The Value of Blind Rage

I was in my favorite public gym today. I was going to lift outside
because the weather has finally broken in South Jersey and we had a
70-degree day, but I was out of the CBD gummies that the gym sells
and damned if my body and brain doesn’t notice if I miss a day. So
I ventured in and I was working some lat pulldowns/push-ups
supersets, and in between sets I was looking around the room. I like
watching people.

It’s like sitting on
the boardwalk and watching people on a Saturday night in Ocean City,
Maryland. I like seeing if they are working hard or just
bullshitting. There’s the guy who is shadow boxing between sets. I
bet you have that guy in your gym also. There’s the powerlifting
girl who takes 20 minutes to get ready and 20 minutes between sets.
All good people and most folks at this gym work hard. Everyone at the
gym when I go, around 11 AM, is always super cool. I like it because
a bunch of people have become my friends there, a bunch of stand-up
people. And the gym has everything you need equipment-wise and you
can use chalk and cuss out loud and nobody cares.

So I was looking around
the gym and I saw one of the girls who is in there all the time
training, and she’s squatting. She’s a good squatter, she squats
deep, she knows how to lift. Big legs, decent glutes, decently
muscular. It’s funny, but being in the strength coaching business for
so long I was always around females who, when you told them their
legs looked good or when you told them their legs looked big, they
took it as a compliment.

A few times I have put
my foot in my mouth to regular citizens. I made a female coach cry
one time when I told her that her legs had gotten bigger. I didn’t
know that she was sensitive about her legs getting bigger. Doesn’t
everyone want bigger legs? I was at my kid’s little league baseball
game a few years ago and I saw this woman who I have never met
sitting in a lawn chair. She had muscular quads and hanging
hamstrings. Of course, I walked right over to her and I said, “Look
at those quads! Do you compete?” She looked at me like I had lost
my mind and said she just works out some.

Then a man who turned
out to be her husband came walking over. He introduced himself, and
Oblivious Old Me said, “I was just complimenting your wife on her
quad size!” He looked at me quizzically but didn’t seem to take
offense. However, I changed the subject because I felt a little
foolish. When I tell people what I said to her, they ask, “What the
hell is wrong with you?” I just say that she had nice quads, and I
had to tell her.

Back to the girl that I
was observing in the gym, squatting. When I have seen her squat, it’s
usually in the 155-185 pound range. She was doing 205 when I saw her
today between my sets. The reps were decent – maybe not IPF deep,
but decent. She’s pretty serious, and doesn’t screw around when she
trains. She must be a social media influencer or something. She is
always filming herself with a tripod. Can you believe that people
carry a tripod and film themselves all the time? I can see having
someone film a top set that is a personal record or a form check, but
setting up the tripod, making sure it’s perfect, every set? Strange.

(People, girls
especially, have changed their behavior in the gym. They think
nothing of wearing crazy, see through stuff and actually checking
their butts out in front of everyone in the mirror. I’m not
complaining, of course, just noticing the difference.)

So I did another
superset, and I was looking around and the squatting girl had 215
pounds on the bar. She does that for a single, and it was easy. Then
I did another superset and then she asked two competing powerlifter
females to spot her, saying that she is going to 225 pounds for a max
now. I had one more superset to do, so I finished it and I was ready
to watch the max attempt. She is walking around, telling the girls
that she is scared. And she keeps saying it over and over again, “I’m
scared, I’m scared.”

Right then, I knew she
was going to miss the weight. How could she get it after her brain
told her body that she is scared, over and over? Her whole body knows
that fear has invaded it! So the girls are trying to get her pumped
up and she is repeating the mantra, “I’m scared, I’m scared.”
I almost yelled out, “Stop saying that! Why are you saying that?”
I’ve had athletes who missed a rep because they were scared, you know
the whole
thing. Like, “I came forward a little bit and lost it,” when
everyone knows that didn’t happen – that fear won the argument.

I think a little
nervousness is OK, like a little excitement. But if you step under a
heavy weight and are thinking what if this happens, what if that
happens, you are screwed. I remember one time when one of my
assistant coaches at Penn, Collegiate Weightlifting Champion Brett
Crossland, told a kid who had just missed a personal record attempt,
“You ain’t weak, you are just scared,” and he was right. I
remember spotting this college kid one time who was doing the old
20-rep squat program. His all-time goal was to do 300 pounds for 20
reps. He got the 19th rep and quit on the 20th. This was 20 years
ago, and it still bothers me. Now the guy is a neurosurgeon, but
damned if he didn’t puss out on that 20th rep.

Get it any way you can,
I don’t care how you get it up, don’t quit, man. Fucking
good morning that thing up, just get it. But he didn’t even give it
a try. Straight to the bottom, complete with the scared look while he
stays there, at the bottom. I remember that World powerlifting
champion and my boss at the time, Dr. Rob Wagner, and I just looked
at each other, then we looked at the kid and then we walked away.
What else could we have done or said? And the kid knew it too. I bet
he still thinks about it between surgeries. That’s like getting all
the way to the moon and you can’t manage to plant the American

I think that you have
to say aggressive things to yourself, or at least positive things. I
used to say things like, “Fuck this weight” and I’d tell myself
that I was a Berserker getting ready to go on the warpath. I’d
think about how other people have done much more than the weight on
the bar, and they are no different than I am. For the deadlift, I
would constantly say to myself, “just get it to your knees, just
get it to your knees,” because I knew that if I just got the weight
to my knees, I would complete the rep.

On the squat, I’d
constantly say to myself, “Don’t quit, don’t quit,” because I
have had reps where it seemed like the bar stopped on the way up and
because I didn’t quit, I completed a seemingly impossible rep. On
the bench, I would just get mad at something, not any particular
thing, I would just conjure some anger out of somewhere and then I
would say, “Break that fucking bar in half,” which made me think
of keeping the elbows in during the lift, and then I’d think about
putting fingerprints in the bar because I was staying so tight and
squeezing the bar so hard.

Many years ago, a
professor at the University of Temple, J.B. Oxendine, designed a
chart that listed optimal arousal levels in sports. Archery and golf
were on the bottom as slight arousal, but lifting weights? That was
at the top of the chart, and listed at an arousal level as “extremely
excited.” I have been fascinated by “psych” forever, probably
because my father taught Sports Psychology at the University of
Maryland. I remember asking him how fired up I should be when lifting
maximum weights. He said, “Once you learn the skill of the
movement, you should work yourself up into a blind rage.”

I love that: Blind
Rage. I have to believe that when you get into that state and your
form is good, the chance of you crushing a weight is much higher than
when walking around the gym telling people how afraid you are. I have
written before about my former training partner, Big Chris, who would
get fired up for a set by imagining someone in the gym was talking
bad about him. He would definitely work himself into a blind rage.

Also, when I was
spotting him on the bench, he wouldn’t let me look at him. I had to
turn my head. Which doesn’t speak to getting fired up, but does
speak to how strange Big Chris was back then.

Maybe saying that they
are scared over and over before they try a maximum attempt works for
some folks, but I doubt it. In my opinion, it’s better to act like a
Berserker in a blind rage, ready to pillage the village and stomp
some ass before you crush the rep.

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