, I could leap over a fence or given enough effort pull the damn thing down.  Mastery of my bodyweight would always be a skill I’d want to develop.  But it didn’t just stop at pull-ups and decently strong abs.  I started working out at a rock climbing gym to take my game to another level.  I’ve eased up over the years.  I’m saving all my really cool bodyweight stuff for after my lifting career.  I’ll usually throw in 15 minutes or so of playtime after my workouts 3 days a week.  My lifters also work on these skill sets.  I don’t make them do most of the stuff that I do.  But I do prioritize L sits from both the seated and hanging position, strict pull-ups, chin ups and various torso strengthening such as side bends, Chinese Planks and crunches.  This to me represents the bare minimum of what an able bodied person should be able to do.

Windshield wipers are a favorite of mine.  I'm also working on my human flag and pushups without my feet on the ground.

Windshield wipers are a favorite of mine. I’m also working on my human flag and pushups without my feet on the ground.

It would be a hard case for me to make that bodyweight training is directly beneficial to success on the platform, especially given the relatively underdeveloped physiques of some of the world’s best lifters.  But I do like to have my lifters work on general strength skills because I like developing them to be generally fit and capable people; That and I don’t want anyone to have to take the long way around.

-Trust the Process.

As I sat in the Kansas City Airport eating what must assuredly be the worst pastrami sandwich of my adult life, I finely found time for some self reflection; time to understand what a transformative experience I had just went through. As I sat in the Kansas city Airport eating the the worst pastrami sandwich I’ve had since 4th grade, I began to understand the depth of what I’ve been missing in my life and what I have to look forward to once this sandwich is eaten; banished to the depths so that it can no longer infect the world with it’s presence. It was a poor excuse for sandwich if I’ve ever seen one; possessing the minimum requirements of what could be considered a hand held vessel for meat consumption but without the soul required to satisfy discerning palettes.

I’m 28 now. Young enough to be at a station where it’s ok to still not have a finite plan together but old enough to know that there are consequences to every decision we make in this life; old enough to know that the cost of every decision is far too great to quantify. Time isn’t money. Time is life. It’s the only thing we really own before we return as dust. My sister just had a kid. I’m flying home from a wedding I was graciously invited to be in as a groomsman. Sitting in the Kansas City airport eating a vile excuse for a sandwich is somehow personally significant. It’s the first time since 2012 I’ve taken 4 consecutive days off from work for a non-work related trip; Not for the sandwich of course but for the wedding.

That in itself was a hard realization. The past 3 years have taught me much. But they’ve cost me just as much. If you re-read the paragraph above and interpret time as the only true currency, then consider me bankrupt. I’ve spent it all chasing dreams and unicorns. I’ve spent it turning this thing from a hobby to an obsession to a bonafide job. My church is now my office. In the past I’ve looked to nature for short jaunts away from my day to day. Self reflection had become a top priority. In my mind, it was the only legitimate reason I would need an escape. I am an exceptionally brief person by nature, so the last thing I considered as a means of self refection would be to surround myself with other people. People I don’t know. People who are not the gym. I never thought that my buddy’s wedding in Kansas City and the sandwich that followed would be the catalyst that would allow me to truly look inward.

What do you get when you try and photograph one collegiate strength coach, one private strength and conditioning coach and one weightlifting coach?  Not a lot of room for anything else.

What do you get when you try and photograph one collegiate strength coach, one private strength and conditioning coach and one weightlifting coach? Not a lot of room for anything else.

I learned a few things this weekend:

1) The longer I chase this thing, and by “this thing” I mean the last 2-3 years of my high level athletic career, the more it will “cost” me personally.

2) I have a profound need for self validation at the end of all this. No one will truly care how far I get, at least as much as I do. But still I NEED to get to the end and tell myself it was worth it. In my mind, I think that’s getting a medal at Nationals or the American Open. I’ll know for sure after one of those things happen.

3) After it’s over, I’m going to be ok. I shove a lot of my basic needs on the back burner so I can focus on the day to day grind. I love it. I thrive on it. It completes me. But someday soon, I’m going to go on that extra long hike or that trip across Europe or pick up martial arts and rock climbing again or get a dog or move in with a girl. I see the light at the end of the tunnel and honestly it looks pretty good.

4) Weightlifting will always be a part of my life. After all, I’ve always identified more with Obi Wan Kenobi than Luke Skywalker . . . Han Solo too but that’s a different story.

5) I don’t have an excuse to not succeed. Neither do you if you think about it.

6) One day, I’m going to buy my own cat. In 2014, I realized that I spent my entire life not knowing that I liked them. He’s going to be a fat, furry, gnarly looking asshole.

My fellow man taught me a lot this weekend. I met the families and I was accepted as one of their own for a whole weekend, all because I love Nate. A few closing thoughts before I get on this plane: visit Kansas City if you get the chance, go to Arthur Bryants and order the burnt ends. Follow your bliss but never forget that you need at least a few other people to share that bliss with. If you set your eyes on a goal, go forth and fucking destroy it. If it’s worth your time, it’s worth your effort too.

This post is dedicated to Nate and Ryann and the awful, self reflective sandwich that followed a wonderful weekend with your family. For reference, Nate and I are exactly the same age, we have similar jobs but for as many similarities we share, we share just as many differences. I’ve learned a lot about myself from our friendship as you can probably gather.