I was done with my deadlift training
for the day and was at hanging around the gym watching my buddy Troy
train one of his clients. I train Troy myself and enjoy watching him
torture his clients with some of the stuff I have taught him.
A teenage kid approached me.
“Hey Coach, do you have a minute?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“My name is Christian,” he said,
sticking out his hand for me to shake.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Jim. How old
“I’m 16,” he said.
“You have a good frame. You could be
huge. How tall are you and how much do you weigh?”
“I’m 6’2, and 175 pounds. I know,
too skinny. And that’s why I wanted to talk to you. I’ve seen you
training some folks and I like how hard your clients work and the
gains they make. I want to get big and strong like that guy,” he
said, pointing to Troy, who was a muscular 225 pounds at 5’8″ with a
550 squat. “I think that I need some help. I have been training for
a year and haven’t gained much strength and only put on 5 pounds,”
“Damn, that’s not good,” I said.
“What type of program are you doing now?”
“It’s something that I got from the
internet. Here it is,” he said, handing me a printout of his
It wasn’t bad at all. He was
squatting, benching, and pressing twice a week, and deadlifting once
a week. He had some bodybuilding exercises in there, but it was just
some curls and triceps and a few lateral raises. I could deal with
that stuff in there. His sets and reps on the big lifts were good,
usually 5 sets of 3-5 reps. He did some higher reps on the assistance
work for 2-3 sets. Now I needed to figure out why he had stayed so
spindly over the year.
“The program is fine. Not the
greatest, but you damn well should have gained more than 5 pounds
doing that template. What do you think the problem is?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, that’s why I’m
coming to you. I think maybe that it is a form issue. Can you check
my form out and tell me if I’m doing anything glaringly wrong?”
“Yep, no problem,” I said. “What
are you working on today?”
“I have squats and bench presses,”
“Nice,” I said. “Squats are my
“I have to do a top set of 5 with 175
pounds today, which is up 10 pounds from last week’s heavy day,”
“Let’s check out that form,” I
said, walking him over to a power rack. “Go ahead and set your rack
height and show me how you squat. Just use the empty bar to begin.”
“I’m stronger than that,” he said.
“I know, I just want to see your form
before you try to impress me.”
He set up the bar, stood with it, and
walked back with measured steps. He set up and then did a set of 5
reps. His form was pretty solid. I made a few adjustments with chin
position and stance width, but overall, there were no glaring
weaknesses. He began warming up: 95 pounds for 5 reps, 115 pounds for
5 reps, 135 for 5 reps, and then a single rep with 160 pounds. He
handled all of the sets with ease and with no discernible break in
“Are you ready for 175 for 5?” I
“Yeah, I think so,” he answered,
“165 last week was really hard though, so I’m not sure how it will
“You can always not try,” I said.
“You can quit right now.”
“Huh?” he asked.
“I’m just saying, either fucking
do this or don’t. Your choice.”
“Oh, I’m gonna do it,” he said.
“I was just saying that I may not get it.”
“If you think that way, you won’t
get it. How about being positive and getting fired up and
crushing that damn weight?” I said, my voice rising. I was getting
fired up myself. “You can’t get under that weight with any
doubt. You got to tell yourself that you will get that weight and
nothing will stop you from getting it!”
He looked at me and was nodding his
head up and down quickly. He approached the bar and kept saying under
his breath, “No doubt, no doubt.” I liked that.
175 pounds was a joke, He crushed the 5
reps with ease. “And 165 was hard for you?” I asked after he was
done with the set. “I thought it was,” he said. “I barely got
all my reps, I really struggled.”
“Hmm,” I said, sliding a 10-pound
plate on the side of the bar. “Put a 10 on your side.” He looked
at me in disbelief but didn’t say anything.
“What?” I asked, staring at
“Nothing,” he said. “No doubt,
“That’s right,” I said.
“Walk slowly over to the water
fountain and get a drink,” I told him. “Take the long way. And
while you’re walking, see yourself crushing this set over and over
again. Then when you get back over here, I want you to get so fired
up that you are in a blind rage when you get under that bar!”
“Yessir, yessir,” he said, again
nodding his head quickly. I had him right where I wanted him now.
After that 175 set that was so easy, I knew that he would kill 195
pounds. He was going to be happy.
He walked back over to me after a few
“You ready?” I said, almost yelling
but definitely talking with a slight growl, “Man the hell up
Again, he was nodding quickly and he
was breathing heavily and loudly. “Nice,” I thought, “He’s
195 for 5 reps was easy and I told
Christian that he could have done 10 reps with that weight if he’d
had to. “Slide another 10 on your side,” I said. “Alright!”
he said, which was quite a change from his attitude before. He was
Again, I had him take a slow walk to
the water fountain and had him repeat the ritual as before, seeing
himself crush the weight and then get in a blind rage before he
approaches the bar.
“Ready?” I asked as he
arrived back at the power rack. I was shaking a little now, my
adrenaline was going strong. I slapped him on the upper back, hard.
He wasn’t expecting that, I could tell, by the way he jumped in
surprise, but he didn’t say a word to me, just kept muttering “no
doubt, no doubt” as he approached the bar.
This was 215 pounds now, and I could
tell he had some doubts because his descent on the first rep of the
set was much slower than his previous sets. He was “feeling out the
weight,” seeing how heavy it felt. And because of him creeping down
so slowly the ascent was darn tough for him.
“Hit it!” I said, when he got to
the top of the first rep. “Stop creeping down!”
The second rep was better, but
relatively hard. That first rep had taken a lot out of him. The third
rep was tough also, but he seemed to find his groove some. The fourth
rep was a real ball-buster, but he kept his form and didn’t quit.
The fifth rep was one of the toughest
reps that I have ever witnessed in my 40 years of lifting weights.
Christian fought hard for every inch of the rep. I was yelling,
“Don’t quit! Don’t quit!!” as the bar slowly begin to move
it’s way up. His face was beet red, and he was shaking at the top
of each rep, but he didn’t quit – this kid had some determination.
He completed the fifth rep just barely, his knees finally locking out
the weight. I helped him put the weight in the rack and he stepped
out from under the bar, draped his arms over the bar, and put his
forehead on the center knurl. His chest was heaving and his t-shirt
was colored with sweat. After a few minutes, he slid off of the bar
and onto the floor where he lay flat on his back.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yessir. I’m OK. I’ve never done
anything so hard in my whole life.”
“I think that we found your problem,”
I said, smirking while standing over him. “It’s not your form.
You simply haven’t been working hard enough.”
“The right program is important,” I
continued, “but it’ll never work unless you have intensity.
People don’t get really strong by half-assing it. You have to push
like that all of the time to get strong. Now, some sets are going to
be harder than others. Not all of your sets will be like the last one
was today, but all the heavy workouts will be hard. And that’s good
– you want them to be because it means that you’re getting better.”
“I don’t think I can bench press,”
he said, sitting up wearily.
“You can always not try,” I said.
“You can quit right now.”
He stuck his hand out for me to help
him to his feet.
“Let’s go bench,” he said.
“No doubt,” I said.
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